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Eric Reid's Versatility to Be on Full Display for 49ers Defense in 2016

Jim O'Neil has big plans for Eric Reid.

Not many of the coach's defensive coordinator peers around the NFL have a safety at their disposal with Reid's combination of size (6-foot-1, 213 pounds) and speed.

"I'm trying to think of all the safeties I've coached; he's probably one of the bigger ones," O'Neil said. "He's got rare athletic ability. He's got rare coverage ability. He's such a gym rat, football junkie."

The San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator shared that Reid was texting defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley at 11:00 p.m. earlier in the week, eager to see the base gameplan for the Carolina Panthers. Reid knows he'll have plenty of studying to do leading up to each game this season.

That's because Reid is far more than merely a safety on San Francisco's defense. Reid lined up all over the field in Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams. He did everything from play deep at his normal safety position, cover tight ends 1-on-1 in the nickel spot as well as line up in the box, ready to blitz Case Keenum. Reid finished the game with three tackles, two quarterback hits and an impressive tackle for loss against Tavon Austin in the right flat.

O'Neil indicated there's far more coming for the talented fourth-year safety.

"When it's all said and done, (Reid) will play probably both safety spots, nickel, he'll play some dime 'backer, he'll play some defensive end," the coach said. "We're just starting with him."

Defensive end? Sign Reid up. He compared it to how a quarterback would relish the chance to play wide receiver.

"It's a change-up, and I like doing it. Helping the team is most important," Reid said of his multiple roles in O'Neil's scheme. Head coach Chip Kelly acknowledged on Thursday that having the physical tools to play multiple positions is one thing, but it also takes a mental capacity to process so much information in such a short period of time.

And football IQ is something Reid has in spades.

"You kind of knew after just a couple days here that (Reid) had that versatility to be able to play in multiple spots for you, and that really has helped us," Kelly said.

Versatility has been the word of the week at 49ers HQ, and Reid is far from the only player being asked to fill multiple roles. Jimmie Ward is a starting outside cornerback and also played at nickel against the Rams. Ahmad Brooks starts at outside linebacker but will also be seen in a three-point stance along the 49ers defensive line. Jaquiski Tartt is another 49ers safety who O'Neil wasn't shy about blitzing on Monday.

Ray-Ray Armstrong is a converted safety playing inside linebacker. Marcus Cromartie is a cornerback who has now moved to safety. The list goes on.

All this is to say that O'Neil has options in his personnel groupings. And thus far, it has caused problems for opposing offenses. Keenum told reporters following Monday's game that the 49ers gave the Rams several looks that they weren't expecting.

The 49ers forced two turnovers, held Los Angeles to 185 total yards, bottled up Todd Gurley (2.8 yards per carry) and kept the Rams from ever getting into the red zone in a 28-0 shutout of their division rival.

"It just gels," Reid said of O'Neil's scheme. "The secondary knows what the linebackers are doing, the linebackers know what the defensive line is doing, and so we're all on the same page. When you on the same page as a defense, it's hard to be beat.

"(Coach O'Neil) loves seeing his guys make plays. He loves to put guys in positions to make plays. He's definitely passionate about his job."

Next up for Reid and the 49ers defense is a test against one of the NFL's elite – a Week 2 matchup against the Panthers. Another standout performance, this time versus reigning MVP Cam Newton and Co., will give the 49ers defense some well-deserved national recognition.

"We've got to step it up," Reid said. "We've got to continue to make plays. When we make one play, I think we feed off of that."

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