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What Robert Saleh expects from Nick Bosa and 49ers secondary after Jimmie Ward fracture



© Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmie Ward gets injured at a pretty astounding rate. The now sixth-year free safety has been placed on season-ending injured reserve in four out of his five previous NFL seasons, along with two stints on the physically unable to perform list including this season.

Ward, hurt yet again, “doesn’t change much” for Saleh

On Thursday, the 49ers said that Ward, yet again, was hurt. Ward came in after practice yesterday to be evaluated and was found to have a broken finger. Other than that, there is no update, as the team waits to gather more information.

So, to clarify, as of yet, there has been no indication what finger Ward injured, how it happened, or what the severity is. Most crucially, there’s no timetable. Some of those details are likely to come into closer focus on Friday, when head coach Kyle Shanahan talks to media and the team provides a status report (revealing whether a player is out, doubtful, or questionable) on its players.

As of now, though, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said Ward’s injury “doesn’t change much.” That statement is a reflection of three things:

  1. K’Waun Williams will play on Sunday. Saleh confirmed that on Thursday, though he did not say whether he would start. Ward was the likely starter at nickel corner in Williams’ absence, or at least an option, with the other taken option being…
  2. D.J. Reed, who Saleh expressed confidence in on Thursday, and who is is a capable backup at nickel corner and can be slotted at safety if needed.
  3. Tarvarius Moore had a tremendous preseason and Saleh also revealed a sense of ease in starting in him as at free safety, a place where Moore may have started regardless of Ward’s injury.

As for Ward, this is just another addition to the list of injuries he’s sustained in his NFL career. Before his rookie season in 2014, Ward was discovered to have a Jones fracture in his fifth metatarsal and had a screw put in. He was placed on injured reserve in Week 10 when the screw bent and he needed a larger one inserted.

His only healthy, 16-game season was in 2015. He missed three games in 2016 with a quad injury and fractured his right collarbone in Week 15, ending up on injured reserve for the second time. In 2017, he was placed on PUP with a hamstring injury, missing much of training camp, before fracturing his left forearm and being placed back on injured reserve in Week 8. In 2018, he had a preseason ankle injury, left Week 3 and Week 6 games early with a hamstring injury and fractured his left forearm again, but in a different spot, in Week 13, yet again heading back to injured reserve.

Richard Sherman said he believes too much is being made out of Ward’s injuries and Saleh stated that his tests by performance staff come back “above average” when asked about his bone-break frequency.

“He’s a pretty strong guy. I think sometimes people over analyze and overreach with football injuries,” Sherman said. “Mentally, he’s where he needs to be. He’s not down and out.”

The good news: Nick Bosa will play… probably

Saleh came about a second away from fully confirming that Nick Bosa would play on Sunday before hesitating and adding a qualifier.

“Nick, he’s going… He should be,” Saleh said. He said, prior to that, “Bosa’s looked good so far. Obviously, we’re monitoring his reps and all that stuff, so he’s progressing. He feels good and especially with these days leading up are going to be critical for him with rehab and solidifying everything for game day.”

Bosa was less direct about his certainty to play, but said that his ankle “felt good” after Monday’s practice, saying that despite soreness afterwards, it felt very good the next morning, especially for it being a high ankle sprain.

“Everything’s going really well,” Bosa said. “Today is probably one of the bigger days, putting on pads. So, I’m still just going day by day. I’m preparing like I’m playing of course, but just have to be smart with it… I’ll be on a rep count but I’ll be practicing.”

Saleh’s not yet sure what the rotation will look like, or whether Bosa or Dee Ford will be three-down lineman, at least in Week 1 coming off injuries and considering the heat in Tampa, which, on Thursday, felt like 106 degrees, according to The Weather Channel.

“That’s what we are working through now,” Saleh said. “[Defensive line coach Kris] Kocurek is, to me, one of the best in the business in terms of getting all that stuff done. He has a really good feel for his D-Line and what each one’s strength are. He’s been training them all year and all offseason, OTAs and training camp to throw four guys out there and they can play all four spots. I feel very confident about our ability to roll guys to make sure they stay fresh.”

Other notes: Verrett’s status and preparing for Bruce Arians’ offense

  • The 49ers really, really like cornerback Jason Verrett. On Thursday, Saleh said that Verrett is still working back from the injury, but that he was near turning a corner in camp before that. Here’s what Saleh said about Verrett:

“He was, right before he got hurt in training camp, he was starting to take a step, where it was like, okay, you can see the elite movement skills, you can see it all, and then it was unfortunate what happened to him in practice. Jason knows in practice you can see his movement. He’s very, very close, and he’ll tell you he’s close and it’s just a matter of getting in there and working with the performance staff. When he’s ready to go, I don’t think anyone, even you guys, you’ll all notice it.”

  • Saleh’s praise of Verrett hit a similar chord to that of general manager John Lynch, who, on Wednesday, said the team was expecting a lot out of Verrett.

  • The actual game plan on Sunday might not include Verrett (or at least on a limited basis), but it will be accounting for a familiar head coach in Bruce Arians. Saleh said Arians is “very committed to the run game,” and delved into an Arians style that’s designed to wear the other team out.

“There’s games where they’ll have 40 carries for 100 yards, but I mean, it’s three yards, it’s three yards, it’s three yards and boom for 10, and three yards. They don’t care because the philosophy, they’re going to keep leaning on you, they’re going to double team you, they’re going to wear you out. So, you’re going to go into this game, it’s a dog fight, a very underrated dog fight, because you see just one back. It doesn’t look like anything special, but it is a very grueling game, their style, and you’ve got to have your mind right. It’s going to be physical, and you’ve got to be ready to fit in a run no matter how many times you feel like you’ve done it and how many times you think, it just keeps coming. So, discipline is a major key and getting ready for a dog fight is the big thing.”