Vic Fangio publicly named Eric Reid as the starting free safety for the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday afternoon, an announcement that dwarfed the relatively tame list of roster moves the team made to get down to 75 players (more on that later).
The locker room was made available after Fangio’s press conference, and Eric Reid met with reporters in front of his locker. When a reporter asked how Fangio broke the news, Reid’s eyes got wide and he said, “He didn’t. You just told me.”
Reid may have been playing coy, because there was little to no doubt he’d be the starting free safety throughout camp, from the moment he made his presence known with a couple big hits against Denver to his first start on Sunday against Minnesota.
“We’re not surprised,” said Donte Whitner, the team’s starting strong safety. “Ever since day one he’s been picking up the system really well. He’s been extremely physical back there, he’s tackling well, communicating well. He’s been showing some veteran already in him.”
Donte Whitner has a vested interest in Reid’s development. Whitner lost his old partner in the defensive secondary when Dashon Goldson signed with Tampa Bay, but he believes Reid can step in and become, like Goldson, a physical player who creates turnovers.
“Really good ball skills. Really big guy. I think he’s probably close to 220 right now. And he can move, he’s quick,” Whitner said. “He’ll be able to create some turnovers.”
I asked Reid (in the 17-second video below) how much Whitner helped him earn the starting role.
“Oh, a ton,” Reid said. “When I’m on the field with him it’s very easy, because he knows what he’s doing. Sometimes he’ll say, “You make all the calls for this period,’ just to see where I’m at with it. If he sees that I’m confused, he’ll help me out.”
Reid rarely requires Whitner’s assistance, however.
“He doesn’t look confused at all now,” said Whitner, who started 14 games in 2006 after getting drafted in the high first round by the Buffalo Bills. He explained why he sometimes lets Reid take over.
“That’s me trying to get him mentally ready,” Whitner said. “I know all the calls and make all the calls. I want to hear him do it. We need to hear him do it and make us all better. So in practice and walk-throughs I’ll say ‘Eric, on this series you make the calls on both sides.’ So far he’s been doing really well so he picks up the stuff really fast.”
I asked Whitner (in the 35-second video below) whether there was a specific instance he could recall during practice when he challenged Reid that led him to believe the rookie was worthy of a starting role. Whitner remembered back to when Reid first arrived in Santa Clara.
“It’s not easy for a rookie to come in and want to lift, want to get up at 6:30 in the morning and come in and lift with a veteran when he has all the special teams to do and a long day ahead. 12-13 hour days is what we were putting in,” Whitner said.
“That’s when you challenge him. Where you challenge somebody to get up at 6:30 in the morning, knowing they have a long day. First week I challenged him every day to get up at 6:30 in the morning, and he did it. That’s why he’s our starting free safety now.”