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49ers LB Eli Harold Takes Studious Approach to Pass Rushing

Eli Harold's relentless play has been a highlight of San Francisco 49ers training camp.

In fact, the third-round pick was recently praised by defensive coordinator Eric Mangini for his play thus far.

"He's got a tremendous motor, which is the starting point," Mangini said of the outside linebacker. "He's intensely competitive. He's one of those guys that you always have to tell them to hurry, but don't rush, and slow down, get your reads because he's so quick off the ball, he's so quick to read and react, which is a good thing."

Harold's speed up the field has stood out in 1-on-1 pass-rushing drills and 11-on-11 periods in camp. The University of Virginia product has also shown his power when rushing against offensive tackles.

After Sunday's competitive camp practice in full pads, Harold said that tenacity has been his football persona since he first strapped on a helmet.

"Even when I was young, I've always been the guy who just runs around all day," Harold said. "That's followed me throughout my football days. 'Find ball, go to the ball.' I feel like you can't teach a guy how to run to the ball. You can't teach a guy to be enthusiastic or passionate. I try to take those things and apply them on the football field."

The rookie already has a few individuals to thank for his growing arsenal of pass-rushing moves. The team's stalwart left tackle Joe Staley has been Harold's greatest challenge during 1-on-1 drills, but also a valuable resource for instant feedback.

On Sunday, the two discussed various moves and techniques on their way from the practice field to their respective media sessions in the Levi's® Stadium auditorium.

"I told him what I'm thinking about when I'm going against him and ways he can attack me," Staley said. "That's exciting to see out of a young guy: Someone that has all the physical tools to be very successful in the league coupled with the eagerness to learn and play with everything he has.

"It's one of the first things you look for in a rookie, the way they approach the game, the way they study and their eagerness to learn from the older guys."

Harold provided a few more specifics regarding Staley's tips.

"He was just telling me, 'You need to feel a veteran guy out at the start of the game. Show him your power before you show him your speed,'" Harold said.

After nine practices of clashing against one another, both players know that they'll be better for it once their combatant is wearing a different color jersey.

Harold explained that Staley has used techniques he rarely saw while playing at Virginia.

"Joe is a freak athlete," Harold said. "I'm just trying to go day-by-day and find out his weaknesses. I'm still feeling him out. Going against him everyday, I'm getting better at pass rushing. … To be the best, you've got to go against the best."

In addition to working with his coaches Jason Tarver, Scott Brown, Clancy Pendergast and Aubrayo Franklin on a daily basis, another well-known mentor Harold has learned from in his young career is newly inducted Hall-of-Famer defensive end Charles Haley. During the team's offseason program, the only player to ever win five Super Bowls stopped by the practice field to offer his wisdom.

Unsurprisingly, the Mr. Miyagi-esque lesson left quite the impression on the rookie.

"Charles was talking about stuff I've never heard of," Harold said. "It's just neat how there's always a higher level to what you've already learned. He was showing me angles and pressure points and moves that I'd never heard of. I look forward to meeting with him again. He's one of the greatest to ever do it. My time spent with him was definitely very, very helpful." 

The rookie got a chance to put the knowledge into action on Sunday as the team ended practice with a live, full tackling goal-line period.

Harold's eyes lit up when asked about his first snaps at full-speed.

"Oh my God, I've been talking about it since we stopped," the rookie said. "I loved it. Seeing the competitiveness of everyone: NaVorro (Bowman), Ian Williams, Ahmad Brooks, everybody. It was incredible."

On one play, Harold erupted through the line of scrimmage to stop a running play in the backfield. But that wasn't even the rookie's favorite snap of the period.

Garrett Celek's goal-line stop against a rookie running back took that title.

"I was 1-on-1 with Jarryd Hayne, and he put a move on me. It could have been a big hit, but I didn't drop my hips and stay low. But Tank *nailed *him. He made up for my mistakes so that was my favorite play."

If the rookie linebacker can continue to progress in camp and the preseason, he has the opportunity to earn a pass-rushing role in the regular season. But first thing's first.

Harold will look to maximize his playing time in San Francisco's preseason opener against the Houston Texans.

Harold sounded beyond ready to make his preseason debut.

"I'm very excited," said Harold, unable to hold back a smile. "I can't wait."

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