Life — or rather career — has come full circle for Jimmie Ward.

Back in 2014, he was a first-round safety drafted by a team that had added a safety in the first round, Eric Reid, the year prior. So what did the 49ers do with Ward?

They made him a nickel cornerback.

Anyone who remembers the launching of Levi’s Stadium that year knows how well the move went. Ward had to cover Bears receiver Brandon Marshall in Week 2 and Marshall caught three touchdowns against the rookie. The result: A 28-20 Bears win and a dud of an unveiling for the $1.2 billion stadium. Fans were left with unsavory first impressions of both the venue and Ward that were hard to wipe away.

And yet Ward somehow repaired his image.

After a move to outside cornerback — also short-lived — he finally got to play at his natural spot, free safety, with the arrival of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh in 2017. Ward settled in, found stability, and in the most recent offseason, he started getting the recognition coaches and teammates have said he’s long-deserved: He was voted one of the Top 100 players in the league. He came in at No. 96.

And now? He’s back to playing nickel cornerback.

It’s a thankless position. As former 49ers nickel Carlos Rogers once explained, outside cornerbacks have sidelines and safeties as their allies. Nickel cornerbacks are often alone in the middle of the field. Opponents can dart left or right. Nickels have to cover 5-foot-8 jitterbugs as well as big, physical receivers like Marshall or 250-pound tight ends like the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce. Ward not only was asked to do all of that Sunday but to do so with his left hand, fractured on Oct. 9, wrapped in a cast.

The results were predictably rough. He allowed six catches on six targets, and he was trailing Chiefs backup tight end Justin Watson across the end zone on Watson’s touchdown in the third quarter.

The outing was symbolic of a defense that suddenly doesn’t look like its dominant self.



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