Jimmie Ward’s five seasons with the 49ers have been defined by promise and injuries.
The former first-round draft pick out of Northern Illinois in 2014 has been prized for his versatility, his hitting and his smarts. He’s started at both cornerback and safety and been willing to play both.
Yet over those five seasons, Ward has missed 28 games. Now, he’s going to miss even more.
For the second straight season, Ward suffered a broken forearm Sunday in the loss to the Bucs in Tampa Bay. Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game he was “pretty sure” Ward will miss the final five games of this season. In fact, with his contract due to expire at the end of this season, it’s possible that Ward has played his final game for the 49ers.
Ward played just seven games in 2017 and will end up playing just nine this year. As usual, he played both safety and cornerback this year – filling gaps because of injuries – and is disappointed about having to shut it down again, this time in November.
“I wanted to finish the season off,” Ward told Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com. “Safety is easy for me. It’s natural. Corner, I just started playing corner when I got in the league so each play, each game, I just started getting better, just like I was getting better at safety. So, I’ll be all right. I’ll bounce back.”
Ward had been starting at free safety because of the early-season injury to Adrian Colbert. Ward had started the season at cornerback.
Ward injured the left forearm while making a tackle on a Tampa Bay running back Sunday.
He said he can’t help the fact that he always plays a physical style, and that it has been a factor in his long string of injuries that has kept him out of the lineup.
“That’s just how I’ve played,” he said. “I just play physical. I don’t know no other way but to play. Corner, physical. Nickel, physical. Safety, physical. It’s just a tough break and when it happens, it happens. I’ve been here before. I’m just going to grind and get it back.”
Ward was replaced at free safety by rookie D.J. Reed, but Reed later had to leave the game because of a heel injury. That put Antone Exum Jr. in the game. It’s likely Exum will start this Sunday, when the 2-9 49ers travel to Seattle to take on the 6-5 Seahawks.