Jimmie Ward spent the last month recovering from a hamstring strain and watching a lot of game film.
He found Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to be an especially captivating subject.
“I’ve been watching Cam Newton, I’ve been watching his eyes, watching who he targets the most,” Ward said on Thursday. “… Basically, I’ve been doing a lot of homework and just can’t wait to get out on that field and perform.”
Ward, of course, will face off against Newton and the Panthers in the teams’ season opener on Sept. 10. It also will be one of the first games he plays at his new single-high safety position.
The 49ers hope Ward gets plenty of practice repetitions in coming weeks and is able to play in at least one exhibition game before the Panthers arrive. However, he is being eased back into practice slowly and coaches haven’t decided whether he will suit up for Sunday’s preseason game in Minnesota, the exhibition game in which the starters are expected to play the most.
Ward said he learned his new position in the spring. But he’s received no full-contact work to this point.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said the safety’s biggest challenge will be getting used to tackling oncoming ball carriers from the middle of the field where the angles are trickier.
“To me, the hardest part is being able to track and tackle,” Saleh said. “Coming out of the middle hole, when the defense gets creased and it’s him and the back one on one. That’s the hardest tackle in football in my opinion. Those are the reps that he hasn’t gotten.”
Ward said the key is to close those gaps as quickly as possible so that his opponent has less space to make a move.
“That’s so important,” he said. “Because if you miss the angles, it can easily be a touchdown. So I always concentrate on working on my angles and working on tight breaks.”
Ward said the objective this week is to push himself a little more each day in practice and to reassess his hamstring at the end of the week.
Making his Marks — Saleh said newcomer Sen’Derrick Marks will line up at the defensive tackle spot where DeForest Buckner, Chris Jones and Quinton Dial have played this offseason. Saleh and Marks spent the last three years on the same Jacksonville squad.
“He’s a good football player,” Saleh said of Marks. “We’re just trying to work him into shape. He hasn’t been through OTAs, training camp and all that stuff. But (we want to) give him a chance to play these next two games and see what he’s got.”
Et cetera — The 49ers went through their first full-padded practice since they scrimmaged with the Broncos last week.
* Fullback Kyle Juszczyk has a shoulder sprain that is not considered serious. He is wearing a blue jersey in practice that signals he’s not to be hit.
* Receiver Aaron Burbridge (hamstring) and cornerback Will Redmond (ankle) did not practice Thursday.