Since coming into the league as the 49ers’ top pick in 2013, safety Eric Reid has had an up-and-down career.
Over his first two seasons, Reid had seven interceptions and 19 passes defensed. Over his past two years he’s had one interception and 13 passes defensed. Reid was Pro Bowler his first season when he was in on 91 tackles, but hasn’t gone again after seasons of 42, 66 and 62 tackles.
Reid, a powerful hitter when he first joined the 49ers, has fought through three concussions and hasn’t been the same kind of tackler.
Now Reid enters the final year of his initial NFL contract, and he’s due a base salary of $5.7 million. After last season – when the analytic website Pro Football Focus judged his performance as just average – it seemed unlikely that his time with the 49ers would extend beyond 2017.
And yet, Reid now finds himself with a good opportunity to be an impact player again in the new defensive scheme of coordinator Robert Saleh. In Saleh’s system, Reid is being tailored to be the strong safety, playing close to the line of scrimmage for maximum run support.
To Reid, it’s a much more exciting role and one that best fits his talents. In the past, Reid has played a deeper safety spot and alternated between free and strong safety responsibilities.
“Even dating back to college, this is the first time where it’s a distinct strong and a distinct free (safety),” Reid said of the new scheme. “I’ve been used to the interchangeablity type of role, so it is new.
“I feel like I’m just using what God has blessed me with more, which is my size, being in the box, in the run game. In the past, I have just felt like I could do more and being in the post, I can’t use my size as much when it comes to the run game.”
Reid is strong at 6-foot-1 and 213 pounds and physically suited to the new role, but it’s his mind as much as his build that impresses Saleh, who says Reid is “unbelievable from a mental standpoint,” able to absorb and process information quickly. Said Saleh: “I’m excited about Eric and what he’s capable of.”
So is Reid, who told ESPN.com’s Nick Wagoner that he “was made for this position.”
“(Hitting is) my favorite part of the game,” Reid said.
In his new role, he’s going to get plenty of opportunities to do just that. And if he excels, he just may earn more time in the Bay Area.