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49ers top pick Ward gets baptism by fire

9/19/2014

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Rookie nickelback Jimmie Ward, all 5-feet-11, 193 pounds of him, had his NFL baptism by fire at the hands, and feet, of the Chicago Bears' 6-4, 229-pound Brandon Marshall last Sunday.

The San Francisco 49ers' first-round draft pick was victimized for all three of Marshall's touchdown receptions, from 17, 5 and 3 yards, in the Bears' 28-20 comeback win at Levi's Stadium.

"It's only going to get me better," Ward said after the game.

"I was challenging him ... I was trying to press him and [get] in his face, but he made some great catches. He's good with his body."

And now, after enduring a -1.6 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus, Ward figures to get a healthy dose of another physical wideout in the Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald, who is 6-3, 225 pounds and has lined up in the slot 36.7 percent of the time in two games.

So how can Ward improve in that potential matchup, especially in the red zone?

"Play a little firmer," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "Know that the body that he's going against is bigger than his and get him some help. He's just got to play a little better. He was trying to do things right the other night, but just weren't good enough.

"It's not a major overhaul or panic button, he's just got to be a little bit better."

Fangio as well as other players have talked with Ward this week to keep his confidence up after a rough outing.

"He's a confident competitor, but yet accountable," Fangio said. "He knows if a play isn't good enough, he knows that. He doesn't start to look for excuses or point the finger. He just looks at himself. But, yeah, he's a confident guy."

As is the eight-time Pro Bowler Fitzgerald.