For now, it appears Fred Warner will begin training camp in a backup role. But his future looks promising.
The former BYU linebacker has been one of the brightest spots in 49ers spring workouts, from organized team activities through the full-squad mandatory minicamp this week.
Though he played more of a mixed linebacker/safety role in college, the 6-foot-3, 236-pound Warner — a third-round pick in this year’s draft — is working as an inside linebacker but also has received experience on the outside. As the 49ers head toward next month’s training camp, Warner is likely to take reps with the second team, behind the starting linebacker trio of Reuben Foster, Malcolm Smith and Eli Harold.
But the 49ers love what they’ve seen so far from Warner, who on Wednesday signed his rookie contract with the team.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan said before Wednesday’s minicamp practice that Warner’s football IQ is high.
“He’s very smart,” Shanahan told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. “He doesn’t make the same mistake twice and he’s a guy I’m excited to see once we get the pads on.”
Even as a rookie, Warner is taking a leadership role among the linebacker group, even calling plays at times.
Said Shanahan: “For a guy who wasn’t in charge of calling (plays) in college and … be so confident with it, it means he understands it and it means he gets it, and it’s showing with how he’s played.”
Warner, 21, was a wide-ranging playmaker at BYU, making an impact as a run stopper and in pass coverage. Over four seasons for the Cougars, Warner had 264 tackles, 32 tackles for loss, 6½ sacks, seven interceptions (including two for touchdowns), three forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and 13 passes defensed.
Warner’s happy with the progress he’s made since joining the team, but he wants to learn more from watching the veterans and focus on being mentally prepared — at an even higher level — when he gets to training camp.
It’s possible that by the season opener, Warner could earn a starting spot or significant playing time.
“As a young guy, if I can catch on to that quicker in my career, then I think I’ll be able to be a better player sooner,” Warner told Barrows.
Warner’s four-year deal will bring him $480,000 as a rookie and could be worth nearly $2.5 million in base salary over its length, reported the Deseret News of Salt Lake City.
“Everybody talks about the dream, and this is it,” Warner told the Deseret News. “I’m here.”