One season after watching rookie linebacker Reuben Foster make his much-anticipated debut, 49ers’ fans may have had a déjà vu moment when third-round linebacker Fred Warner stepped on the field in Minnesota.
With Foster out for a two-game suspension, linebacker Malcolm Smith down with an injury, Warner was thrust into the MIKE linebacker role and he didn’t shy away. The 49ers’ rookie star finished with 12 tackles, one quarterback hit, one tackle for loss, one pass defensed and one forced fumble.
After the game, Warner added “Yeah, communication-wise, I feel that it was no problem. Pretty easy just getting calls out to the defense and relaying the message from Coach [Robert] Saleh,” when asked about his thoughts on wearing the green dot (for MIKE linebackers to communicate with the sideline).
Warner went on to explain, “the biggest thing to work on is our effort and tackling.” The 49ers’ rookie linebacker was absolutely right, but fans shouldn’t place any blame on Warner’s effort or tackling.
One of the very first plays of the game, Warner was able to shoot the gap in the offensive line, force his way into the backfield and take down Cook for a two-yard loss on the play. There were certainly shades of Foster in this violent play. The Vikings were never able to get the ground game going and it’s easy to see why they couldn’t.
In this next play, it seemed like a game of pinball, with Cook bouncing off of 49ers’ defenders and eventually finding a hole. But Warner chased him down and knocked the ball out, causing a huge turn of events. The 49ers were desperately in need of a momentum-changing play and Warner delivered.
Here’s a close-up angle with Warner going to straight for the ball and not just settling for the tackle of the Vikings’ running back.
The 49ers’ rookie linebacker wasn’t just effect in tackling the running back, he was able to show his versatility in tackling wide receivers singlehandedly in space. In this next play, Vikings’ wideout Stefon Diggs comes across the field after making the catch, immediately getting hit by the former BYU linebacker.
The 49ers desperately needed a stop here, with Vikings’ receiver Laquon Treadwell looking for a big gain on this play. Warner made the sure-handed tackle, holding onto Treadwell’s legs. Again, one-on-one, in open space, there’s absolutely no concern over Warner’s tackling.
In the red zone, it becomes even more imperative for the 49ers to make sure-handed tackles on the running backs. Warner reads the play immediately, shoots the gap and makes the solo tackle on Cook. His ability to read the play, quickly make his way to the ball carrier and bring him down was amazing on Sunday.
While there’s concern over who is going to be lining up next to Warner next week against the Detroit Lions, the 49ers’ defensive coaching staff can continue to put their faith in Warner’s ability to be their MIKE linebacker, even when Foster returns. Against the Lions, it’ll be imperative to slow down their rushing attack with running backs LeGarrette Blount and Kerryon Johnson.
Warner’s impressive rookie debut should have 49ers’ fans excited for what’s to come when both he and Foster can share the field.