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Fred Warner: The pulse of the 49ers defense

Warner has been incredible this season with timely turnovers and plays

Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

First of all, welcome to (or back to) the Silverado for another ride with your boy Kev. This will be quicker ride than normal, so let’s get right to it. This is what I like to call a player appreciation ride. So buckle up and let’s do just that, ride. I’m aware football is a team sport, and it takes each of those players to put their fingerprints on the outcome of a game individually.

As a former player and coach, I can’t argue that one bit. I also know for a team to be special; it’s comprised of special players as well. That said, I like taking the time to spotlight certain players that probably wouldn’t be; otherwise, that or I just feel a particular player seems underappreciated.

Thus far, wide receivers Kendrick Bourne and Deebo Samuel have been the subject of this said spotlight This week; I decided to jump to the defensive side of the ball to select my player. This is yet another one of the players that have” it”! It being that dawg mentality (that I talk about quite often) and his energy and play are contagious.

You know, that never back down, it’s you or me, and it won’t be me, never say die, I will not lose, energy, mentality, and play? This week, we’re discussing a guy that embodies what I’m speaking of in terms of the dawg as mentioned above mentality: second-year middle (MIKE) linebacker, Fred Warner.

Through 15 games in his second season, Warner has accumulated 115 tackles (87 solo, 5th in NFL ), seven tackles for loss (TFL), four quarterback hits, three forced fumbles (FF), three sacks, nine passes defended (PD), one interception for a touchdown. If Warner racks up ten tackles this Sunday vs. Seattle, he’ll eclipse his rookie year total of 124 tackles to set a new career-high.

His first career interception and touchdown both came on the same play, and what a play it was. I kept saying, Seeing as how the defense was having trouble stopping the Rams offense, I began to repeat, “BIG TIME PLAYERS, MAKE BIG TIME PLAYS, BIG TIME PLAYERS, MAKE BIG TIME PLAYS!”. Somebody on defense has to make a play; we need a turnover.

Next thing I know, Warner turned into what I call a “sky thief” and made what may be the best play of his career thus far. Ironically, below are two of my tweets leading up to Warner’s big play.

And then shortly afterward, it happened. ROLL TAPE!

Not only was this a great play, but it was also impeccable timing as the 49ers were down 21-17 and getting handled by the Rams heading into the half. The Rams were killing the defense with play-action, and the 49ers looked undisciplined and without an answer for the Rams offense. THEN IT HAPPENED!

He had his man (Malcolm Brown) on the play in his peripheral vision (using the sideline as a point of reference) heading into the flat on the flare route but simultaneously kept his eyes on Jared Goff. This allowed him to split the difference per se. Once Goff went into this throwing motion, Warner fired his gun shooting into the passing lane knowing the ball was going to Brown as if to say, “You shouldn’t have.”

That type of spark was just what the 49ers needed. A touchdown before the half is huge, of course, but a (defensive) touchdown right before the half knowing you’re getting the ball first in the 2nd half is arguably as good as it gets in terms of momentum going into the half. GOOD SHOW FRED!

With 11 tackles on the night, he was literally all over the place, making plays both in the run game and in coverage. It almost looked like he had just gotten an endorsement deal with Visa, as he was playing with that “everywhere you want to be” type defense.

I, for one, a glad he finally made it happen, as he’d been so close a few times this season for a potential pick and pick-six but didn’t quite close the deal. Below are the three he missed out on.

The one vs Atlanta, was more of a same team type situation as both he and DJ Reed tried to make a play on the ball but failed to communicate effectively, and as a result, the pass was just incomplete.

The ones vs Arizona and Seattle were indeed a clear drops, and it was obvious he knew it and wanted it back to do all over again. Definitely have to catch those. But as we saw last Sunday, he finally cashed in, and took it to the house. #ReservationsForSix

Glad you finally got you one, Fred. When asked how he made the play on his pick-six, Warner responded, “I was just doing my job.” As a coach, I love hearing players say that. Warner was not only a big part of the win over the Rams, but he’s been a big part of this 49ers defense since he’s been here.

To add some context to how well Warner has played, as a rookie, Warner recorded 124 tackles (85 solo) and 3 TFL, and 6 PD. He showed he was a special talent from the start. Newsflash: He’s arguably one of the best (and more versatile) MIKE linebackers in the game and can do it all. He’s sideline to sideline (range), a violent tackler, and is crazy athletic.

Something I feel goes unnoticed with Warner, is his football IQ, he’s young but very cerebral. Though talent in terms of making a play is important, Warner is very good at dissecting plays mentally, then reading and reacting. I don’t know him personally, but I’d assume he’s a film junkie. You know the type that knows his position and everyone else’s as well? Yeah, that guy.

If you follow my Twitter, you may recall seeing this tweet awhile back. The clip is of a linebacker (Alvin Mack) in the movie “The Program” during film study. For those of you that haven’t seen the movie, hopefully, once you see the clip, it clicks as to what I mean.

I can see Warner having that type of presence in the film room, and clearly, it translates to the field. You ever see him out there talking and pointing? That’s him being the film junkie and leader he is, pointing out assignments and relaying what he sees. As a coach, I preach talking on defense; it’s truly priceless.

Okay, now this is the part where I discuss areas of improvement. If you know me and my writing, you also know I pull no punches and have no problem acknowledging both the good and not so good in terms of this team and the players. That said, Warner’s 19 missed tackles on the season needs to be worked on and there have been some missed tackles at very inopportune times, that’s fact, not fiction.

He also struggled vs. Arizona (away) and New Orleans, but there is such a thing as off games. You know, players do have those from time to time. And let’s be honest, that soft zone vs. Drew Brees had the coverage as a collective looking suspect. The key is making the necessary corrections/adjustments and bouncing back. Warner has done just that. Speaking of bouncing back, per PFF, he’s the 5th highest graded linebacker since week 12. Keep it up, Fred!

So, I’ve talked about how effective Warner has been since his arrival last year. For those of you who’ve not seen too much of Warner, I’ve added a few clips (from his rookie year as well) for your viewing pleasure. For those who are very familiar, just enjoy watching him work. This young man is special

Warner is a special player on a special team. I’m not sure how one can watch him play and not get excited. To further demonstrate how special he is, after losing a dynamic veteran linebacker like Kwon Alexander earlier in the season, Warner didn’t make excuses; he made a decision. The loss was a tough blow, and he could’ve allowed that to discourage him and his teammates. Not the case, he decided to be better.

Like the dawg he is, Warner stepped up and took charge in the absence of Alexander. He’s definitely done a great job keeping his guys focused and has held keep this defense together, especially his linebacker group.

Whether it’s taking command of the defense, barking out calls getting his guys lined up, PBU’s, run stops, you name it. Warner can and has been getting it done it all. In my opinion, at this point, he is the glue that holds this 49ers defense together and one of the emotional leaders as seen below. INJECT THAT FIRE INTO THEIR VEINS FRED!

As the regular season comes to a close and the postseason begins, Warner and the 49ers defense will need to continue to play as a team, for each other, and work through injuries. Thus far, the team has dug deep and found a way to grind out victories, overcoming the injuries and even costly mistakes made on defense. The games they’ve lost have been on three final plays. Keep grinding fellas.

As solid as Warner and this defense have been, I truly believe we’ve yet to see them play their best football. The 49ers have an opportunity to end the regular season with a win as they walk into Century Link Sunday with the division crown, a first-round bye, and an extra week for their injured players to heal and get back to action.

In the first game vs. Seattle, Warner recorded ten tackles (9 solo) 2 TFL, and 2 PD. Solid game. Warner will need another solid performance Sunday to help contain Wilson and the Seattle offense. He and the rest of the defense will need to ensure they play sound, clean, football and provide the offense with as many opportunities to score points as possible, and perhaps even score some more points of their own in the process. LET’S GO FRED, FIRE THE SQUAD UP, PLAY CLEAN, INSPIRED FOOTBALL, AND BRING THIS ONE HOME!