Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports



When Eric Reid joined the 49ers as a first-round pick in 2013, he was fearless, and perhaps a slight bit reckless. Maybe it's better to say that he played with reckless abandon. By all accounts, Reid is a very cerebral player, but he was a big hitter in college, and he brought that same mentality to the NFL. However, NFL players are bigger and much more physical than college players, even those in the SEC, so Reid suffered a couple of scares during his rookie year that appeared to cause him to re-evaluate his style of play.

Having already suffered his first concussion earlier in the year while tackling Seattle Seahawks receiver Sidney Rice, the scarier moment came in November against the Carolina Panthers. As he always did, Reid closed quickly and crashed into Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert. Reid never led with his head on purpose, he always came in shoulder first, but in a game of inches like football, unintended consequences often result. Tolbert is listed at 243, a full 30 pounds heavier than Reid, and he looks even bigger than that. Reid's body went limp and he fell to the ground face first as Tolbert celebrated.

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After suffering multiple concussions, there seemed to be a period where Reid played the game more tentatively. From the outside looking in, it appeared that he had started thinking about the hits that were coming, instead of just reacting, and he made uncharacteristic mistakes as a result. There were instances where he completely whiffed and missed a tackle where we had never seen that from him before.

At some point, Reid figured out the balance between being physical and being a sure tackler at the NFL level. When that happened, he started playing at the high level that fans were accustomed to seeing. Because the 49ers are running a defense this year under first-year defensive coordinator Robert Saleh that derives from the defense played in Seattle, comparisons have often been made to the Seattle players to illustrate who their San Francisco counterpart will be. In this offense, Reid is playing the role of Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor: so far, so good.

Consider Reid's first quarter in the preseason game against the Denver Broncos on Saturday evening. On the Broncos first possession, on a second down hand off to running back C.J. Anderson, Eric Reid appeared in the hole and stuffed Anderson with a perfect form tackle, allowing several other defenders to converge and hold the running back to a one-yard gain. On 2nd and 6 on that same drive, after a penalty, on the complete opposite side of the field, Reid could be seen closing quickly on wide receiver Demaryius Thomas before an errant pass sailed out of bounds.

On the very next play, Reid had perfect coverage underneath Virgil Green, forcing quarterback Paxton Lynch to put more air under the ball than he wanted to, floating it directly into the arms of free safety Lorenzo Jerome, who couldn't hold on to the interception.

When the ensuing punt touched Jaquiski Tartt, the Broncos took over at the 11 yard line. On 1st and 10, Reid knifed in and laid a solid hit on C.J. Anderson at the line of scrimmage, stopping him for a minimal gain. On first down on the following series, Lynch faked a handoff, rolled right and pitched a short pass to wide receiver Bennie Fowler. Once again it was Reid who diagnosed the play, left the player he was covering, and accelerated, sticking his shoulder pad into Fowler's torso with a perfect form tackle, stopping the receiver for a three yard gain.

On the ensuing 2nd down and 6 play, Lynch fired a five-yard pass to tight end Virgil Green, and once again, Reid appeared and hit the much bigger man, dropping him right where he caught the ball, one yard short of the sticks. On 3rd and 1 on the following play, Reid knifed in and was in position to drop the running back for a five yard loss on a toss play before it was blown dead due to a false start penalty.

Eric Reid's night can pretty much be summed up by saying he was everywhere. Obviously, preseason football is different from the regular season for a number of reasons. However, you can draw some conclusions by watching how certain players react to the responsibilities they are given in the team's scheme. When combined with the unique skillset of a healthy Jimmy Ward, it is safe to assume that Reid is playing in the perfect scheme for his abilities, and just might be about to have the best season of his career.