49ers

49ers key matchup No. 3: Boone vs. Starks

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49ers key matchup No. 3: Boone vs. Starks

This is the first part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Dolphins matchups to watch Sunday, 1 p.m. (CBS), at Candlestick Park.

49ers RG Alex Boone vs. Dolphins DT Randy Starks

Tale of the tape
Boone (75): 6-foot-8, 300 pounds, third season, Ohio State
Starks (94): 6-foot-3, 305 pounds, ninth season, Miami (Fla.)

Alex Boone was asked the question that he wouldn't have even considered when last offseason began.

Is it possible your best position is guard and not tackle?

"Whoa," Boone responded.

Why did the question catch him, ahem, off guard?

"Because I never thought I'd be a good guard, at all," Boone said. "To be honest with you, I'm too tall. I'm not built like a guard. But once you adapt to the game and understand the position it becomes a little easier. There are things you have to continue to work on. It's just different. There's not a lot of space to work with, and you got to make it work."

Boone has made it work through 12 games in his first season after receiving word at the 49ers' first gathering of the offseason that he would be converted to a new position. The 49ers already had left tackle Joe Staley and right tackle Anthony Davis entrenched as starters.

The weak link of the 49ers' offensive line for years had been right guard, where Chilo Rachal and Adam Snyder lined up the past several seasons.

Boone has not merely just held his own. He has excelled.

Pro Football Focus, which grades every player at every position, ranks Boone as the No. 3 guard in the NFL behind left guard Evan Mathis (Philadelphia) and right guard Marshal Yanda (Baltimore).

Boone is coming off a strong game against the St. Louis Rams, and he'll have to produce another good effort Sunday when he is matched mostly against the Miami Dolphins' veteran Randy Starks, one of the top defensive tackles in the league.

Starks, who was selected to the AFC Pro Bowl team after the 2010 season, is a versatile player who will pose a challenge for Boone in pass protection. Starks ranks second on the Dolphins behind Cameron Wake with 4.5 sacks on the season. Starks is also stout against the run.

The 49ers must get their run game going, and the Dolphins rank as the league's eighth-toughest defense when it comes to stopping the run. The Dolphins yield just 94.5 yards rushing per game with a 3.7 average. Led by Frank Gore, the 49ers average 5.3 yards per rush attempt.

"Alex, I thought, had one of his best games, if not his best game last week," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "Technically, from an assignment standpoint, everything he did last game was really well. He's come along really well, he's learning every week.

"You see a lot of different styles of defender, a lot of different styles of defense and Alex is the kind of guy we want, a guy that's pushing to get better every week. So he's doing a great job. When he gets out in space, he can get rolling, a bit like an 18-wheeler going down a hill. He did a great job last week on a couple of our perimeter plays."

Boone has found a home at guard for the 49ers. And he might be there for a while. And that's something, when he thinks about it, comes as a surprise.

If and when he ever moves back to tackle, he believes he'll be better for the experience.

"It can make you tougher, being a guard," Boone said. "I always used to think that guards were guys who just sat there and didn't do much and were kind of lazy. But after playing the guard position, it's a tough spot. Guys really try to go through you. They don't try to go around you too much. They just take you down the middle. They're big, thick guys, so you're working every play. It's kind of fun. It's like a fistfight in a phone booth."

Ward injures hamstring under team supervision, placed on PUP

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Ward injures hamstring under team supervision, placed on PUP

SANTA CLARA – Safety Jimmie Ward was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list to open training camp with a hamstring injury, the 49ers announced Friday morning.

General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan stated on Thursday that all of their players were healthy and no players would be headed to PUP or the non-football injury list.

But that was before the 49ers were scheduled to have their conditioning test. Ward sustained the injury on Thursday during the team's conditioning test. The team lists him as "week to week."

He can be activated to begin practice at any time. Ward is also eligible to begin the regular season on the PUP list. Any player who opens the regular season on PUP is ineligible for the first six weeks of the season.

Ward is expected to be one of the key members of the 49ers' defense from the free safety position. His role is dubbed "The Eraser," fellow safety Eric Reid said, because of his role as a playmaker in the secondary. However, one of the major questions about Ward is his ability to remain healthy through the rigors of an NFL season.

Ward missed eight games as a rookie due to a foot injury. Last year, he sat out five games due to a shoulder injury.

Hyde 'flipped a switch' this offseason, sets lofty goal in contract year

Hyde 'flipped a switch' this offseason, sets lofty goal in contract year

SANTA CLARA – Carlos Hyde has been the 49ers' unchallenged starter since the organization allowed Frank Gore to leave in free agency after the 2014 season.

Finally, he has been challenged.

The 49ers drafted Joe Williams in the fourth round, signed veteran Tim Hightower and acquired Kapri Bibbs in a trade. Moreover, Hyde appears to be challenging himself, too.

“My goal is to be the No. 1 rushing running back in this league,” Hyde said. “I feel like I have the best opportunity to do that now with this new staff.”

General manager John Lynch said he has noticed Hyde “flipped a switch” in the offseason. Hyde remained in the Bay Area to use the 49ers’ facilities to work out and eat at the team’s cafeteria. At one point, he even asked coach Kyle Shanahan about being included on special teams.

Hyde reported to training camp Thursday at 228 pounds – the least he has weighed since his high-school days, he said. Hyde could be a good fit for Shanahan’s running scheme.

“It’s outside zone, which is downhill. I’m a downhill back. I feel like I fit the scheme very well,” said Hyde, who enters the final year of his contract.

Hyde had career-best totals of 988 yards and six touchdowns last season with a 4.6-yard average. Although the 49ers could use more a multi-pronged approach at running back, Hyde could be set up for a career year heading into free agency.

“I ran into him in the hall and he looks tremendous,” Lynch said. “He really has dedicated himself. He’s changed his body type this offseason and that to me at the least bit shows a commitment. There’s those stories, but we’re excited to see this whole thing as we take the next step.”