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.
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.