Trent Baalke gave Eli Harold a clear directive following his rookie season. The San Francisco 49ers general manager wanted his pass-rushing linebacker to be able to better take on blocks and hold the point of attack.
That meant that Harold needed to bulk up, a task he took very seriously. San Francisco's third-round pick in 2015 supplemented his daily workouts with increased calories at every meal and additional protein shakes. That, combined with a sweets-free diet, helped Harold return to the SAP Performance Facility at Baalke's desired size.
"I'm quite a bit stronger," Harold said of his offseason transformation. "I felt like, this is my job. This is what I do for a living, and so I have to take it seriously.
"I tried to put the right things in my body to help me out. I've got a great support system in Virginia. My family was cooking me the good meals."
Harold said he weighs around 270 pounds right now. That's a full 20-pound gain from his playing weight as a rookie. Throughout San Francisco's offseason program and the upcoming training camp, Harold plans on shedding five pounds down to a playing weight of 265 during the season.
"I feel good. It feels natural," Harold said. "Which is good with Coach Chip out there having us run like rabbits. It's getting better. I feel like I'm getting used to the weight."
The former Virginia Cavalier benefitted from an offseason without the grind of the pre-draft process. Harold made it clear that he will never miss having to train for another 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.
"That had to be the most stressful part of my life," Harold said. "Not knowing where you're going to be, whether I'm going to be all the way across the country or close to home. Ultimately, I'm happy where I am."
Harold has been taking advantage of learning from veterans on the defense like NaVorro Bowman and Antoine Bethea. He showed flashes of his athleticism as a rookie. Now it's about turning his God-gifted ability into production on Sundays.
"All of my life I've been so raw. I want to learn to be a technician," said Harold, who posted 13 tackles and one forced fumble in 2015. "Having guys like NaVorro and Antoine to look up to helps me out a lot."
So, what are the linebacker's expectations for his second season in the NFL?
"I'm a competitor. All my life I've wanted to be the best at everything I do," Harold said. "I'm just going to work hard and let the chips fall where they may. Whether I'm the starter or the third guy, I'm going to give it all I've got. I'm going to push those guys to get better so we can all be on the same page and help each other out."