SANTA CLARA -- Jimmie Ward said he expects to be off crutches in another week and should be ready for the start of the 49ers' offseason program in the spring. “More than ready to go,” the team's confident and animated first-round pick said on Tuesday.
Ward has been out since early November when he aggravated the foot issue he suffered in college and which kept him out of the early offseason practices with the 49ers. Ward had a screw inserted in March to help heal the so-called Jones' fracture in his right foot.
During San Francisco's Nov. 9 game against the Saints, Ward said, that screw bent. The screw was removed during a subsequent surgery “and they ended up putting a bigger screw in there to fill up the room, and that will probably hold up better than the first one,” Ward said.
The episode is sure to put new scrutiny on general manager Trent Baalke's penchant for drafting injured players. Ward's injury was discovered during his medical exam at the scouting combine in February.
Prominent draft picks from preceding classes, such as Marcus Lattimore and Tank Carradine, also were drafted with injuries. Lattimore retired from the game this year while Carradine's rookie season was a washout. He stood out at the end of Sunday's game in Seattle but has received only scant playing time this season.
Along with Ward, guard Brandon Thomas, cornerback Kenneth Acker, fullback Trey Millard and defensive lineman Kaleb Ramsey were selected in May despite significant injuries.
Ward, however, was ready to play during training camp and looked good in the run-up to the season. He quickly discovered that offenses typically put their best receivers in the slot position, and he was burned for several touchdowns, including three by Bears receiver Brandon Marshall in Week 2.
Asked who his toughest opponent was this season, Ward didn't hesitate.
“Brandon Marshall,” he said. “That's all I gotta say. I'm going to leave it at his name. That's all I'm going to say: Brandon Marshall whenever I meet him again. Brandon Marshall.”
Ward said he's eager to begin his second year in the NFL. “I felt like I was learning the league (this year),” he said. “So next year – I know what to do, basically. And I know the competition, who the best guys are. So next year, after training and getting my foot well, I'll get out there and be ready to go.”
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.