Rookie linebacker Fred Warner is making his presence felt in training camp.
In fact, on Thursday his presence was felt by fullback Kyle Juszczyk in a very real way when Warner delivered a crushing hit to his ribs on a bang-bang play, a short pass to “Juice” by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The hit prevented the completion. It’s something Warner’s teammates and coaches already have seen often in the first week of 49ers training camp.
“The guy knows how to hit,” tight end Garrett Celek told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. “He hit a couple guys pretty hard. You know, some people don’t have that in them. He definitely has it in him, and he’s a smart player as well.”
Warner wasn’t even supposed to participate in any contact Thursday because of a sore chest. But defensive coordinator Robert Saleh told reporters after practice that it was such a quick-reaction play that Warner’s instincts took over.
“It was completely accidental and ‘Juice’ is all right,” Saleh told Inman.
Warner, a 6-foot-3, 236-pounder, was a third-round pick by San Francisco out of BYU, where he played a hybrid linebacker/safety position. Because of that experience, Warner excels in pass coverage.
After the 49ers selected Warner, Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network, a former NFL scout, said Warner is “someone who can run, cover and blitz. In today’s NFL, that’s what you want out of a linebacker.”
This summer, Warner is getting plenty of opportunities to get first- and second-team reps because of injuries to the linebacking corps, and he’s showing the coaching staff he could contend for a starting position very early in his rookie season. Saleh says Warner plays fast because he’s smart, able to diagnose what’s going on with the offense and is able to react and attack. With Malcolm Smith and Brock Coyle nursing injuries this week, Warner has stepped into an inside linebacker position and performed well. Saleh says Warner needs to become more consistent, but he’s coming along quickly.
Soon, he’ll be able to see what an NFL game is really like, when the Niners open the exhibition season Aug. 9 vs. the Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium.