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49ers LB Eli Harold Reflects on Growth in Rookie Season

Eli Harold is doing what he can to play the part.

The third-round draft pick, with a box of tri-tip, brown rice and broccoli, plus fork in hand, commented on what's allowed him to grow in the first 11 games of his career with the San Francisco 49ers.

Sure, the added carbohydrates play a part in it, but the 6-foot-3, 247-pound pass-rusher cited the full NFL experience as reasons for his late-season development.

"I'm definitely stronger, more mentally stronger, physically stronger," the 21-year-old outside linebacker said on Wednesday.

As a result of his on-field strides, Harold's playing time has increased over the last three games. In a Week 9 win over the Atlanta Falcons, the Virginia Cavalier product played in 16 snaps. Coming off the bye week, Harold's activity ramped up to 21 snaps in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks two. And in San Francisco's most recent contest, a 19-13 defeat to the Arizona Cardinals, Harold started his first game of the season in place of starter Ahmad Brooks, who was inactive due to a concussion.

Check out the best photos of the 2015 San Francisco 49ers rookie class.

Harold logged a season-high 41 snaps, and according to the count of the 49ers coaching staff, Harold recorded four tackles against Arizona. The coaches have Harold down for 12 tackles this year; the NFL has credited the rookie with six stops.

"I feel like I'm showing the guys I can hold my own on my side of the ball," said Harold, who was especially proud of the way he set the edge in run defense. "I feel like that's the biggest improvement."

Harold credited his increased strength for helping him improve as a run-stopper. Harold said run defense was his biggest emphasis for improvements coming into the NFL. Harold totaled 17.5 sacks in his three-year career at Virginia.

The accomplished collegiate pass-rusher has yet to record his first NFL sack, but he did record his first quarterback hit on Carson Palmer last week.

Harold said the key to his technical growth has been about hand placement.

"There were times earlier in the season where guys would get their hands into my body and knock me off course easy," the rookie admitted. "I feel like the last few weeks I've been improving with my hands and getting better each week playing against the run."

In the final five games of the regular season, Harold said his goal is to continue his personal development. When the season concludes, the young pass-rusher stressed that his focus is on adding 10-12 pounds so he can get close to the 260-pound range.

If that happens, Harold said, "I feel like I'll be that much better."

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