Versatile Seventh-Round Pick Colbert is Impressing 49ers

Rookie safety from Miami has been a sure tackler on special teams and is now showing promise after moving into a starting role at safety

When the 49ers used a seventh-round draft pick on University of Miami defensive back Adrian Colbert this spring, general manager John Lynch touted Colbert’s versatility.

Lynch told reporters at the time that Colbert could probably play both cornerback and safety, but the 49ers would likely try him at corner first. Plus, Lynch projected Colbert would be “one heck of a special teams player” too.

Now, 10 games into his rookie year, Colbert is contributing significantly.

As the 49ers prepare to play the Seattle Seahawks Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, Colbert has been one of the best special-teams tacklers and has been moved from cornerback to a starting role at safety, filling a need because of multiple injuries.

In the 49ers’ most recent game, a victory over the New York Giants before a bye week, Colbert’s play at safety was graded as strong by the analytic website Pro Football Focus. Plus, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh loves the way he practices and plays.

“He’s relentless in his work ethic and his preparation,” Saleh said this week. “I love the way he hits. He’s a very physical football player. It’s very important to him.  … Every play, every rep, every meeting is very, very important. He’s very into it. He has omething to prove for sure.”

At 6 feet and 200 pounds, Colbert has made an impression with the way he tackles and hits. Saleh says Colbert has great instincts from the free safety spot, where he’s starting.

“His tracking angles in space when that ball does reach that second level, we call him the eraser, to erase all the issues that might happen in the run game,” said Saleh. “He has the ability to track in space which makes him a really good special teams player. Now, the last part that we’re trying to get to is mental. If he can get to that mental speed we feel like he might be able to be a pretty good safety. That’s the last part of it.”

With season-ending injuries to safeties Jimmie Ward and Jacquiski Tartt, Colbert will get his chance to learn and perhaps challenge for a starting role in 2018.

His next opportunity will come Sunday against the 6-4 Seahawks. Kickoff is set for 1:05 p.m.

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