49ers safety Jimmie Ward returns from hamstring injury

San Francisco 49ers strong safety Jimmie Ward. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — San Francisco 49ers safety Jimmie Ward has been taken off the physically unable to perform list after missing nearly four weeks of practice with a hamstring injury.

Ward was cleared to return on Wednesday and took part in practice on a limited basis. Ward hurt his hamstring doing the conditioning test on July 27 and has been sidelined ever since.

Ward is a key part of San Francisco’s defence and the team wants to get him back up to speed as quickly as possible. The team has not decided whether Ward will play in Sunday’s exhibition game in Minnesota.

"Of course we would like to," coach Kyle Shanahan said. "But, I have really no expectations for that. We’ll see how he looks today. I’m hoping we do a little bit more on Thursday and I think we’ll have a better idea after two practices."

Ward, who has played both cornerback and safety in his three seasons, has two career interceptions and 20 passes defenced in 35 games.

He is being counted on to man the critical free safety position in this defence. The Niners call the position "the eraser" for its importance in covering up mistakes by teammates. Shanahan said Ward played well in his new role in the off-season program and hopes it carries over to the season.

"I was really excited to get him to camp here," Shanahan said. "I know it hasn’t gone the way he’s wanted with his unfortunate injury. I know I’m excited, I think everyone’s excited and I know he is. So, I look forward to getting him out there today."

The 49ers also signed defensive lineman Sen’Derrick Marks to a one-year deal. Marks was originally a second-round pick by Tennessee in 2009. He spent his first four seasons with the Titans before playing the past four years in Jacksonville. Marks has 19 sacks in 103 career games.

Niners defensive co-ordinator Robert Saleh was an assistant with the Jaguars the past three years, making for an easier transition for Marks because of his familiarity with the defence.

"I know that defence like the back of my hand," Marks said. "The only thing going to a different team is different wordage and he changed up a couple of different schemes. But the majority of it is still the same for me."

Marks adds more depth on the line for San Francisco. Starting defensive tackle DeForest Buckner has missed time in camp with an ankle injury but was back at practice on a limited basis Wednesday.