The 49ers on Wednesday got both good and bad news surrounding defensive back Jimmie Ward.
The good: he was back in pads at practice for the first time since fracturing his collarbone in late May. The bad news: he’s unlikely to participate in the joint practices coming later this week with the Denver Broncos.
“Jimmie Ward is cleared and everything,” Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday, “but coming off a collarbone, we’re trying to ease him in to when he can hit. We know Jimmie is going to hit every single second he has a chance to, so we’ve got to protect him from himself a little bit.”
Ward was moved back to his more natural position of free safety this offseason after re-signing with the 49ers on a one-year “prove-it” contract. He was the early favorite to start, but he may have to re-earn that role over the coming weeks following the emergence of Tarvarius Moore, who intercepted Jimmmy Garoppolo twice during Wednesday’s practice.
Like Ward, Moore is playing safety after playing cornerback last season after playing safety in college. Moore surpassed last season’s Week 1 starter, Adrian Colbert, early in training camp and doesn’t appear to be letting up, which should make things interesting when Ward is fully cleared to participate in team drills.
“He’s a smart kid so he’s learning pretty quick,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said of Moore last week. “When his feet are on the ground and he’s in the box or he’s in the middle of the field he’s got great physicality to him. I’m excited about the direction he’s going into and he’s making that competition very close. He’s doing a very, very good job.”
Ward watched Moore intercept Garoppolo first on a badly underthrown ball up the right sideline while looking for running back Matt Breida. Moore’s second pick came during a red-zone drill when he stepped in front of tight end Ross Dwelley and went the other way for a would-be 100-yard touchdown return.
The decision between Ward and Moore be more complicated that initially expected. Moore impressed when he switched positions during the offseason after struggling, at times, at cornerback during his rookie year. Ward has ended four of his five seasons on injured reserve due to broken bones. When healthy, 49ers coaches consider him one of their best defensive backs.
Kittle day to day
Tight end George Kittle sat out his second straight practice Wednesday with a calf injury. It’s unknown if he’ll participate in the joint practices with the Broncos on Friday and Saturday.
“He had some calf tightness he reported two days ago, so he’s day-to-day,” Shanahan said.
Denver might welcome Kittle’s absence. The best statistical performance of his two-year career came when the two teams met in December. Kittle finished with 210 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions, all coming in the first half, including an 85-yard touchdown run.
Dwelley replaced Kittle with the starters Wednesday and was Garoppolo’s target on three of his five-straight interceptions. The 49ers were also without Levin Toilolo on Wednesday with shoulder soreness and is also day-to-day, Shanahan said.
Ford, Bosa making progress
The 49ers have been without their most expensive offseason addition since the first week of training camp. But that could change when they return from Denver next week.
Pass rusher Dee Ford is expected to return to practice ahead of the third preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs after receiving platelet-rich plasma injections in his knee. Ford was dealing with pain early in training camp due to tendinitis and San Francisco has been cautious with his return. He became San Francisco’s most expensive defensive player when he signed a five-year, $85 million contract in March after being acquired via trade.
“He’s close,” Shanahan said. “Usually when you get what he got done, I think it’s usually about two weeks, so we’re getting closer to that. We’ll see Kansas City week. I know he’s not going to go this week, but Kansas City at least we’ll have him practicing, I know that.”
Nick Bosa, the No. 2 pick in the draft, is out of a walking boot and began doing light rehab and conditioning work Wednesday. Bosa suffered an ankle injury Aug. 7 that knocked him out of the preseason. San Francisco is hoping he’s back in time for the season opener Sept. 8 in Tampa Bay.
“I haven’t seen him here in the last couple days, but I think he’s out of his boot and on track, proceeding healthy,” said Shanahan.
▪ Rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw didn’t participate in Wednesday’s practice after dealing with a stinger during Tuesday’s session. He wore a blue noncontact jersey but was kept on the sideline. Greenlaw tied the 49ers’ team lead with five tackles during his preseason debut last weekend against the Dallas Cowboys.
▪ Defensive tackle Jullian Taylor missed practice Wednesday because of back tightness. Taylor has made a strong impression during his second season after putting on some 30 pounds to play predominately defensive tackle.
“He’s been doing a very nice job,” Saleh said this week.. He’s heavy-handed, he’s violent when he plays. He’s got that old-school flat back, great balance and footwork.”
▪ Defensive end Ronald Blair III returned to practice Wednesday after missing a handful of sessions with a groin injury.
▪ Left tackle Joe Staley sat out team drills Wednesday because of tightness in his pectoral, Shanahan said. Sixth-round pick Justin Skule took his place with the starters while Sam Young, who was signed Monday, remained with the reserves.