Jimmie Ward spoke to a group of reporters in the 49ers locker room Thursday afternoon. Here’s a transcript.
Q: Do you feel like your hamstring is 100-percent healthy?
WARD: Just about. Just gotta keep going out there and pushing it to see how far I can get by the time the end of the week comes.
Q: What was it like for you being out and having to learn a new system and a new position?
WARD: I feel like I picked up a lot of slack in OTAs. I learned the whole defense in OTAs. Basically it was just reinstating the whole defense, so I don’t feel like I missed a lot. Just the physical part – being out there and seeing things at a fast pace.
Q: Have been putting more time into the mental side of stuff?
WARD: Exactly. I’m in every meeting, special teams, even if I’m not on special teams. I’m in every defensive meeting. I pay attention. I’ve got, like, six or seven notebooks full of information.
Q: Is there anything special you can do, like virtual reality?
WARD: I don’t think we’re that advanced yet. If you find anything out, let me.
Q: They have it for the quarterbacks.
WARD: We need that, definitely.
Q: How similar is your new position (free safety) to what you did in college?
WARD: It’s very similar. I was more of a coverage safety, but it’s kind of similar playing in the post. I’m not the nickel anymore – that’s what I’ve got to get used to.
Q: Robert Saleh was saying that the angle you have in the middle of the field when a runner is coming at you is difficult. Did you note that that angle was kind of sharp or harder for you to close in on?
WARD: I think I was always taught when I was young, probably in high school, to close as much space as possible as fast as you can. That’s so important to me about the angles, because if you miss an angle it can easily be a touchdown. So I always work on my angles.
Q: You haven’t been able to tackle in the offseason. If you don’t play in the exhibition games, is there a concern about it?
WARD: I feel like it’s only a concern to the people who don’t know I can play safety. To me, I feel comfortable. It’s my natural position.
ME: Do you miss playing nickel?
WARD: Yeah, I miss it. But, I’m at safety now. I get to pick and I get to hit.
Q: Playing the single-high safety, are you going to have more opportunities to be a ball hawk, and do you feel that’s your strongest suit?
WARD: Yeah, I can agree with that slightly, but it’s really hard to say because I take a lot of pride in tackling. I hate to miss tackles, too. But, turnovers are way better. You’ll just see me going after the ball a lot this season.
Q: Do you watch a lot of film of Seattle or Jacksonville or just the systems that this scheme is compared to a lot.
WARD: During OTAs, I asked the film staff to give me Jacksonville, Atlanta and the Seahawks. I got cut ups of Earl Thomas. And now, I just found out that the Chargers are running the same defense, too. I’ve been watching all those teams since OTAs.
Q: Have you started to prepare for the season opener against the Panthers?
WARD: Oh yeah. That’s been since OTAs. That’s since the schedule came out and we knew who we had to play. I’ve been watching Cam Newton, watching his eyes, watching who he targets the most, watching the tight end, watching the running back. I saw the new running back that they just drafted – I’ve been watching a little bit of college to see what type of ball carrier he is. I’ve been doing a lot of homework. I can’t wait to get out on that field and perform.
Q: When you watch Earl Thomas, what are you looking for?
WARD: I’m just looking at his breaks, and what does he do when the quarterback pumps? His tackles, his consistency, how fast does he get to the ball, how fast does he close space? That’s the most important part. And then, does he take advantage when he’s right there to make a tackle? And how attacks the ball.
Q: Is Thomas a player that you’ve followed for a while, or did you just now start watching his film this offseason?
WARD: I know a great player when I see one. Being raised in Alabama, when Alabama was in the Championship they played Texas, and then Earl Thomas came up and made a hit. And I was like, “Who’s this guy? This guy plays fast.” Draft came, he went first round. And ever since then, I’ve been keeping up with him.
ME: When you play corner, you have your back to the quarterback a lot. Now you’re playing safety and you have your eyes on him. You’re watching the play. Does that allow you to be more of a play maker?
WARD: (Deep sigh as he raises his arms and looks at the ceiling) Yeah. Yeah, I love it, man. I can really move around. Psshhh, I can play sideline to sideline. It’s fantastic. I used to always love zone when I was playing Nickel, so I’m thankful. But, I’m not knocking corner. I respect anybody who plays corner in the NFL, and especially can do it at a high level, because it’s hard. Can’t everybody do it.
Q: The hamstring injury during the conditioning test. How did it happen?
WARD: It was tight before that. I don’t know if I should have stretched. I probably shouldn’t have ran that day. It was the last rep. I felt it and I slowed down and stopped and got it checked out.