What Eric Mangini likes about safety Jimmie Ward is that he knows his assignments. What the 49ers defensive coordinator really likes about Ward is that even when he knows his assignments, he’ll re-study them to make doubly sure.
“I know that on some of the road (trips) he’ll be up sitting with (defensive backs coach) Tim Lewis wanting to know everything again,” Mangini said Thursday. “Even if he knows it, he wants to be right. He wants to make sure that he’s got every one of his assignments down. It’s a great quality that he has.”
Those habits helped produce what was perhaps Ward’s best NFL outing Sunday. Ward lined up against Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target, Randall Cobb, and helped hold the receiver to five catches for 44 yards.
Ward had by far his busiest game of 2015, playing 62 of 73 defensive snaps. Most came with Cobb lined up in the slot, a difficult position to cover because the receiver can turn left or right and the defensive back doesn’t have the benefit of a sideline to help contain his opponent.
“That’s a hard spot because there’s so much happening,” Mangini said. “You’ve got run-pass reads, you’ve got to communicate with the safeties, you’ve got to communicate with the linebackers. And he’s handled all that stuff really well.”
Ward also kept Cobb out of the end zone, even batting away a potential touchdown in the second half. That was an issue last year as a rookie when he gave up three touchdowns in one game to Bears receiver Brandon Marshall. Ward, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2014 who injured his foot before his rookie season, re-injured his foot in Week 9, went on injured reserve and only resumed practicing fully late in training camp.
“He’s moving good,” said cornerback Kenneth Acker, who also dealt with a foot injury in 2014. “His burst is back, it (seems) like, and he hasn’t been complaining about the foot or anything.”
Still, it’s a mystery how much Ward will play from game to game. He played 13 snaps in Week 1, 27 the next week and 14 in Week 3 against the Cardinals.
Tramaine Brock also has played the nickel position and rookie Jaquiski Tartt – high-school teammates with Ward – is used in other packages. Which of those packages will the 49ers use during the rest of the year, Mangini said, will depend on their opponent.
“It will fluxuate, week in and week out,” he said.