SANTA CLARA — Safety Jimmie Ward looked spry as the 49ers began Friday’s practice, an encouraging sign for their defense but not a certainty he’ll make his season debut Sunday at Seattle.
The 49ers listed Ward as questionable, even though after practice he reporters he is “100 percent and good enough to go.” Coach Kyle Shanahan, meanwhile, is understandably reluctant at pushing Ward into the lineup some three weeks after he aggravated his left hamstring issue.
“You always want to play when someone’s 90 percent and we’d love him out there, but we don’t want him to go out a few plays and miss him for another month,” Shanahan said.
Ward hurt his left hamstring the first day of training camp, and after popping loose scar tissue before an Aug. 27 exhibition at Minnesota, he got nervous until realizing days later he could move better.
“It’s my first time with this type of injury,” Ward said. “When it first happened, I felt I was good to go, but I couldn’t run.”
Other than his apparent progress, nothing much is certain about his availability for Sunday, and Jaquiski Tartt could again draw the start while giving way in dime package to Lorenzo Jerome.
Now, as for non-Ward news, here are the top three things we learned before the 49ers before fly out to Saturday to Seattle:
1. Bowman’s return. Seattle will forever be linked to NaVorro Bowman’s career, seeing it’s where he sustained a major knee injury in the 2013 season’s NFC Championship Game. Bowman hopes this trip serves as a rebirth for the 49ers franchise.
“We haven’t been them in a long time there and this is a new era, we’re trying to build a new culture and why not start it by beating a team that’s kind of had our hand the last few years,” said Bowman, noting it took him a while in Sunday’s opener to get comfortable after not playing a meaningful game since an Achilles tear last October.
Bowman has totaled seven and eight tackles with no takeaways in his two games at Seattle since his knee injury. Perhaps no visitor knows Seattle’s crowd better than him. Before a 2012 win, he ripped up a Seahawks’ fan poster. As Bowman got carted off with his knee injury in January 2014, fans showered him with popcorn.
“They’re always bothering me. I don’t bother them,” Bowman said. “I go out and do my job. But those fans know how to get under your skin and I look forward to it.”
Bowman and left tackle Joe Staley are the only remaining 49ers who played in their last win at Seattle, a 19-17 thriller on Christmas Eve 2011. “It was a good game. They played well. We played better,” Bowman recalled. “That’s the kind of energy and effort we’re going to need to go up there and win.”
2. Third-down rattle. Offensive struggles on third down have been a common thread in the 49ers’ six straight losses at Seattle since 2012. Obviously, the Seahawks defense factors greatly into that 28-percent efficiency on third down (21 of 75). But so does CenturyLink’s crowd noise.
“I can see why their defense has so much success, especially on third down,” 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “(The noise) rattles the opposing offenses that come there to play. They can barely hear each other on the field.
“It forces them to use timeouts when they don’t want to use them. It forces them to key the ball,” Buckner added. “For the defense, when the offense can’t hear the cadence and they have to key the ball, it’s definitely an advantage to the defense.”
The 49ers are coming off a 23-3, season-opening loss to the Carolina Panthers at Levi’s Stadium. Safe to say the home “crowd” wasn’t a factor in the 49ers converting just 2-of-11 third-down plays.
“In the NFL you’ve got to be successful on third down to stay on the field. That goes with every week,” 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer said.
It also would help if the 49ers convert on fourth down. They were 1-for-4 against the Panthers.
3. ‘Not my problem.’ Shanahan wouldn’t share whether Laken Tomlinson will be inserted into the starting lineup, perhaps at left guard in place of Zane Beadles. But there is still an offensive lineman’s story to be told.
Garry Gilliam is the only backup offensive tackle on the roster, and he arrived in April, when the Seahawks opted to let the four-year veteran leave in restricted free agency despite constant concerns about their offensive line’s depth.
The Seahawks’ offensive line issues plagued Sunday’s opening loss at Green Bay, to which Gilliam said: “I haven’t watched it. Not my problem, not my problem.” An undrafted free agent in 2014, Gilliam started the past two seasons as the Seahawks right tackle, which is where they now start 2016 first-round pick Germain Ifedi.
Seattle originally tendered Gilliam $1.97 million non-guaranteed. The cap-rich 49ers landed him with a $2.2 million that included a $500,000 signing bonus and $1.2 million guaranteed. “I guess the main thing is I was offered more guaranteed money here,” Gilliam said.
Gilliam called blocking for Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson “a blessing and a curse.” Wilson, who is 6-0 at home against the 49ers, often flees the pocket. “It’d be nice to know where he’s at so you can block for a spot,” Gilliam said. “But if something breaks down, he’s got the ability to pick it up and make something happen.”
Gilliam said the Seahawks running game tailed off last season (25th ranked) as Wilson battled leg issues, limiting their zone-read plays and play-action passing attack.
— Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told Seattle media that it look like cornerback Richard Sherman will play. Sherman, who hasn’t missed a game in his career, is questionable after missing practice time this week with a hamstring injury. Linebacker Terence Garvin (shoulder) is doubtful.
— Linebacker Reuben Foster (ankle) is out for the 49ers. Tight end George Kittle (hamstring) is not on the injury report and fully expected to play.
— Tartt had the 49ers only interception in Sunday’s opener, and he drew their only fine: $9,115 for unnecessary roughness against Greg Olsen.
— Carlos Hyde is the only visitor to rush for over 100 yards at CenturyLink Field since 2015, posting 103 yards and two touchdowns in last season’s 29-13 loss.
— The 49ers have scored 17 points each of the last three seasons in games that preceded a Thursday night game. They host the Los Angeles Rams next Thursday.
— The Seahawks have won 13 of their past 14 home openers, outscoring opponents 355-129.
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