San Francisco 49ers

49ers TCD2: Jimmie Ward builds on strong spring session

San Francisco 49ers strong safety Jimmie Ward (25) dives to the end zone for a touchdown after intercepting a pass as Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) watches during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Chicago.
San Francisco 49ers strong safety Jimmie Ward (25) dives to the end zone for a touchdown after intercepting a pass as Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) watches during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Chicago. AP

SANTA CLARA -- If defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil has his druthers, Jimmie Ward will stick to outside cornerback this season and will not be required to slip inside to the nickel role on obvious passing downs.

Ward, however, made a good case on Monday for doing both.

Lining up as the nickel cornerback, the third-year cornerback broke on a quick pass from Blaine Gabbert and grabbed an interception for what would have been an easy touchdown. The play was similar to his pick and score last year in Chicago.

If Ward ultimately is limited to outside cornerback role this season, the candidates to play nickel cornerback, according to O'Neil, are rookie Will Redmond, Keith Reaser and Chris Davis, who had that role through much of the spring practices.

“He’s smart, tough, makes plays," O'Neil said of Davis. "He does a good job executing the coverages. So he had a really good spring. He’s a guy that kind of popped off the tape. So he’s one of the guys I’m really looking forward to seeing how he progresses through training camp with the pads on.”

Redmond is coming off an ACL injury and is wearing a plastic brace on his left knee in practice. Still, he's been able to keep pace so far, showing particularly good skills in press-coverage situations, especially against smaller slot receivers.

Ward mostly has played right cornerback. But he and Tramaine Brock switch sides at times in both Sunday's and Monday's practices.

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O'Neil said the depth chart "is written in sand" at this point of training camp. In that way, the first-string defense looked a little differently on Monday than it did a day earlier. The defensive line, for example, featured a trio of towers, from left to right, DeForest Buckner, Quinton Dial and Arik Armstead. A day earlier, Armstead, Mike Purcell and Dial were the de facto starters.

Armstead had a particularly strong day, making two "tackles" in the backfield on running plays. The 49ers have practiced without pads for two straight days; They go on Tuesday for the first time in 2016 and Armstead said he was particularly eager to go against Joe Staley in one-on-one drills.

At inside linebacker, Gerald Hodges worked all day with the first unit next to NaVorro Bowman. On Sunday, Michael Wilhoite was in that spot. That seems to suggest tat Ray-Ray Armstrong will get his chance with the first-team unit on Tuesday.

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Colin Kaepernick was more efficient at quarterback than Gabbert Monday, although the latter had the deepest pass of training camp so far. Second-string right cornerback Dontae Johnson got caught looking at the quarterback, which allowed Jerome Simpson to zip past him and make a 45-yard catch in the end zone. Gabbert's receivers didn't do him any favors later in the session; both Garrett Celek and Bruce Ellington dropped well-thrown passes.

Coach Chip Kelly continues to keep practice repetitions even. On Monday, Gabbert got the first chance to work with the first-string unit; a day later Kaepernick was first up with the ones.

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Returning kicks on Monday were Ellington, Bryce Treggs, DeAndrew White, DuJuan Harris and Davis, which is a no brainer considering Davis' Iron Bowl heroics.

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If you had Armstrong and/or tight end Rory Anderson in your training-camp fight pool, you win! The two became tangled on a pass play, went down in a heap and came up jawing at one another. A very brief fracas followed but neither was tossed from practice.

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There was star power on the sideline for Monday's session. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who works up the street as a professor in the Stanford Graduate School of Business, took in the entire practice. Rice is close to offensive coach Dana Bible, who also spent time at Stanford.

Also on the sideline -- predictably on his cell phone -- was agent Drew Rosenhaus, who represents a slew of 49ers. Rosenhaus' presence in the past has preceded big deals for NaVorro Bowman and Anthony Davis.

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

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