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49ers Safety Eric Reid Poised for 'Leap' Year

Posted Aug 22, 2014

He was a first-round draft pick. He started 16 games in the regular season and three postseason contests for the San Francisco 49ers as a rookie. And to top it all off, he finished the year being selected to the Pro Bowl.

He was a first-round draft pick. He started 16 games in the regular season and three postseason contests for the San Francisco 49ers as a rookie. And to top it all off, he finished the year being selected to the Pro Bowl.

Eric Reid should just retire. Nope. That’s not funny. It’s not even an option. There are better things to come for the 6-foot-1, 213-pound starting free safety. Reid had a solid rookie campaign for San Francisco and there’s no sense that he’s resting on his previous accomplishments.

Reid is gearing up for what looks to be a promising 2014 campaign for him and the team.

“He’s very good,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of the 18th overall pick of the ’13 draft out of LSU. “(He’s) very confident, but not cocky. (He’s) striving to get better every single day.”

Reid knows how to be a pro and how to play like a Pro Bowler. As a rookie, the cerebral safety totaled 93 tackles, according to the statistics kept by San Francisco’s coaching staff. Reid added four interceptions and one fumble recovery in what was widely considered to be a sensational start to his NFL career. Reid was named to the Pro Football Writers of America’s All-Rookie Team. He was also chosen by teammates to be San Francisco’s Thomas Herrion Memorial Award winner, an honor given annually to a rookie or first-year player who has taken advantage of his opportunities.

Following his breakout season, Reid’s comfort level in the 49ers defensive scheme is high as he enters his second year. Reid knows he belongs in professional football. He’s a valued contributor, better known as one of Harbaugh’s “trusted agents.”

There’s no more time to look back on Reid’s rookie season. Those memories are way back in the rear view.

“I guess the difference is like going from being a freshman in high school to a sophomore in high school,” Reid said. “You’re not the new guy on the block any more. Everything is familiar, so now it’s just picking up where I left off personally.”

The new guy in San Francisco’s secondary this year is Antoine Bethea. The former Indianapolis Colt Pro Bowler and Super Bowl Champion during his eight-year tenure for the AFC South club is now Reid’s partner on the back end of the 49ers new-look secondary. Bethea replaces strong safety Donte Whitner as a key defensive cog.

This example of roster turnover has Reid playing the role of mentor in a sense. Of the two safeties, Reid is the one more versed in the playbook. Funny how that works out in the NFL – but it also speaks to Reid’s intellect when it comes to X’s and O’s.

“None of these plays are new to him – the verbiage is new,” Reid said of Bethea. “The offseason was about us getting on the field together and learning how to play together and I think we’ve done exactly that.”

Reid could form a bond with anybody. He’s likable. He cares and most importantly, he always wants to win. What’s not to like about that? Those qualities were evident when Harbaugh tried to recruit the Geismar, La., high school standout to play collegiately at Stanford.

Harbaugh didn’t get his way back then. But he gets to work with Reid every day now. And what a joy it is for Harbaugh and the coaching staff.

“He’s a smart guy,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, “and smart guys improve faster than guys that aren’t smart. He’s much improved over where he was last year.”

Reid knows the defense better, but he also knows what the opponents are trying to do. Fangio said his free safety understands route combinations, running game combinations and has a much improved command of the 49ers system.

“I think he’s just improved everywhere,” Fangio said. “He’s an experienced player now.”

And of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that Reid’s NFL career is in the midst of an important phase.

If you ask Harbaugh, which he often reminds us of this coaching phenomenon, the period between the first and second season is the most important period of a player’s development.

“Everything that he did last year he did for the first time, unchartered waters,” the 49ers head coach said of Reid. “Now, everything that he does he’s doing it for the second time. And it’s been my experience that that’s when a player makes his greatest leap, his most growth in his entire career is going from the rookie year to the second year.”

Harbaugh learned that thought process at Stanford, the very same school where he unsuccessfully tried to lure Reid.

“That’s my experience from coaching college football,” Harbaugh said. “A player going from the freshman year to the sophomore year – that 12 months, that nine months that they have between the ending of the freshman year to the beginning of the sophomore year – that’s when they can make their greatest leap in their entire career.”

It’s been six months since Reid’s rookie season wrapped up. It’s safe to say he’s in the perfect area to take his already impressive talents to a whole new level.

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