Jimmie Ward
Jimmie Ward / Clutch Points

Defensive back Jimmie Ward has been a key member of the San Francisco 49ers’ secondary for the past few years, in large part due to his versatility. But even with his ability to play multiple positions, not to mention his status as one of the team’s highest earners, Ward may not be a starter in any of them.

Instead, head coach Kyle Shanahan may deploy Ward as a jack-of-all-trades backup defensive back this season:

“I think that’s a compliment I like to give Jimmie,”

Shanahan said per Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.

“That’s the type of player he is and how talented he is, that he’s capable (of doing that). If Jimmie doesn’t earn a starting role, there’s also a good chance he’s the first backup at every single position: strong safety, free safety, nickel (corner), (outside) corner, because he’s capable of being a starter at all of those positions.”

After spending his first three seasons in the league at cornerback, the Niners moved Ward to free safety last year. But Adrian Colbert seems to have made that spot his own after filling in for Ward, who missed the last half of last season with a broken forearm.

Ward has gone back to playing corner again during OTAs. But Ahkello Witherspoon and Richard Sherman are set to start on the outside, while the slot corner and strong safety positions also have expected starters.

It’s never an easy situation for a starter like Ward to see his role reduced. But he’ll still have an important part to play on what is still a relatively shallow and untested Niners secondary. And if the inevitable injuries hit the defensive backfield, he will likely get his shot to start once again.