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SANTA CLARA – With veteran safety Antoine Bethea out of action after sustaining a concussion last week, the 49ers turned to Craig Dahl to start Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers.
Rookie Jimmie Ward, the team's first-round draft pick, continued in his role as the team’s starting nickel back. And in the second half when he stepped onto the field at the safety position, he came up with an interception.
"You can coach a lot of stuff, you have to go into a game and play to get better,” Ward said. “Every time I go out there I learn something new.”
In his three exhibition games, Ward has covered the slot receiver against Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, Denver’s Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers. His interception on Sunday came in the second half against third-string quarterback Brad Sorensen.
And two fellow rookies deserve a lot of the credit on Ward's pick. Pass-rusher Aaron Lynch tipped the pass at the line of scrimmage, then cornerback Dontae Johnson got his fingertips on the ball to redirect it toward Ward.
Ward made the diving interception, which set up Phil Dawson’s 28-yard field goal.
When asked if he’s more comfortable playing safety or nickel, Ward said. “I feel comfortable playing both, but nickel is where I can put on a display of how versatile I am.”
Dahl started in place of Bethea and recorded three tackles. He was the closest defender on the Chargers' first touchdown, Rivers' 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Antonio Gates.