Oft-injured 49ers safety Jimmie Ward has another broken bone.
This one, his sixth since his final college season in 2013, is a fractured finger, the team said, which caused him to miss practice Thursday leaving his status for Week 1 against Tampa Bay Buccaneers up in the air. The training staff later diagnosed it as a hand injury.
Ward was expected to be the team’s top free safety and might have also rotated to nickel cornerback, as he did during the third preseason game in place of K’Waun Williams.
San Francisco would likely go with second-year pro Tarvarius Moore at free safety if Ward can’t play in Tampa. Moore worked with the first team throughout training camp while Ward recovered from his second fractured collar bone since 2016. Ward has also broken his foot twice and his forearm twice. He ended four of his five seasons on injured reserve.
“T-Moore has been doing a great job and showed that he’s earned the right to go out there and play,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “We’ve still got K’Waun Williams, Emmanuel Moseley can play nickel, D.J. Reed is still there along with (Antone) Exum. So we’re fine, it doesn’t really change anything that we’re doing game plan-wise.”
The Buccaneers in 2018 had the NFL’s second-ranked offense, averaging 416 yards per game. They have a first-year coach in Bruce Arians who’s expected to push the ball deep downfield with quarterback Jameis Winston and top receiver Mike Evans, who burned San Francisco for six catches and 116 yards when the two teams played in Tampa last November.
Moore was converted from cornerback to safety during the offseason program after Ward fractured his collar bone in late May. Moore played well enough for the coaching staff to consider giving him the starting free safety job outright before Ward returned to retake it prior to the Chiefs preseason game Aug. 24.
Williams, the 49ers’ top slot cornerback the past two seasons, returned to practice this week following arthroscopic knee surgery last month and is expected to play Sunday, which would help if Ward can’t play. Veteran cornerback Jason Verrett has also been practicing this week after suffering an ankle sprain in early August.
San Francisco’s coaches have regularly praised Ward despite his lengthy injury history. He’s survived three coaching changes since getting drafted while playing both safety, nickel and outside cornerback.
Veteran Richard Sherman was asked Thursday if Ward needed to be propped up by his teammates following his second setback since May.
”Unfortunately he broke his finger but I think he’ll be fine,” Sherman said. “I think he’s mentally where he needs to be. I don’t think he’s down and out about this. I think he’s a man who’s been through more important things in his life than a few injuries. And he’s a guy who you’d expect to come back better than ever. It’s just unfortunate that he ran into this bid of adversity going into Tampa, but we’re looking forward to getting him back.”
The 49ers announced the injury prior to Saleh speaking Thursday. The team said Ward went to the training staff to report the injury following Wednesday’s practice.
“I’m more hurt for him because I know how hard he works, I know what he puts in and I know how important it is for him and his family,” Saleh said. “... And so, for Jimmie to just get better and trust that something good’s about to happen to just keep his spirit up. He’s a great football player, he’s just got to get to the football field.”
San Francisco re-signed Ward after hitting free agency in March to a one-year, $4.5 million contract.