Almost every day now, rookie safety Eric Reid is making a positive impression on 49ers coaches and teammates.
His high football IQ and his ability to learn quickly make it apparent that even though this is Reid’s first NFL training camp – and he’s listed at No. 2 on the depth chart at free safety behind C.J. Spillman – he could be the opening-day starter on Sept. 8 against the Green Bay Packers.
But as the 49ers’ first exhibition game Thursday night against the Denver Broncos approaches, veteran strong safety Donte Whitner has said the best thing for his young teammate’s development would be to play as many snaps as possible against front-line players in the exhibition games – so he can test himself and even fail.
Whitner told reporters the summer games can give Reid some valuable, cost-free lessons, and the first could be against the Broncos’ Peyton Manning, one of the NFL’s best.
Making mistakes against Manning would be valuable teaching tools.
“I think it would be great,” Whitner told the Bay Area News Group. “The only thing it might cost you is a little confidence if you get beat. But it won’t cost you in the win column, and this is where he’s going to gain his experience.”
Whitner has been serving as a mentor this camp for Reid. He’s been answering Reid’s questions and providing tips and information. And, the veteran likes what he sees in Reid. But he’d love to see what Reid can do when facing a QB such as Manning this week. Over the next three weeks Reid could play against the Chiefs’ Alex Smith, the Vikings’ Christian Ponder and the Chargers’ Philip Rivers. Those would be warmup acts for the first regular-season test, against the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers.
“The potential is always there,” Whitner told the Bay Area News Group, when asked about Reid. “But potential can get you beat (if you’re) being rushed out there and playing against some of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League. You’re not ready, experience-wise.”
Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio says he likes what he sees in Reid, but he hasn’t given him the starting nod. He still must prove himself in practices and games.
“Right now it’s a battle,” Fangio told reporters. “It will sort itself out. The one good thing about training camp, we get a lot of reps. Everybody will get a lot of work and it will sort itself out.”
One thing Whitner has been impressed by is Reid’s ability to learn.
“He’s not a repeat offender,” Whitner said. “He doesn’t make the same mistake two, three, four times.”
Lately, Reid -- the team's first-round pick from LSU -- has been getting snaps with the first-team defense and making notable plays. On Monday, he knocked down a would-be touchdown pass on a goal-line defensive situation, reported Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group.
Reid, obviously, is motivated and eager to learn and earn a spot in the opening-day lineup. On his Twitter account, Reid consistently posts a similar message about his mindset. The message:
“NO. DAYS. OFF!! GET BETTER TODAY! IT’S A MUST!”
If he gets a chance to face off against Manning Thursday, it will be his biggest test yet.