Lynch reveals how Ward reacted to playing nickel in 2022


INDIANAPOLIS — Jimmie Ward initially rejected the plan to play nickel for the 49ers in 2022

While at the NFL Combine, general manager John Lynch told local Bay Area media how Kyle Shanahan had some convincing to do.

“At first he thought we were crazy,” Lynch said. “He wanted out, but Kyle did a good job. I know they had a meeting and convinced him to stick with it. He did, and sounds like he wants to go back to safety, but I think it adds to who he is as a player to show he has that type of versatility.”  

Over his nine-year NFL career, Ward has been asked to play every position in the secondary. The 31-year-old even did a stint as a hybrid linebacker when asked. Ward’s preferred position, however, is at free safety, and it appears doubtful at this point that agreeing to another position would be agreeable to the versatile player. 

The general manager believes Ward benefitted from the move, proving what a talented football player he is. 

“Jimmie had a fantastic year,” Lynch said. “I think the coolest thing moving to nickel is he touched the ball more than he’s ever touched it. That’s been one criticism. Jimmie has been a great player but the one criticism people might have is ball production, but he touched the ball more than he ever has.”

Even though Ward excelled at the new challenge, the Northern Illinois product does not want to return to it, and shared his displeasure in a live stream on social media. The long-time 49ers player explained that Shanahan told him if he didn’t move to the nickel position, he would "ride the bench." 
"Kyle doesn’t remember it quite like that,” Lynch said with a little chuckle. “We were never benching Jimmie. I think he more tried to sell him on why it was a good thing for him and our team.”  

Ward did rack up a career-high three interceptions over 12 regular-season games while playing nickel. Lynch believes playing closer to the line of scrimmage gives players that opportunity. The retired safety saw while playing with newly inducted Hall of Famer and Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammate Ronde Barber who racked up 49 career interceptions.
The club will have a decision to make if fellow safety Tashaun Gipson decides to return for another season as Lynch implied during his availability. Gipson was originally brought to the Bay Area to play until Ward returned from a hamstring injury that occurred during training camp. 

“I think he wants to play and we’d like to have him back," Lynch said of Gipson.

RELATED: Why Lynch equally proud, disappointed after 49ers' 2022 season

Ward broke a bone in his hand on his first play back in Week 5 and when he returned two weeks later, Gipson had solidified his role at safety and Ward took his place at nickel. If the 49ers bring both veterans back, who will line up next to Talanoa Hufanga will be an interesting storyline to watch. 

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