SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- After missing all spring workouts with a foot injury, San Francisco 49ers first round draft pick Jimmy Ward is quickly making up for lost time.
In his first practice on Thursday, Ward made an interception and looked good in his role as a nickel cornerback and while playing a little bit at safety.
By the weekend, he was the talk of training camp -- tight end Vernon Davis and quarterback Colin Kaepernick and a few other stars notwithstanding.
As pointed out by Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, this is somewhat of a repeat of Ward's introduction to college at Northern Illinois, the only school to offer him a scholarship.
After only a few practices with the Huskies, coach Jerry Kill realized he found a gem in Ward, who was not heavily recruited.
"When he came in as a freshman it didn't take long to see, 'Geez, he's pretty damn good,' " said Kill, now at Minnesota. "And I think we all thought that if he put weight on, with the way he ran, he would get an opportunity to play at the next level."
As a first round draft pick, Ward can hardly be characterized as lightly recruited to the NFL, but his entrance into the next level is similar.
Ward's speed and aggressiveness jumped out at those watching workouts, verifying his pre-draft reputation.
Here is one analysis offered by NFLDraftScout.com, which projected him as the top strong safety available, although a second round candidate:
"Ward has football smarts and puts himself in position to succeed, using his speed and range to cover the deep half of the field. He came off a 95-tackle, seven interception senior season at NIU and then further impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl. NFLDdraftScout.com's Rob Rang said Ward was the Senior Bowl's most impressive pass defender. He set a school record with three punt blocks as a freshman in 2010.
In an NFL deep in destructive tight ends, Ward would be a first round pick if he were a bit taller, and that is saying a lot for a strong safety."
Apparently, the 49ers thought he was tall enough to draft him in the first round, No. 30 overall.
Fellow safety Antoine Bethea told the Chronicle that Ward's play is creating chatter.
"Like a lot of guys said on the sideline, he's always around the ball," Bethea said. "That's one thing you see in film of him in college, (he is) making plays. And yesterday making a good interception."
Said Ward of his pick: "If I keep making plays like that I'll be seen and, hopefully, I'll get some playing time."
Although Ward took a few snaps at safety in his first two practices, the 49ers need him as a slot corner, the position vacated by Carlos Rodgers, now with the cross-bay (actually up-bay from Santa Clara) Raiders.
"I like him mentally," defensive Vic Fangio said. "I think he's confident without being cocky or arrogant. I think he knows he's got a daunting task ahead of him, that he's been put behind the eight ball with no offseason work.
"I think he's ready to work. I think he's very coachable. He's ready to fight through the growing pains. I think everything about him emotionally and mentally will end up being on the plus side of his ledger."
Ward's first few days were not without some rookie initiation.
Twice he covered wide receiver Anquan Boldin and learned that the physical, 11th-year veteran is not to be trifled with.
"He gave me a good swim move," Ward said. "He put his strength on display. So I know how to play him tomorrow. I would say I was (nervous) more about the things I need to know and what I have to do. But football comes easy. ... It's really just trying to learn a new playbook."