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49ers film breakdown: Adrian Colbert

We review AC's debut, and what makes him the next starting safety for the San Francisco 49ers.

New York Giants v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The San Francisco’ injuries continue to pile up. First Jimmie Ward, then Jaquiski Tartt. Enter rookie 7th round pick Adrian Colbert. His initial draft review wasn't glowing. He wasn't invited to the combine, but had a decent showing at his pro day. Questions arose about his ability to tackle and he was deemed to cut a niche on special teams.

This past Sunday showed he seemed to have worked hard this offseason on his tackling ability. Also, Saleh's system fits his skill set. He has good range and closing speed. He can deliver a big hit, but also make a secure wrap up tackle. While he still has some growing to do, today's film will give some insight into some of his strengths and a few rookie moments.

I'm hoping to see more of him against a top tier of receivers. The New York Giants’ offense ranks near the bottom of the league in several statical categories, so I'm taking that into context. We only face three top ranked offenses, in my opinion, the remainder of the season. We have Seattle next, surprisingly Jacksonville is ranked high in yards, and points scored (I'm going to lean towards their defense being their best offense), and the Los Angeles Rams at the end of the year.

In a vacuum AC has a lot of starting qualities. If he can continue to improve like he did from college to the pros, he has a good shot at creating some tough decisions for John Lynch and Co. in the future.

Through no planning, just in watching the tape, eight of the ten plays I'm highlighting are from third downs. The Giants offense converted 35 percent on third down. AC does a good job in flying all over the field, making solid tackles and playing well within the scheme.

On this play AC covers about 20 yards from the far hash to down a runner with a solid, wrap tackle. As the last line of defense, the ability to take the right angle and complete the tackle are two incredible assets.

The next clip gives us another example of AC's ability to close and make a solid tackle. With the 49ers in a Cover 2 look, he's positioned on the opposite hash. The running back breaks through the line and heads toward the secondary. The 49ers other starting rookie, Ahkello Witherspoon, takes a bad angle and whiffs on the tackle. AC flies in once again from about 20 yards out and wraps up the runner's ankles to stop what could've been a bigger run.

As a starting free safety in this scheme, pass coverage also involves covering ground and being over the top support to prevent deep plays. AC's job is to keep everything in front of him. He does a good job in these next few clips covering the left and right sidelines, as well as the seams, making Eli Manning's job very difficult.

On this clip, our defense sits in a single high formation. Eli aims for the go route up the right hand side (top of the field). The cornerback does a good job initially of taking away the inside positioning on the route. This forces Eli to have to put a little more air under it. AC initially stumbles as he breaks towards the wide receiver, but he recovers just in time to break up the pass and prevent the completion. That was 3rd and 2.

Another example of AC playing within the system. We're in cover 2 zone. To attack cover 2 you have attack the outside with deep outs or corner routes. The Giants call a good route combo to attack this defense. The shallow flat route by the tight end at the top of the field keeps our corner back near the line of scrimmage. The corner route aims to exploit the hole between the deep safety and the shallow corner. The route is open, and Eli drops a dime in the bucket between 3 defenders. Initially it appears a 3rd down and 16 conversion is on the horizon. AC delivers a crushing blow right when the ball arrives to force the Giants to punt.

This next clip shows AC's ability to understand his role when it comes to blitzes. Initially the 49ers come out in a Cover 2 look. The wrinkle happens when the slot corner K'Waun Williams blitzes off the edge. At that point, Colbert's responsibility is the slot wide receiver freed up by the blitz. Eli recognizes this and gets the ball out quickly. Any hesitation by AC and this slant route goes for a solid gain down the middle of the field. Colbert attacks the route, and again delivers a huge hit at the point of contact. The receiver's knees buckle and he falls to the ground for a short gain.

On the next clip Colbert does a good job of protecting the seam. He almost comes away with the interception, but at least manages to break up the pass on a key 3rd down and 3 at the end of the game. I also notice he exhibits some restraint by not flying in out of control on this one and possibly getting a penalty, or slamming into Reid and risking injury. He instead attacks the ball and almost comes up with it.

Now as with most rookies you have to take the bad with the good. AC still needs to work on patience and he could use continued work with consistent tackling. The next few clips highlight some areas he can work towards to become an even better player. Eli is a savvy vet and he often times on Sunday moved AC where he wanted with his eyes.

On 3rd and 2, Eli looks towards the top of the screen the entire play; he even pumps in that direction to further sell the play. The entire defense including AC sprint to the right (top) side of the field. Eli then quickly comes back to the left side and makes an easy completion to a wide open target.

Here's another opportunity for AC to breakdown and have more control on his tackling. He instead flies up aggressively and fails to wrap the targeted wide receiver. It looks like he stumbles on his break which leads to him being too far inside to make a solid tackle. Not sure if this is a balance issue but I've seen it on two separate clips. Thankfully another defender is there to finish the tackle so the WR doesn't gain any more yards. He missed a few tackles in this manner, especially once he started playing with the injured thumb.

I feel that if Adrian Colbert can run off similar performances once he returns from his broken thumb, he's going to really push Ward for the starting role. Ward never really seemed to show up in the game film. I knew he was back there, but seam routes often became completions, and long runs passed him regularly. Ward does have more experience in the NFL and has shown positional versatility, but his injury history makes him unreliable. Colbert however, at least in this game footage, seems to align better as the "Earl Thomas type" of player this defense was built around. It's a very small sample size against a less than stellar offense, but it's enough for him to build upon and start to string together some solid tape. I hope he gets to go against Seattle. Go Niners!