One of 49ers safety Eric Reid’s self-described learning moments in his rookie NFL season left him lying face-down and motionless on the grass at Candlestick Park against the Carolina Panthers in Week 10.
Early in the third quarter of the 49ers’ 10-9 loss, Reid, who is listed at 213 pounds, got the worst of a collision with 245-pound Panthers running back Mike Tolbert when Reid came in high and the two knocked helmets. Reid helped bring Tolbert down but stayed on the groundwith his second concussion in a little more than two months.
Afterward, Reid said he would adjust his technique when it came to taking on bigger offensive opponents – namely by tackling lower. He may use the strategy Sunday, when the 49ers meet Tolbert and the Panthers again in a divisional playoff game in Charlotte, N.C.
“If I remember correctly, I said I wasn’t going to change my approach to tackling anybody, just to be smarter if I could,” Reid said this week. “It’s a split-second decision, and I think (the concussion) was just luck of the draw.
“We went helmet-to-helmet on that play with Mike, and that’s just what happened. I just try to avoid it as much as I can (now) and try to get the guy on the ground.”
One good indicator is that Reid has stayed concussion-free since the first Carolina game. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said this week Reid has made a notable effort to tackle smarter, which entails “(learning) who he’s tackling, the angles that are involved and the momentum that’s involved.”
Reid has been a fast learner in his first NFL season, stepping out of LSU and into the starting spot vacated by Dashon Goldson opting for free agency after last season. Reid, who started all 16 regular-season games, had 77 tackles and four interceptions. The latter figure was the most among NFC rookies and second on the 49ers behind Tramaine Brock, who had five.
Reid also did not commit a penalty in 16 games. Goldson, the man he replaced, was flagged four times last season just for unnecessary roughness.
Asked if that kind of discipline comes as a surprise from a rookie, Fangio answered: “It probably does, but not in (Reid’s) case. He’s a very smart guy, very mature. He’s emotionally stable, very coachable, and the game’s not too big for him.”
It likely helps that Reid, 22, spent his college years playing in front of crowds of 90,000-plus at LSU’s Tiger Stadium. Drafted in the first round (18th overall), he had interceptions in his first two games with the 49ers and contributed 15 passes defensed during the season, second among NFC rookies, to a unit that ranked seventh in the league against the pass.
Those impressed by Reid’s performance include fellow safety Donte Whitner, who this week voiced some disappointment over Reid not being among the finalists for the NFL’s Rookie of the Year Award announced last week.
“How can you have a rookie that’s on one of the top defenses in the National Football League, four interceptions, and a very, very good player, and he’s not even up for Rookie of the Year?” Whitner said. “I think that’s bogus.
“I think a lot of the people that are on there are on losing teams, and it’s easy to go out there and do things for a losing team. It’s harder when you have expectations and people are all eyes on you to perform well this year, and I think he should be in consideration for some of those awards.”
The 49ers recently recognized Reid when the coaches voted him as the recipient of the Thomas Herrion Award, given to the team’s top first-year player. Reid missed no games despite the two concussions – each time he was cleared to return the next week – and he shrugged off concerns over that being a recurring issue.
“Some people look at it as two in one season,” Reid said. “I look at it as two in 10 years, and hopefully I’m done for another 10 years.
“I’m just going to keep playing and keep tackling.”