SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Eric Reid had some initial hesitation when he was first told that the San Francisco 49ers planned to move the longtime safety to linebacker.
After trying the new position out for more than a week now, Reid is ready to commit to the new role with enthusiasm even if the 49ers aren’t ready to show the same kind of commitment to Reid.
“I had some questions at first about it but I think now I’m really embracing it,” Reid said Thursday. “I’ve been at the position for a week. I think I’m starting to pick it up. I’m looking forward to learning and getting better.”
One of Reid’s concerns when he was first told about the switch was how it would impact his future. Reid, a first-round pick who made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season in 2013, is in the final year of his contract.
With free agency looming, Reid wasn’t sure how the change would affect him when he went looking for a job in the offseason. He said he asked defensive coordinator Robert Saleh if the team wants him to be part of the future and was frustrated when he didn’t get an answer.
“I asked them explicitly, ‘Can you at least tell me I’ll be here next year to play this position?'” Reid said. “Coach Saleh said he doesn’t make those decisions. For right now I just have to trust that the film I have at safety is good enough for me to enter free agency with and get some film at linebacker as well.”
Reid got his first action at his new position in last week’s 40-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. He played 48 of 75 defensive snaps and recorded three tackles. He allowed two completions on three targets, according to SportRadar, as the Niners allowed 501 yards.
But Saleh feels that the more time Reid gets at linebacker, the better he’ll play and the better San Francisco’s defense will be.
“Eric Reid being a very physical player that he is, and being one of our smartest players, we as an organization felt like it wouldn’t be an issue for him to move a couple yards closer than he already was,” Saleh said. “We thought he did a good job and in practice he’s showing up again. There’s no doubt in my mind, if the league thinks he was a really good safety, wait until you see his versatility and what he’s able to do as a linebacker. He’s going to be unbelievable.”
The change was predicated on a few factors. Reid injured his knee in Week 2 against Seattle and missed the following three games entirely before playing only 10 snaps two weeks ago in Washington.
With Jaquiski Tartt filling Reid’s old strong safety role capably and Jimmie Ward set at free safety, the Niners felt moving Reid to linebacker would allow the team to get its best defenders on the field at the same time.
San Francisco was thin at linebacker after releasing NaVorro Bowman and moving rookie Reuben Foster from the weakside spot to the middle so Reid stepped into that role. He didn’t play in base defense, but Saleh said he believes Reid can become an every down linebacker despite weighing between 217 and 220 pounds.
Saleh compared Reid favorably to one of his former players in Jacksonville, Telvin Smith, as well as other converted safeties such as Mark Barron of the Rams and Arizona’s Deone Bucannon as undersized players capable of thriving at linebacker.
“What they’ve mastered is the ability to get on and off blocks within a short area. They utilize and create space to utilize their quickness and utilize their speed,” Saleh said.
“For Eric, looking at what he’s able to do, he’s a very fast, quick, has great short-area quickness, and he’s very physical. Now it’s just trying to learn how to create space in such a short area. He’s like a sponge, man. I think he’s going to be cool in there. I do. I think he’s going to be pretty cool.”
NOTES: T Trent Brown (concussion), G Brandon Fusco (biceps), WR Marquise Goodwin (back), DE Aaron Lynch (calf), CB K’Waun Williams (quadriceps) did not practice. … Foster (ribs), FB Kyle Juszczyk (back) and T Joe Staley (knee) were limited.