A look at D.J. Reed’s free safety work in place of Adrian Colbert in Week 4

 As I mentioned earlier Rookie
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, one of the biggest surprises four weeks into
the season is that the 49ers are having issues in their secondary. At the tail
end of last year, it seemed like two rookies had locked up starting jobs for
2018 — CB Ahkello Witherspoon and FS Adrian Colbert.Colbert, a seventh-round
pick in 2017, flashed in the last few games last year and suddenly became a fan
favorite. The 6-foot-2 safety finished the season with 37 tackles, a couple of
forced fumbles and five passes defensed in 14 appearances. Heading into training
camp, it seemed like the position was Colbert’s for the foreseeable future.Yet,
in the 2018 NFL Draft, the 49ers’ brain trust chose to use a 5th-round pick on
an electric defensive back, D.J. Reed, out of Kansas State. After immediately
earning the nod as a kick returner due to his blistering straight-line speed,
Reed also has his eyes set on the free safety job. Colbert left with a hip
injury in Week 3 against the Chiefs, allowing Reed to step in and impress the
defensive coaching staff. With Colbert sidelined for a majority of the week
during Week 4 practices, Reed earned the start this past Sunday at Los
Angeles.“I think I was happy with Reed’s play...I thought Reed did a good job in
the game. Improvement from last week before. I think he’ll continue to get
better with more reps,” Kyle Shanahan pointed out this week when asked about the
rookie’s performance. When asked about who the starting free safety would be
this weekend against the Cardinals, Shanahan added, “I think Colbert will be
healthier this week, which will give Colbert a much better chance to get his
spot back. We’re one day into this. We’ll see by Wednesday how much better he
is. But, I expect Colbert to get out there eventually, but D.J. got his
opportunity because of health reasons. Sometimes all a guy needs is an
opportunity. We’ll see how this week goes.”It sure sounds like once Colbert is
healthy, he’ll get his starting job back, but how did Reed look on the field
Sunday against quarterback Philip Rivers and the Chargers?While Reed only
accounted for two tackles this past Sunday, I think one of the biggest pointers
for his success was Rivers’ hesitancy to throw the ball deep. One of the NFL’s
gun slingers, Rivers always wants to push the ball down field Nick
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, yet on Sunday, Rivers seemed hesitant to do so.On
this first play here, Reed is shading over the left side of the field, allowing
Chargers’ running back Austin Ekeler to be lined up one-on-one against 49ers’
linebacker Fred Warner. Rivers stares down Ekeler the entire way and finds him
open for a touchdown down the right sideline. It seemed like Reed shifted over
late and couldn’t get to Ekeler in time.On this next play, 49ers’ corner Jimmie
Ward is lined up against Chargers’ wideout Tyrell Williams, where Williams makes
a sensational grab. Once again, Reed is on the opposite side of the field, but
is able to race over to tackle Williams immediately after the catch. Reed’s
speed is on display here, not allowing any yards after the catch.The 49ers’ poor
tackling this season has been well documented and here’s an example of exactly
what they can’t be doing. Reed races over to Chargers’ running back Melvin
Gordon and should be able to wrap him up on the sideline and prevent the
Chargers’ running back from gaining extra yards. Instead, Reed puts his head
down and tries to blindly hit Gordon, who bounces off and gains a handful of
yards after. Reed has to clean up his tackling and can’t afford to miss tackles
this poorly, especially if he aims to keep his starting job.Just as poor of a
play the last one was, this next one was the absolute opposite. After Ekeler
makes the catch, Reed seems like he’s running at a different speed than everyone
else on the field, finishing off the tackle on the Chargers’ running back
immediately.The 49ers have two solid athletes competing to be their starting
free safety, but I’d lean on the side of starting Colbert for the time being.
Reed’s explosive and his speed in the back would be phenomenal, but I’ll take
Colbert’s experience in the short term.Why the 49ers won’t look at Colin
Kaepernick The San Francisco 49ers worked out a number of quarterbacks in wake
of the Jimmy Garoppolo season-ending knee injury. For now, C.J. Beathard will be
in the driver’s seat for 2018 barring absolute disaster, but Nick Mullens is
behind him, and anyone who can man the backup job may be an improvement. One of
the more notable names not on the list of invites was Colin Kaepernick. Of
course this brought back the questions (and debates) that this was part of some
of the more wider issues keeping him out of the league. So the 49ers are part of
this madness with the league colluding and it’s an anti-Kap stance right? Not so
fast. His skillset is not a fit in Kyle Shanahan’s offenseGo back and watch the
tape of Jimmy Garoppolo. Watch how he stays in the pocket, sometimes where it’s
not to his benefit. Shanahan’s offense is predicated on pocket passing and
accuracy. Two things when said together Kaepernick has never been able to do
well with consistency. Has Kaepernick had good games staying in the pocket? Yes,
but more often than not,Kaepernick’s accuracy suffered when he was contained in
the pocket. Kaepernick’s threat is a a couple reads and then taking off which
gashed defenses. The roll outs he did were absolute killers as well. I don’t
think there’s a better quarterback who throws (or threw) rolling out. This made
him a great fit for Seattle’s offense Quarterback
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, or whatever they ran a year ago. Kaepernick
is also a huge threat with the read option. He has the uncanny ability to fool
everyone in the stadium (including the person operating the camera) on if he
handed it off or kept it. Shanahan has respect for the read option and thinks
it’s a valuable part of any NFL offense, but he doesn’t rely on it near as much
as Kaepernick may need it. That’s a valuable skill that just won’t be taken
advantage of if he runs Shanahan’s offense. Creating an offense to highlight
Kaepernick’s skills stunts the growth of the rest of the offenseWhen Kaepernick
took over for Alex Smith in 2012, the 49ers’ playbook transformed. No longer
were they relying on short/intermediate throws and a power run game, instead
they implemented the pistol formation—something Kaepernick was comfortable with
from his college days in Nevada. From the pistol, the 49ers then went to other
more traditional formations, but the read option was Kaepernick’s bread and
butter and they outright embarrassed the Green Bay Packers by running it. There
were two reasons for this: the built offense was something to help Kaepernick be
comfortable as he transitioned into more of a pocket passer and got more
familiar with the NFL level (which resulted in the opposite effect), and it was
also seen at the time as the evolution of the NFL game. Before becoming the
starter, Kaepernick ran the ‘Kaepernick package’ exclusively, which was where
the 49ers pulled Smith for a down and used Kaepernick’s legs. The 49ers thought
long-term and knew that Kaepernick was the answer, as was running the read
option into other formations, so they changed the offense on the fly to have
this package the focal point. It was used less in later years, but the plays
used instead required little diagnosing of defensive coverages (a known
weakness, and something crucial with the current offense). Since it takes longer
than a year for someone to get acclimated as a QB at the NFL level, it may have
made the decision easier since Kaepernick would be running this offense for
longer than 13 games. Kaepernick is not the future in San Francisco anymore. To
take advantage of what he brings to the table would require re-tooling
Shanahan’s offense for 13 games — which means everyone will be going to the
Kaepernick offense. That’s all fine and good, except the team is very young and
in a developmental season. Shanahan wants consistency in his offense. He doesn’t
want them playing an offense to be discarded at season’s end. He wants reps in
the Jimmy Garoppolo, pocket passing, traditional west coast offense. And those
second year players are getting further immersed in the intricacies of it.
Remember, this is one of the harder offenses in the league, but once mastered
it’s devastating—just ask the Atlanta Falcons. Putting Kaepernick in there means
those reps turn into something else and for the age of this team, reps in the
offense they will be running for years to come is far more important than reps
just to win. It’s putting the players in a position to succeed
long-term.Shanahan’s offense is hard enough to learn as it is, might as well
focus on that than change everything. The 49ers are not in win-now mode, nor do
they have a quarterback of the future they want to get playing time or evaluate.
Changing everything hurts the future of what they have around the
quarterback—and who would be sticking around at season’s end. And if they
decided to run Shanahan’s offense—no adjustments, just what are they going to
run with Kaepernick coming in without a training camp? So now everyone is held
back as they play a stripped down playbook with what they can teach Kaepernick
in a short amount of time Nick
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, which, again stunts the growth of a team
developing in a specific mold. If Kaepernick did not opt out, he would have been
cutWhen John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan took over, they had a sit-down with
Kaepernick. The two were very transparent about their plans and Shanahan’s
desire to run an offense similar to the one he ran in Atlanta. It led to
Kaepernick opting out of his contract, but had he not done so, he would have
been cut according to reports. So what does the past have to do with anything?
Well, if you were given an ultimatum to resign from your job or be fired—and you
had an option to return two years later, would you be jumping up and down? I
doubt it. Despite the fact that Trent Baalke is gone, as are a lot of the front
office members who gave Kaepernick all the headaches post-Harbaugh, Paraag
Marathe remains—and he has fingerprints on that team-friendly deal Kaepernick
got in the first place. While there has been no documented beef between the two,
it’s been reported Marathe was never much of a Kaepernick fan.Now, it’s probably
a given Marathe isn’t whispering in anyone’s ears to keep Kaepernick out but
given all the history between the 49ers and Kaepernick, would that make sense to
bring him back after all of that? And there may be others in the front office as
well. No, this has nothing to do with his protestingThe 49ers are not denying
Kaepernick because of his protesting. Could he be a distraction? Given his
history, status with the fanbase, and Beathard’s uninspiring rookie campaign,
it’s possible, but it’s so there’s not a divide in the locker room over him
starting or something along those lines, if you want to take it there. The fact
he could kneel during the Anthem has nothing to do with that distraction.
Remember, the 49ers were nothing but supportive of Kaepernick’s protest then and
now. 49ers owner Jed York publicly said he abstained from voting against any
Anthem regulations choosing instead to hear more from his players. York also
mocked the whole thing in a way by closing down concessions when the Anthem
plays. The 49ers have also matched Kaepernick’s many contributions to
organizations fighting inequality. Point is, of the 32 teams in the NFL
using“football reasons” as an excuse to not sign Kaepernick due to some larger
issue, the 49ers are one where that statement could potentially be
sincere.
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