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Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

49ers’ Jimmie Ward discusses the impact of Richard Sherman’s absence, Brandon Aiyuk’s presence

Sep 24, 2020 at 8:32 AM--

Jimmie Ward is glad the San Francisco 49ers aren't moving him around from position to position anymore. While he always tried to be a team player, he felt the most comfortable at safety, and that's where he's at now.

"I've been playing [safety] since high school," Ward said on Wednesday during a conversation with Damon Bruce, Ray Ratto, and Matt Kolsky on 95.7 The Game. "I ended up figuring out I could play nickel once I got to college, and I guess coaches just, how my body type (is), and how fluent my hips are, they wanted to make me into a corner. But I was real passionate about safety because I just liked the physicality part of just being a safety."

The 49ers re-signed Ward to a three-year, $28.5 million deal this offseason. The safety said he turned down a better offer to remain with the team that drafted him No. 30 overall in 2014.

That meant the return of the same defensive backfield from last season. Of course, the group is without veteran cornerback Richard Sherman (calf) until at least Week 4. That puts a little more pressure on Ward and the rest of the defensive backs. After all, Sherman's presence changes the way offenses attack the 49ers defense.

What is different without the five-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time first-team All-Pro in the lineup?

"You've got to be more vocal," Ward explained. "And also, the ball can go anywhere because when Richard Sherman's on the field, really, quarterbacks are scared to throw to his side. If he's not in great shape on a route, quarterbacks still won't throw to his side. It's only a handful of quarterbacks that have actually really tried Richard Sherman. He just has that respect and that presence around the league."

Rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk made his NFL debut on Sunday. Ward had an opportunity to go against the first-round pick during training camp until a hamstring injury sidelined Aiyuk. Ward liked what he saw then, and he liked what he saw on Sunday.

"He has just great hands, focus," Ward said of Aiyuk. "He doesn't talk much. He doesn't talk much at all, but when he does talk, it's meaningful. Just a humble kid, and just a great talent. I can't wait to see him play again."

Aiyuk finished the game against the New York Jets with two receptions for 21 yards. He even hauled in his first NFL catch by robbing teammate Kendrick Bourne of a reception.

"I've seen him make two catches in the game," Ward added. "... But he made something happen with both. He's aggressive. He goes and gets the ball. He attacks the ball. That's one thing I like about him, too."

The 49ers remained on the East Coast between their two games at MetLife Stadium. They are staying and practicing this week at The Greenbrier in West Virginia, and will kick off against the New York Giants on Sunday.

You can listen to the entire conversation with Ward below.

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