Safety Eric Reid is a pivotal player for the 49ers in 2016. The former first-round pick has a second contract in mind while balancing an active role in Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality and racial oppression.
While the latter issue involving Reid has received a lot of attention, he’s gone under the radar between the lines as one of the team’s most positive developments of the young season in new coordinator Jim O’Neil’s defense.
According to Pro Football Focus, Reid is the highest graded safety in the NFL in the small prism of two games.
The 49ers’ two games were Jekyll-and-Hyde performances. San Francisco in the opener shut out a struggling Rams team and allowed just 185 total yards. It yielded 46 points and 529 yards to the Panthers last week, despite getting four turnovers.
With the struggling Seahawks ahead Sunday, who have scored just one touchdown in two games, the 49ers are hoping to shut down a gimpy Russell Wilson like they did Case Keenum in Week 1.
Even with Wilson nursing a high ankle sprain, Seattle’s still dangerous. The 49ers haven’t won a game at CenturyLink Field since Wilson became the starter in 2012.
“Obviously, you don’t like to see guys get hurt but it helps us that he’s a little bit slower,” Reid said of Wilson, who threw for 254 yards on 22 of 35 completions in the Seahawks’ 9-3 loss to Los Angeles last week.
“He’s probably the most phenomenal player to ever keep a play alive. He spins and runs and keeps going and then it turns into a touchdown. So, the less mobile he is, the better it is for us. I wish him a speedy recovery. I hope he’s still limping a little bit. With all do respect to him (laughs).”
The 49ers’ defense last year was zone based under former coordinator Eric Mangini, finishing 27th against the pass, allowing 261 yards per game.
They tied for sixth-worst by allowing 35 passing plays of 25 yards or more.
At the back end of the defense, Reid’s coverage played a role while miscommunication in the secondary regularly resulted in receivers streaking open downfield.
Reid finished the year ranked as PFF’s 47th-ranked safety out of 87 qualifiers. Now he holds the top spot. He’s allowed just 16 yards when targeted in coverage and leads safeties, and San Francisco’s defense, with three quarterback hits.
That could be attributed in part to O’Neil’s scheme emphasizing man-to-man techniques more than zone concepts.
“I think that’s the biggest difference for us this year,” Reid said. “We’re a lot closer in coverage. We’re a lot more man than we are zone.
“And it’s easier as a DB to make a play on the ball when you’re in man coverage because you’re closer to the person that the ball’s being thrown to, as opposed to zone when it requires a good break to be even close to making a play. So I think that’s exactly it. Man coverage is the difference.”
Reid’s also being deployed all over the field, rushing the quarterback from the edge, playing the slot against tight ends and playing his traditional role deep in center field.
At 6-foot-1, 213 pounds with long 33 5/8-inch arms, Reid has unique size and length for the position that gives him versatility that wasn’t utilized as often with Mangini calling the defense.
“I love this defense,” Reid said, “And I love the calls. (O’Neil) sends blitzes from everywhere, gives different people different opportunities to make plays. And if we continue to play hard, I think we’ll win a lot of games.”
Reid’s fifth-year option for 2017 was picked up in the spring. It will pay him $5.7 million, per NFL Media.
But Reid could come to a long-term agreement before then, garnering much more guaranteed money – particularly if he continues his strong play throughout the season.
Chris Biderman | ninerswire.usatoday.com | September 22, 2016