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Rookie Adrian Colbert could be the 49ers’ future at free safety

Appearing on Tolbert and Lund Thursday afternoon, 49ers general manager John Lynch made this statement about rookie free safety Adrian Colbert, “He played as good as game as anyone has played all year,” Lynch said.

A stunning observation about a seventh-round rookie who made his first start of the season at free safety because of injuries to Jimmie Ward (broken arm) and Jaquiski Tarrt (broken arm). Even more impressive, the comment came from Lynch, who is likely to get inducted into the Hall of Fame because of his career as a safety. No one knows more about the position than he.

Not only that, Colbert broke his thumb slamming into wide receiver Tavarres King in the opening moments of the game. Nevertheless, he not only stayed in the game, but made two more crushing tackles and broke up two deep passes from Eli Manning.

Lynch had to be really excited watching the tape of a player he figured would be a special teams guy coming out of Miami.

What stands out watching Colbert against the Giants is his range, instincts and enthusiasm. Not only is he everywhere, which is what you want from your single-high safety in defensive coordinator’s Robert Saleh’s defense, he also loves playing. He’s constantly exhorting teammates and getting everyone excited. Before he broke his thumb, he pounded his hands together if a linebacker or defensive lineman made a run stop for minimal gain.

The break did affect him and at one point, he raced across the field and belted Giants runner Orleans Darkwa with his body, rather than wrapping him up with his arms because he couldn’t his use right hand in the tackle. Also, he might have been more forceful in the run game with a throbbing, non-functional right hand, which held him out of any blitzes, probably due to the injury.

The question now is when will he be able to play? Lynch said he would be out for awhile after undergoing surgery this week. Shanahan said Monday he might just miss the Seattle game and return for the final five games starting with the game in Chicago Dec. 3.

“We don’t believe he’ll be out too long. He did it early in the first quarter,” Shanahan said. “He played through the whole game with it. It was extremely tough of him. But, it’s something you have to get fixed right away. You don’t want to play with it or it could heal wrong, so we’ve got to get that fixed right away. Possibly could miss the Seattle game, but feel pretty good about him after that.”

If a healthy Colbert can replicate his Giants performance for the rest of the season that would be a boon to the team. Discovering a forceful starter in the seventh round helps everything: your salary cap, your talent level, etc. If Colbert can fulfill the single-high safety responsibilities, it sends Jimmie Ward back to cornerback, where he was extremely effective last year. One concern: At 6-2, 205 pounds and with his propensity to slam ball carriers, staying healthy could be an issue.

The only real knock on Colbert after assessing his Week 11 performance is that he did miss two tackles, one when he was trying to hit stick a Giants ballcarrier into the stands.

About the man himself: He’s cousins with 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, and he was nearly killed in a car accident at the age of 10 when a driver ran a stop sign and barreled into him. Colbert went through the windshield and fell into a week-long coma. After the accident, his father moved him out of gang-infested Wichita Falls, Texas to Mineral Wells, Texas. He went to the University of Texas and in 2013, making the Big-12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll that year. No stranger to overcoming adversity (obviously), he’s carved a spot for himself in the NFL despite one time having a coach tell him to quit playing football because he’d never make it.

Discouraged and angered, Colbert transferred to the University of Miami for his final season and continue his education. With a bright future ahead for this courageous, hard-working young man, the 49ers have to be excited with his capacity to play safety or cornerback as the 1-9 49ers will use him at both positions over the course of their remaining six games.


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