Similar to what Arik Armstead said earlier this week, fellow rookie defender Eli Harold is already looking ahead to 2016.
The San Francisco 49ers third-round pick in 2015 played in all 16 games this season, recording 13 tackles, four tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries. Harold played primarily on special teams to begin the year but saw his role grow within San Francisco's defense by season's end. The rookie even started a game in place of Aaron Lynch while the linebacker was out with a concussion.
"I'd say I got better each week. I now know how to play the position," Harold said of his transition from a 4-3 defensive end in college to a 3-4 outside linebacker for the 49ers. "It was my first time learning how to watch film and diagnose my opponent. I'm not where I want to be. I've got a long ways to go, but I feel like I grew a lot as the season went on."
One of Harold's finest moments came during a Week 8 road game in St. Louis, when Jaquiski Tartt forced a fumble of Rams receiver Tavon Austin. Harold scooped up the loose ball and returned it eight yards down the field. At the time, it was San Francisco's first fumble recovery of the year.
Another of the linebacker's first-season highlights came against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 12. Harold pointed to his second-quarter tackle for loss of running back Chris Johnson his favorite play of the year.
"That was a big stop," Harold said of the third-down tackle he made along with nose tackle Ian Williams. "We had the black unis on, and it was my first start so I really liked that moment."
Harold didn't say that he was surprised by anything the NFL threw at him in Year 1. The pass-rusher said that he prepared for all scenarios so that he was never "shell shocked" when things would come up for the first time.
He did mention that one of his top memories was being on the same stage as some of the league's top superstars.
"The biggest thing was playing against the guys that I watched forever: Larry Fitzgerald, A.J. Green. Playing against those guys was amazing," Harold said. "I really appreciated those moments."
Harold plans to go back home to Virginia for the start of the offseason. He also may return to Orlando, Fla. to train at the same spot where he prepared for the NFL Scouting Combine last winter. Harold looks forward to utilizing the beaches in Florida to work on his speed and agility.
Harold will then return to the 49ers facilities to begin the team's offseason program on April 4.
Outside of getting faster, Harold said that his top offseason goal is to gain weight to fill his 6-foot-4 frame.
"Weight gain will help me hold the point (of attack) and make things easier," Harold said. "You won't strain as much with added weight because a guy won't be able to move you as easily. Strength also comes with that."
While being focused on his first offseason as a professional athlete, Harold already has his goals for next season on the forefront of his mind.
Getting the first sack of his career tops that list.
"I'm ready for next year to see where I'm gonna be, because I know I have a lot of potential," Harold said.