Ward must eventually beat out Bethea to earn starting job

Ward must eventually beat out Bethea to earn starting job
May 9, 2014, 8:45 am
Share This Post

The 49ers replaced Donte Whitner with veteran Antoine Bethea in March and added Jimmie Ward on Thursday. (USATSI)

Programming note: Watch Jimmie Ward's introductory press conference today at 2 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and STREAMING LIVE right here

SANTA CLARA -- Safety Eric Reid on Friday morning publicly welcomed rookie Jimmie Ward as the newest member of the 49ers.

Eventually, Reid and Ward figure to be starting together as safeties in the 49ers’ defensive backfield. But that pairing is not likely to occur for at least another year or two.

In a move that coincided with Donte Whitner signing a big contract with the Cleveland Browns, the 49ers signed former Indianapolis Colts safety Antoine Bethea to take his place.

The 49ers awarded Bethea, an eight-year veteran who turns 30 in July, with a four-year, $21 million contract that included a $5 million signing bonus.

[RELATED: Bethea provides 'smart, steady' scondary leadership]

Ward comes to the 49ers as “an understudy” to Reid and Bethea, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. But Ward said he will not be satisfied as long as he spends any time on the sideline.

“Basically, I’m going to try and fit in wherever I can fit in,” Ward said. “I’m versatile, so whatever spot I get, I’m going to try to start. I’m not just going to come in there. I’m a competitor, so I want to play.

"But there’s a lot I can learn from them guys. Those guys have been there for a couple years. I know I’m going to come in and I know they’re going to teach me a lot.”

Ward figures to beat out Perrish Cox and Eric Wright as the 49ers’ nickel back -- entering the game to cover the slot receiver when the opposition goes with three-receiver formations.

But Ward will not get on the field for every defensive snap until he replaces Bethea in the starting lineup.

The 49ers must make a decision after the upcoming season whether Bethea will be back as the starter. Bethea’s scheduled $3 million base salary for 2015 becomes fully guaranteed on April 1, 2015, if he remains on the team’s roster.