Rookie linebacker Fred Warner signed a four-year contract with the 49ers on Wednesday morning and soon after received praise from coach Kyle Shanahan.
The third-round pick has seen time with the first-team defense at “Mike” linebacker during OTA practices and this week’s mandatory minicamp, while veteran Malcolm Smith recovers from a groin injury.
“He’s very smart, he doesn’t make the same mistake twice and he’s a guy I’m excited to see once we get the pads on,” Shanahan said before Wednesday’s practice.
Warner, who played a hybrid linebacker-safety position at BYU, said covering tight ends and slot receivers in college has helped him adjust to the speed of his 49ers teammates in practice.
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The San Marcos native also said he’s taken on a more vocal role with the defense, despite his lack of inside-linebacker experience in college, due to his quick grasp of the playbook.
“For a guy who wasn’t in charge of calling (plays) in college and … be so confident with it, it means he understands it and it means he gets it, and it’s showing with how he’s played,” Shanahan said.
Warner said he credits 49ers inside-linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans, who played for the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles from 2006-15, and his veteran teammates for his initial success.
Two of these veterans include Smith, who missed last season after tearing a pectoral muscle, and Reuben Foster, a starter at inside linebacker who is entering his second season. They started together on the first-team defense for the second straight minicamp practice — a sight Shanahan said he’s been excited to watch unfold.
“(Smith) knows this game very well; he’s very smart. He’s an extremely hard player to go against especially in the pass game, (and) Reuben, I always tell him he’s like ‘The Waterboy’ out there. He’s just flying around ready to hit someone,” Shanahan said referring to Adam Sandler’s 1998 sports-comedy movie. “They balance each other out very well, so I think it’s a good tandem.”
Warner, who played just under 20 snaps with the second-string defense during Wednesday’s practice, appears to be entering training camp in late July as a backup and said he will concentrate on the preparation aspect of his game leading up to then.
“As a young guy, if I can catch on to that quicker in my career, then I think I’ll be able to be a better player sooner,” Warner said.