San Francisco 49ers

Jimmie Ward takes on “the turtle” as he returns to practice

Jimmie Ward (25) was the 49ers’ nickel cornerback at the start of last season. This year he’s well behind Tramaine Brock in the competition for that spot.
Jimmie Ward (25) was the 49ers’ nickel cornerback at the start of last season. This year he’s well behind Tramaine Brock in the competition for that spot. AP

SANTA CLARA -- Before Jimmie Ward takes on the Vikings he must conquer the turtle.

The team's former first-round draft pick is practicing with a plastic protective shell on the bottom of his cleat, nicknamed the turtle, that he admits has taken some getting used to.

Ward has twice fractured the bottom of his foot, most recently during a Nov. 9 game on the New Orleans Saints' artificial surface. The fracture -- Ward also said he bent the screw that had been inserted during an earlier surgery -- landed him on injured reserve and ended his rookie season.

In December Ward said it was a 10-week injury and that he expected to be full go for the start of the team's offseason program in the spring. Instead he hasn't gone through a full practice in nine months.

The device is designed to prevent another injury.

"It's the first time ever having to wear something like this and the first time having an injury like this," Ward said. "... That's probably what's taken me so long (to return) and why I'm taking it so slow. At the end of the day it's all in my mind. Once I put it in the back of my head I think I'll be ready to go."

Ward went through his most comprehensive practice of the year on Tuesday, rotating in at safety with both the second- and third-team defense. Last year he played safety in training but saw nearly all of his regular-season snaps at nickel cornerback.

This year, the nickel snaps have gone to Tramaine Brock.

"It's football," Ward said. "If he can take the spot, he can have it. I'm just going to have to fit my way in somewhere else."

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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