No. 3: Free Safety Jimmie Ward
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will implement a lot of Cover 3 defensive schemes this upcoming season. It’s not unlike what the Seattle Seahawks have used, and we’ve already touched on how this affects the cornerback position.
Think how successful the Seahawks have been with safety Earl Thomas, who is widely viewed as one of the best free safeties in the game. Thomas’ abilities, paired with good corners, is a main reason why Seattle is able to put so many defenders up towards the line of scrimmage.
One 49ers player to see a major change because of this is defensive back Jimmie Ward, who moves from corner to free safety — the “center-fielder” of the defense.
Cover 3 schemes call for a single-high safety to patrol the middle of the field. As this graphic below shows, he can be on an island, responsible for both sides of the field on either flank:
This shouldn’t be unfamiliar territory for Ward. After all, he played this same position and role at the collegiate level.
Still, he’s the last line of defense. And with a young crop of corners in front of him, Ward will have a very important task locking down the deepest portions of the field.