When Eric Reid was taken by the 49ers with the No. 18 pick in April’s NFL Draft, he quickly was penciled in as the starter at free safety by fans and media alike.
But in his first week of organized team activities at the 49ers training facility, Reid has felt anything like a starting safety. His head was swimming and his feet were fumbling as he battled just to figure out what to do on each play.
During the first week of OTAs, Reid took reps as second-team free safety, behind veteran Craig Dahl who was signed this offseason as a free agent from the Rams.
As Scott Kegley of 49ers.com reported this week, Reid studied Dahl’s every move, trying to absorb as much as possible from him and starting strong safety Donte Whitner.
“They help immensely because they’ve seen it all,” Reid told Kegley. "There’s not too many things from a safety standpoint that they haven’t seen. Any question that I have, they can answer right there on the spot. That’s good for me. Like I keep saying, I’m just trying to be a sponge. I want to know as much as I can because that will help me play the game.”
Reid, a first-team all-Southeastern Conference selection this past season, is trying to absorb the playbook while also trying to adjust to the speed of the NFL. Even during drills – months before game action – he’s feeling a bit lost.
“It’s fast,” Reid told 49ers.com. He said he’s just battling to “keep up,” remember his responsibilities and executing.
It’s all part of a learning process he knew would be frustrating and baffling. That’s what happens to players jumping from college football to the professional ranks. And it’s the reason that while many have high expectations for him to be the starting free safety on opening day vs. the Packers in 2013, Reid is preaching patience and perseverance.
“I don’t expect, by any means, to start from Day 1,” he told the Bay Area News Group earlier this month. “I want to earn it.”
As much as Reid is known for being a physical defender -- a 6-foot-1, 213-pounder who was exceptional against the run at LSU – he’s also known for having a good mind. He was a good student in high school and college (graduating with a business administration degree in 3½ years) and has been studying the 49ers’ playbook since late April. So, he’s confident he’ll catch up in time. But it will take a while for all his reactions and reads to be automatic, the way they are with Whitner and Dahl.
The Niners, too, believe they have a good one. That’s why they moved up 13 spots in the first round to get their man. Some scouting reports before the draft said Reid was shaky in pass coverage and may not be effective in the NFL. The Niners aren’t one of those teams. If he’s anything like what their own scouting reports showed, he’ll likely earn the starting spot sometime in July or August.
“He has great contact courage,” coach Jim Harbaugh said of Reid after drafting him. “He likes to get from Point A to Point B and go hit somebody. He’s an effective tackler, does it extremely well. He can be a range safety, cover ground. Long arms, big wing span.”