Jimmie Ward is the senior-most member of the 49ers secondary. With Jaquiski Tartt not returning to San Francisco this season, it will be on Ward to take on a mentorship role with second-year safety Talanoa Hufanga. It’s a role that Ward has embraced.
“I realize what’s real, and what’s real is right now I have more experience,” said Ward after OTA practice Tuesday afternoon. “So, if I can catch him (Hufanga) up and help coach him and try to give him some of the knowledge that I know, that will make me and him equal. That will raise my game up just because I can count on him, and he’s going to make me better.”
Hufanga made three starts during his rookie season while playing in 15 games. The veteran believes that experience will help Hufanga in 2022.
“Him seeing the game from last year got him comfortable for this year,” said Ward. “He’s covering, he has great angles in the run fit, and he knows his stuff.”
Hufanga was the third player selected by the 49ers in the fifth round of the 2021 draft. His wild hair and playing safety at USC have led some to compare him to Troy Palomalu. He may never reach that level; however, the young safety has proven to be a quick study. In fact, during one play on Tuesday, Hufanga’s communication saved Ward from making a mistake.
“Huf is a great guy. Talks a lot, heavy on the communication,” noted Ward. “There was one play today where I ended up forgetting the rotation call. I was so locked in, and Huf got my attention. Just like that, I could have bust, but he has enough experience.”
Ward and Hufanga started two games together in 2021, victories at Chicago and against the Los Angeles Rams. The 49ers came out on each game’s winning side, and Ward recorded his only two interceptions of the regular season in that Rams contest.
San Francisco has several of the top quarterbacks in the NFL on their schedule for 2022. They will need the new combination at safety to not miss a beat if they are to return to the playoffs.