49ers safety Dahl still ahead of Ward at backup spots

49ers safety Dahl still ahead of Ward at backup spots
August 26, 2014, 1:45 pm
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Craig Dahl enters the 49ers' final exhibition game as the primary backup at both safety positions. (USATSI)

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SANTA CLARA -- Veteran Craig Dahl got the start Sunday ahead of rookie Jimmie Ward in place of Antoine Bethea, who sat out with a concussion.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Dahl remains as the team’s No. 3 safety with the regular-season opener approaching on Sept. 7 at the Dallas Cowboys.

“Probably if we lost a safety during a game, we’d finish it with Dahl,” Fangio said on Tuesday. “And then we’d make a decision depending on how long that safety is out whether we’d put Jimmie in there or leave Craig in there.”

Fangio said it makes no difference whether the 49ers would need to replace free safety Eric Reid or Bethea, the strong safety. The safety positions are interchangeable, he said.

Ward, the 49ers' first-round draft pick, has a role in the 49ers' defense as the team's nickel back. He is slated to enter the game any time the opposition puts three wide receivers on the field.

[REWIND: Ward opens in nickel, gets interception at safety]

Dahl started 16 games for the St. Louis Rams in 2012 before signing with the 49ers last year as a free agent. In February, he agreed to a paycut of $600,000 to return to the 49ers.

Dahl made three tackles and a stop on special teams on Sunday against the Chargers, but he has also been partly to blame for surrendering touchdown passes to Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers in the past two weeks, Fangio said.

“The one against Denver, we didn’t play correctly and Craig was one of the main culprits for it not playing correctly from a schematic standpoint,” Fangio said. “That’s why the guy (Broncos tight end Julius Thomas) looked so wide open. It wasn’t such as a physical beating as we didn’t play the play correctly.”

Dahl was also in coverage Sunday when San Diego tight end Antonio Gates caught a 10-yard touchdown pass behind linebacker Patrick Willis.

“Craig got a little too far outside,” Fangio said. “He had a tough assignment on that play and got too far outside and got beat inside. We could’ve given him a little more help underneath, but on that particular play, he’s going to have to play that one.”