Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Six player updates from Robert Saleh as the 49ers prepare for the Vikings

Aug 24, 2017 at 2:21 PM--

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh spoke to the media on Thursday and discussed a number of players as the team prepares for its third preseason game, which is a road matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.

Jimmie Ward

Safety Jimmie Ward returned to practice this week after spending four weeks on the physically-unable-to-perform list. While head coach Kyle Shanahan indicated on Wednesday that they would like to make Ward available for Sunday's game, they aren't going to rush the safety and the coaching staff has not yet discussed his availability.

Ward's workload during practices this week has been limited. Wednesday was his first day back on the practice field and Saleh was asked how that went.

"It was good," Saleh said. "Get him out there working. It was good to see him. He moves around just like he was moving around just like he did in OTAs."

Saleh was also asked how the coaching staff was working with Ward to keep him mentally prepared while he was unable to practice with his teammates.

"[Defensive backs coach] Coach [Jeff] Hafley was working with him individually to make sure that he was up to speed, from that regard," Saleh said. "Jimmie, credit to him, he took it upon himself to make sure that he was putting in the extra work from a mental standpoint to get ready."

Ward figures to play a prominent role in Saleh's defense. The defensive coordinator discussed what the most difficult part of Ward's job will be as the regular season closes in.

"Playing middle-third safety is a very instinctual position," Saleh said. "You've got to be able to see it. To me, the hardest part is being able to track and tackle. Coming out of the middle hole, when the defense gets creased and it's him and the back one on one. That's the hardest tackle in football in my opinion. Those are the reps that he hasn't gotten. Because, even when we're not live, every one of those reps are so important to those guys. To put themselves through that mental strain of every rep being a tackling rep. That, to me, is going to be the hardest part. To make sure that his angles, and his angles in pursuit, are perfect.

"But, as far as the instinctual part, understanding offense and where he needs to be. I think he'll be smooth in transition."

RELATED 49ers activate DB Jimmie Ward off of the PUP list

Sen'Derrick Marks

The 49ers signed defensive lineman Sen'Derrick Marks to a one-year contract this week. Thursday was Saleh's first opportunity to discuss his newest player with the media.

"He's a [three-technique]," Saleh said. "Just like the rest of the guys, he's here to compete. You know, he's had a good past. He's a good football player. We're just trying to work him into shape. He hasn't been through OTAs, training camp, and all that stuff. But, give him a chance to play these next two games and see what he's got."

RELATED 49ers sign DL Sen'Derrick Marks to a one-year deal

Ahmad Brooks versus Eli Harold

Ahmad Brooks and Eli Harold are in a competition for the starting Sam linebacker job. Each has had an opportunity to start a preseason game. Brooks was with the first-team defense against the Kansas City Chiefs while Harold took on that role against the Denver Broncos.

Saleh discussed the similarities between Brooks and Harold and shared why this is such a strong competition.

"Eli's very athletic," Saleh said. "I mean, they're both built the same. If you're looking at Eli and Ahmad, they're very athletic, they're both very strong, they both love the game. So, it's a good problem. You've got two very good football players. That thing's not even close to done yet. But, having another person who can add value to that position has been a bonus. So for Eli, his athleticism, his violence, his love for the game, that's all been an exciting part for him."

NaVorro Bowman

Linebacker NaVorro Bowman is attempting his second comeback from a major injury. Against the Broncos, he was Pro Football Focus' fourth-highest graded 49ers player and the game's sixth-highest graded player overall. Saleh has clearly been impressed by Bowman's progress and has no concerns surrounding his ability to fit into the defense's new scheme.

"The guy gets like 150 tackles in his sleep," Saleh said. "When you're dealing with a guy like NaVorro, instinctually, they find the ball, they make tackles, they get PBUs. That's what they do. I think he'd be a fit for any scheme."

Saleh was asked about Bowman's coverage skills, which had been criticized by some within the media early in the offseason.

"He's been good," Saleh said. "He has no deficiencies. Bowman has looked really, really good coverage-wise. He still has his range. He's got good quicks in and out of his breaks. So, I'm really not worried about all that stuff but, at the same time, when you're looking at a guy like all these tight ends that are around now, you're looking at Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen, [Rob] Gronkowski, and there's matchup problems. And so, how are you going to handle those matchup problems? There will always be a discussion.

"I do think they can easily cover them between him and [Reuben] Foster. They can easily cover a tight end but you'll always have those discussions to make sure that you're doing what's best for the organization."

RELATED Robert Saleh on NaVorro Bowman: 'He has no deficiencies'

Tank Carradine

Each year, fans wait for defensive end Tank Carradine's potential to translate onto the football field. Saleh was not around during the previous regimes and only knows what he has seen out of Carradine this offseason. So far, it would appear that the coach is impressed.

"He might get some opportunities," Saleh said. "I think he's damn near an elite six-technique. To be able to create pocket push from an edge, I think that's where his home is. There's no shame in that, I think he's pretty freaking good at it. That's where Tank's strength is.

"Will he get some inside rush? Yes. He had some success with it with Denver. But, as a six, dominating tight ends and being able to transition from run thought to pass on first and second down, I don't know if you'll find much better than that in the league."

Against the Broncos, Carradine was Pro Football Focus' third-highest graded 49ers player and the game's fourth-highest graded player overall.

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