San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner was always going to take the next step to become a legitimate player in this league. What we didn’t know is Kwon Alexander would be the one to accelerate that process. As much as we love to talk about analytics, football is still an emotional game. Richard Sherman is the vocal leader of the defense, but Alexander injects a level of energy that was much-needed.
You wouldn’t describe Warner as quiet, but he was undoubtedly reserved. The more he is around Kwon, the more you can see him jumping up and down before practice, or getting his teammates fired up in between plays. You can thank his running mate for bringing out the best in Fred.
That’s leadership. John Lynch said the same before Saturday’s joint-practice kicked off:
“I think Kwon, that’s something we were looking for. We knew that Kwon was an exceptional football player. We also know that he’s got some natural leadership qualities. He brings juice. He’s one of those guys who when he’s on the field, everybody plays a little harder, a little faster. You could see it scream through the tape in Tampa. When you can see that through sideline tape, that tells you something. With Fred, he kind of brings out a different side of Fred. That’s been a fun process to watch for us.”
The evolution of Warner has been fun to watch. Alexander’s intangibles aren’t just limited to energy and “rah-rah speeches.” He has his teammates back. There were a couple of occurrences during training camp where a running back would run over a defensive back, and Alexander would be the first to not only help his teammate up but jaw with the ball-carrier. He has no problem letting you know “I bet you won’t do that to a linebacker,” while walking into the huddle. It may not seem like much, but it gives off the vibe that the defense is a unit.
That carries over into the positive plays as well. If Warner forces a fumble, or Marcell Harris breaks up a pass, you’ll see everyone celebrating. That’s how it should be. The further along we get into camp, the clearer it’s becoming that this defense is “light years ahead” of where they were last year, as Sherman said. This unit just needed a little injection of enthusiasm, and there is nobody better to do that than Alexander.