Eric Reid knows better than to panic. Playing three years at LSU, you learn how to deal with pressure.
So despite the fact the San Francisco 49ers are a surprising 1-2 with a struggling quarterback, a banged-up defense and All-Pro Aldon Smith away from the team while he gets treatment for alcohol dependency, the rookie safety Reid believes that the defending NFC champs will be just fine.
In his first three regular-season games, Reid has been a major factor in the 49ers defense with 14 tackles and both of the team’s interceptions so far this season. While the 2012 All-America has grasped the defense quickly, he admits it hasn’t been easy and that he has experienced some “growing pains” adjusting to the NFL. But spending extra time meeting with the coaches has paid off on the field, and has Reid playing with a new level of confidence.
When the 49ers decided to let Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson walk to Tampa Bay in free agency in the offseason, their plan was to address the situation through the draft. And after spending a first-round pick (No. 18 overall) on what they believed to be a can’t-miss prospect like Reid, they expected he would play right away.
“For me this is a dream come true,” Reid told FOXSports.com in a telephone interview Tuesday. “This is the job I’ve wanted since I’ve been in middle school and to have this opportunity is a blessing. I’m just grateful for every chance I have to go out and play with this defense in San Francisco.”
Reid has been under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, but the rookie attributes much of his growth to eight-year veteran and fellow safety Donte Whitner, who has looked after Reid on and off the field.
“We have veteran guys like Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, but Donte is a safety so he knows what I’m going through on a play-to-play basis,” Reid said. “He’s definitely taken me under his wing. He’s another coach for me. We have great coaches on the team, but he’s given me a player perspective on things. He’s always telling me how I can do something better or something to look out for on the field.”
The 49ers will be undermanned for Thursday night’s tilt against the Rams in St. Louis. Along with Smith, San Francisco may be without tight end Vernon Davis, who continues to battle a nagging hamstring. And Willis’ status is uncertain after sustaining a groin injury in Week 3. That didn’t stop Willis from calling an “out of the blue” meeting with the defense this week, stressing the importance of taking the season one game at a time and to not make too much of the disappointing start.
Although the 49ers employ an aggressive defense that relies on instincts and timing, penalties handicapped the secondary in the Week 3 loss against the Colts, cornerback Tarell Brown drawing three of the 49ers’ six flags. But says that won’t stop the secondary from challenging opposing wide receivers at the line of scrimmage.
“There has not been one word of that,” Reid said. “Our corners are very aggressive and that’s how we like them to play. We want them to challenge receivers. I guess we need to be a little more aware of how deep we are when we get past five yards, we have to let off a little bit. But that’s the style of play our coaches ask of us to have.”
The Rams pose threats on the outside with speedy receivers such as Chris Givens, Tavon Austin and Austin Pettis. The real playmaker in the Rams’ offense, though, has been fifth-year tight end Jared Cook. The Rams acquired the 6-foot-5, 254-pound target from Tennessee in free agency and his immediate impact (seven catches, 141 yards, 2 TDs in the season opener, his last game in St. Louis) has the 49ers keying in on him.
“He’s tall and deceivingly fast,” Reid said of Cook. “You can see on film that he has a nice stride. We just have to be aware of him when he’s on the field and the position that he’s in. If the linebackers need help, then we have to help them but at the same time we just need to execute our calls.”
If Reid has anything to do with it, he’ll make sure that the 49ers don’t get caught up in the hysteria that goes with the national spotlight and instead finish Thursday with a win.