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49ers Camp Notebook: Rookie defensive backs undergo position changes, welcome first game action

© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports


SANTA CLARA — The 49ers used the No. 95 and 145 overall picks in April’s draft on defensive backs with plans to swap their positions. Third-rounder Tarvarius Moore has been converted from a safety to cornerback, and fifth-rounder D.J. Reed has moved from cornerback to a free safety-nickelback hybrid.

Consider the chaos of any player’s rookie season, twist it with a position switch (multiple for Reed), and learn a new system, all while being expected to immediately contribute among a thin, young secondary — and that’s Moore and Reed’s NFL introduction. They have experienced quite the whirlwind in short time, to which only each other could relate.

It makes sense that they are training camp roommates.

“We definitely try to keep each other uplifted, giving each other words of encouragement,” Moore said.

Moore and Reed sound like rookies. They’re soft-spoken, admit there has been a learning curve, and revel in the thought that they will play in an NFL game in a day, when the 49ers host the Dallas Cowboys in their preseason opener Thursday night. Reed is not sure how to access the Levi’s Stadium field because he has never seen it in person. Moore thinks he has been out there once.

“I guess I have to get familiar with it Thursday,” Moore said.

Through nearly two weeks of training camp, however, Moore and Reed have resembled NFL players ready to make contributions sooner rather than later.

Reed split second-team reps at free safety and nickelback prior to Sunday’s practice. Then starting nickelback K’Waun Williams hurt his ankle, and Reed inherited the role. Like any rookie, he has endured some bumps, most recently allowing an Aldrick Robinson 70-yard touchdown to beat him over the top at free safety in Tuesday’s practice. For the most part, though, Reed has been sticky in coverage and shown good instincts as a single-high safety. He has impressed his coaches with intangibles.

“He’s got a great mindset, a great mentality,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s fighting. We’re asking him a lot for a rookie to learn free safety and nickel. He’s doing a good job with it… He has taken this opportunity and absolutely run with it.”

Moore’s most obvious trait is his blazing speed. He clocked a 4.32 40-yard dash at his pro day, which would have tied the fastest time at the NFL Combine. He also produced a 39.5-inch vertical leap and 11-foot-1 broad jump, establishing himself as one of the top athletes in the 2018 draft class.

But the NFL is filled with speedsters, as Moore knows. He said the biggest adjustment between training camp in college and the NFL is the mental side of things. Before he can unleash the burners, he must first understand technique, schemes, and coverages.

“Some plays, I can say I don’t trust my ability as much coming from a different position,” Moore said Tuesday. “I believe once I get that trust in myself, knowing my technique is down pat, and knowing I know my assignment for each and every play, I will be able to play faster and have more confidence.”

At times, particularly on slants and shorter routes, his feet have gotten tangled, and he has consequently lost a step or two. But he has shown impressive recovery speed on go routes throughout individual drills. He also has two total interceptions during 11-on-11 drills, including a diving catch during Sunday’s practice.

“As soon as he understands that he’s a lot faster than everybody else on the football field, and he starts to trust it and gain a little bit more patience as a corner, like we preach, he’ll continue to grow,” Saleh said. “It’s a learning curve for him. He’s got a chance, and he’s got the right mindset, too.”

Reed and Moore are two important pieces in the 49ers secondary this season. The professional experience nosedives from starter to backup, with the exception of Jimmie Ward, at every secondary spot. Reed and Moore are just an injury or two from seeing the field.

Saleh has prefaced comments on rookies by saying he is anxious to evaluate them in a game setting, which will finally come Thursday. The excitement is mutual.

“I am pretty sure we are done trying to beat up on each other,” Reed said. “We are ready to go hit somebody else.”

But first, he will have to locate the field.

Sherman, the financial advisor

Yet another example of Sherman’s leadership was disseminated Tuesday, when Reed and Moore said they sat next to the three-time first-team All-Pro during meetings. Sherman has relayed messages to the rookie defensive backs that extend beyond football, including budgeting.

“You can’t really provide for your family like now like you want to,” said Reed, who paraphrased what Sherman had told him. “You got to really save your money and budget. That’s hard to do. People think once you get in the league you are this millionaire or something. It’s an illusion. They don’t think about taxes and you have to take care of yourself.”

Highlights from Tuesday’s practice

-Garoppolo connected with Robinson in the right corner of the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown during move-the-ball drills. Shortly after, in normal 11-on-11s, Robinson beat Reed on a double-move up the middle, and Garoppolo dropped in a 70-yard touchdown — the longest pass completion of camp thus far.

-Jerick McKinnon opened 11-on-11 drills with a 15-yard run to the outside. Joe Williams and Jeremy McNichols later busted big runs up the middle.

-Garoppolo was fortunate on a couple errant throws Tuesday. Early during practice, he forced a throw over the middle into double-coverage. Ahkello Witherspoon had a seemingly easy interception, but he dropped it, then punted the ball out of frustration. Later in practice, Marquise Goodwin, who had a couple catches on intermediate routes, ran toward the sideline. Garoppolo threw the pass toward the middle, as to expect a slant, into Greg Mabin’s hands. He, too, dropped the pass.

-Garoppolo barely overthrew Dante Pettis on a streak up the middle. The ball bounced off Pettis’ outstretched left hand and fell to the ground.

-Safety Terrell Williams Jr. picked off an under-thrown ball from C.J. Beathard.

-Jullian Taylor, DeForest Buckner, and Sheldon Day all had would-be sacks, had hitting been allowed.

 

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