Published August 06, 2013
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Almost every time Donte Whitner looks at rookie Eric Reid he's reminded of what it was like to be a safety selected in the first round competing for a starting spot.
Whitner, San Francisco's savvy strong safety, had little time to adjust to the speed of the NFL. Taken eighth overall by the Buffalo Bills in 2006, he faced Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Week 1.
Reid, the former LSU standout the 49ers drafted at No. 18 after trading up to get him, is hoping to start against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the regular-season opener Sept. 8. And when San Francisco hosts Denver in his first preseason game Thursday night, Reid might even get a few snaps against another former NFL MVP: Peyton Manning.
"I think that would be great," Whitner said Monday. "I think that would be great for him to get experience in all four (preseason) games because you can go out and make mistakes in these games, get your first NFL game action and not cost us anything. The only thing it might cost you is a little confidence if you get beat."
While Reid is getting his turn with the first-team defense, he has yet to win the starting job.
The competition to replace All-Pro free safety Dashon Goldson — who signed a free agent deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — has been among the closest in camp. C.J. Spillman, Trenton Robinson and Craig Dahl all have spent time starting in practice, giving way in the rotation this week to the rookie.
"Right now it's a battle," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "It will sort itself out. The one good thing about training camp, we get a lot of reps. Everybody will get a lot of work and it will sort itself out."
Reid played three seasons for LSU and is still considered somewhat of a raw talent in pass coverage, though he thrives in stopping the run — one of the staples of San Francisco's stout defense.
The 6-foot-1, 213-pound Reid said comprehending the more advanced schemes in the NFL has been one of his toughest tasks. Not to mention learning an entirely new defense.
The Tigers played a 4-3 scheme, while San Francisco uses a 3-4 alignment. Reid said the concepts are the same, but the responsibilities fall to different people — and can change after the ball is snapped, which never happened at LSU.
"The biggest adjustment is this is a job," Reid said. "The coaches have families to feed. Other players have families to feed. So their job is kind of dependent on you. So you want to make sure you do what you have to do to help those guys out to win games."
Reid, along with the other safeties, has relied on Whitner to fill in the blanks. He sits just to the right of the eight-year veteran in meetings, asking questions and listening to advice.
Whitner has been impressed by the rookie so far — on and off the field.
"He's not a repeat offender. He doesn't make the same mistake two, three, four times," Whitner said.
Whitner has worked in Fangio's system since both arrived in San Francisco in 2011 and remembers leaning on players such as Troy Vincent, Nate Clements, Takeo Spikes and London Fletcher in Buffalo. Now that he's beginning the final year of an $11.75 million, three-year deal, Whitner is the one taking on more responsibility with Goldson gone.
"It's not really a strain. But I really have to do all the vocal stuff back there. When Dashon was here, he really had his side of the football field and I had my side of the football field," Whitner said. "That's my job, to make the other guy feel comfortable."
Whitner's advice for Reid: don't be afraid to make big plays, but understand your limits.
Whitner should know. He nearly stole the show in his first regular-season game, intercepting a pass by Brady in the fourth quarter. As Whitner was running in for the go-ahead score, Clements was called for an illegal block that wiped away the return. The Bills punted and never got the ball back.
Whitner sees the same type of big-play ability in Reid.
"The potential is always there, but potential can get you beat also by being rushed out there and playing some of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League and you're not ready experience-wise," Whitner said. "It may not be the way it's drawn up in the book when you get out there."
NOTES: The team announced that John McVay will be the 24th inductee into the Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. 49ers Hall of Fame in October. McVay joined San Francisco in 1979 as the team's director of player personnel and spent 21 seasons in the franchise's front office, including as vice president and general manager from 1983 to 1994. He returned to the franchise as the director of football operations from 1999-2003.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP