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Ward, Johnson and Armstead among Improving Players on 49ers Defense

During his final press conference of the regular season, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Eric Mangini took the opportunity to praise some emerging players on the team.

Here's who Mangini highlighted ahead of the 49eers Week 17 matchup against the St. Louis Rams.

DB - Ward

"One guy that stands out right away is Jimmie Ward. Jimmie has played inside at the star position, (and has) done a really good job with that, and I think he's gotten better and better as the weeks have gone on. Now, we've also had to ask him to learn all the safety roles, (and) be able to play those roles. And he's worked at both spots and his ability now to see the defense and the offense from a full field, both down low and behind, I think has been really positive. Love his energy. Love his approach, his work ethic. I know we talked about him really early, maybe it was the preseason, where he was on the plane and sitting with (secondary coach) Tim (Lewis) and trying to get all the information down. To me, over the course of his career, that approach is going to serve him really well, and as he builds up experience and reps and things like that with that work ethic, he's got a chance not just to make plays on ability, he's going to make plays because the whole game slows down. So, I've loved that about him."

CB - Johnson

"I think Dontae Johnson, who's worked at the money position where Jaquiski (Tartt) was playing, he's done a really good job there, has rolled out and has played corner. His progress over the course of the season, too, I think is notable, and he's another guy (with) that inherent intelligence, very bright, very good work ethic, very conscientious, consistent. That's another young guy that should grow substantially with experience."

LB - Harold, DL - Armstead, S - Tartt

"We've seen growth from Eli Harold at different points, from Arik Armstead at different points and he's played multiple roles. He's played inside, he's played some outside. Jaquiski Tartt, I think he's done a really good job and he's had to work through some different injuries over the course of the season or nagging things. The other thing you find out with this time of year is most of these guys are prepping for a bowl (game) or been on vacation a long time. This last group of games is really hard for them. It's a skillset that you learn and you go through the first time and next year it will be so much easier for them. Everything should be so much easier for them."

NT - Williams

"Ian Williams has great short-area quickness, so he can be explosive when he's offset, playing on either side of the center. He's got really good block recognition, so his ability to anticipate, 'OK, here's where the fullback's offset. Here's where the strength of the running game is. Here's where I'm going to get the double team.' That stuff is really good as well. Outstanding, outstanding pursuit, motor, effort, (all) those things, which from a defensive lineman that can be a little bit hit or miss with that component of it. He plays low, (has) really good leverage, and he's a great guy. In terms of his stock or his value, he's a great teammate and an outstanding performer."

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