The San Francisco 49ers are short-handed at inside linebacker, but it has provided a huge opportunity rookie Fred Warner. The third round pick moved into the starting lineup with Reuben Foster’s suspension, and has become the leader of the middle of the defense with Malcolm Smith sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Warner has received plenty of praise for his football intelligence, moving into the MIKE role in his debut. He handles the play-calls, receiving them from the defensive coaching staff and getting the defense in position. In Week 1, he handled that, while also leading the team in tackles and forcing a fumble. He was all over the field, reminiscent of the a couple of the 49ers recent franchise linebackers. It’s too early to say what his career will bring, but he could not have gotten off to a better start.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, cornerback Richard Sherman, and general manager John Lynch all were asked about Warner’s performance. They praised his awareness. with Saleh and Sherman both praising Warner’s film study. Saleh said he regularly saw him buried in film outside of practice. Sherman said that while he did not regularly see him studying film like Saleh, the way he performed proved he was regularly staying on top of things.
Saleh said there was room for improvement, with mistakes that the average fan would miss. Lynch thought Saleh was going a little overboard, but acknowledge there is always room for improvement.
Warner will start once again on Sunday against the Detroit Lions, although this time Elijah Lee is expected to start next to him following Brock Coyle’s back injury. Expectations are only growing for Warner.
Saleh on his performance: “I thought he had good command of the huddle, did a really good job relaying the message of the calls, did a great job getting people lined up. He made plays when they were presented to him. Saw the game very well. He did have mistakes, some that are not seen to the naked eye. So, he’s got a lot of stuff that he does have to clean up. Statistically, obviously, he produced and made a lot of plays. But, he’ll tell you himself that there’s a lot of room to get better.”
Saleh on Warner film study: “I think that’s just who he is. That’s part of the whole evaluation process. He’s a film junky. That’s what he was coming out of BYU. You see him eating breakfast and watching tape. He’s sitting at a table by himself in the cafeteria and he’s got the tape rolling. He’s always deep in the film. If he continues to progress the way he is, he does have a bright future. But, like I said, consistency is the truest measure of performance. He’s got to consistently do it until he proves that that is who he is.”
Sherman on his performance: “He did a good, he did a really good job. He was calm, he was poised. If you didn’t know he was a rookie, you’d have never guessed he was a rookie. He was deliberate, made a lot of great tackles. Obviously, the forced fumble was a huge play. But got his hands on multiple footballs, got a QB hit. He was all over the place.”
Sherman on his film study: I don’t track him and see where he is at all times, but you can see it on the field. You can see that he’s always in the right spot, he recognizes plays really fast. He diagnoses things, he gets to his spots. So those are things that you can see he really puts the work in and puts the time in. Anytime a rookie middle linebacker, that’s like, as they call it, the quarterback of the defense — come out there with a rookie, and you play well — he had to be incredibly prepared.
Lynch: ”Fred Warner, shoot, that’s a really good rookie debut. I think Bob [Saleh] is splitting hairs when he says there’s a lot to work on. With every player there is … Fred had a really good debut. It really didn’t surprise a lot of us because he’s kind of been a guy who’s passed every test since he’s been here. He’s a really good player, and I think he showed he can do it on a big stage. Now you just improve upon that. I think there’s little subtleties, but one thing we know about Fred, he’s talented, and then he sees the game incredibly well. People call it instincts, knowing your assignment. But I think it’s a little bit beyond knowing your assignment. He just sees things.”