After their final preseason game on Thursday, the San Francisco 49ers are now readying themselves for their first regular season contest, which will take place on September 11 versus the Chicago Bears.
But they have been dealing with some injuries to key players, particularly players on the defensive side of the football.
One of those key players is safety Jimmie Ward, who is a pretty important part of head coach Kyle Shanahan’s defensive scheme.
He has been out for nearly two weeks with a hamstring injury that Shanahan admitted was “pretty bad,” and it hasn’t improved much, if at all.
On Thursday, general manager John Lynch said that Ward will probably be placed on the injured reserve list and that he could miss the first four games of the regular season.
— OurSF49ers (@OurSf49ers) August 25, 2022
In fact, he could be out for more than the first month of the schedule.
Another note on Jimmie Ward’s injury:
It could very well cost him more than the expected four weeks. That four week period is a minimum.#49wz
— Rohan Chakravarthi (@RohanChakrav) August 25, 2022
This may not be a huge blow to the 49ers’ Super Bowl hopes, but it is a blow nonetheless.
The Niners Win With Defense, And Ward’s Absence Will Hurt In That Regard
Unlike many NFL teams in the modern era, San Francisco wins chiefly by stopping teams on defense and running the ball on offense.
Ward may not be a Pro Bowler, but he has been a fixture on the team throughout the Shanahan era.
The 49ers took Ward with the 30th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, and he played his rookie season during the tail end of the Jim Harbaugh regime that featured Colin Kaepernick at quarterback and Patrick Willis at linebacker.
Willis retired after that season and Kaepernick would spend two more rough seasons under center before moving on.
But by the 2019 season, Shanahan’s third in San Francisco, Ward had developed into a solid defensive back who was starting every game he was available to play in.
In fact, he was just named one of the top 100 NFL players for the first time in his career.
— 𝙏𝙝𝙚𝙎𝙁𝙉𝙞𝙣𝙚𝙧𝙨 (@TheSFNiners) August 15, 2022
Last season was his best yet, as he set career-highs in interceptions (2) and tackles (77).
Since the Niners’ first two games will be against the Bears and Seattle Seahawks, teams that probably won’t make the playoffs, they should be able to win them without Ward.
But Week 3 will pit them against Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos, followed by a home contest against the defending world champion Los Angeles Rams.
If Ward isn’t available for the game versus the Rams, the 49ers could be hard-pressed to come away with a win.
Last season, when they defeated Los Angeles 31-10 in Week 10, he had an interception, his second of the day, that he took back for a touchdown to give them an early 14-0 lead, which helped set the tone for the contest.
PICK 6! Jimmie Ward is ON FIRE 🔥 🏈
— betstamp Marketplace (@betstampmarket) November 16, 2021
Filling In The Void
Another option is veteran Dontae Johnson, who used to be a cornerback but has now moved to safety.
San Francisco has also signed another veteran in Tashaun Gipson to give them an extra option while Ward is out.
Gipson, 32, was a Pro Bowler in 2014 when he led the NFL with 158 yards off six interceptions.