SANTA CLARA -- James Onwualu is a newcomer to the 49ers’ linebacker room.
It did not take him long to size up rookie Fred Warner and give him a nickname.
Presidential Fred -- a fitting moniker to compare Warner's comportment with the traditional manner in which the person in the nation’s highest office is expected to carry himself.
“He’s a natural leader, even though he’s younger,” said Onwualu, who signed with the 49ers' practice squad on Nov. 19 and got a promotion to the active roster this week.
“I’ve only been here a week or so, but he has a confidence, he takes charge in that role, and he’s very professional in what he does. He has the media surrounding him like he’s the president. It’s unique to see a guy who can come in and step up like that.”
Warner was the 49ers’ third-round draft pick. He likely was not chosen any higher because he was not considered an elite, explosive athlete. But Warner quickly proved himself worthy of the trust that Reuben Foster never earned with the organization.
Although he never played inside linebacker at Brigham Young, Warner was immediately moved to the new position at the beginning of the offseason program and given the responsibility of calling the defensive signals from his spot at middle linebacker. Warner wears a radio transmitter in his helmet with a direct line from defensive coordinator Robert Saleh on the sideline.
“I thought it was just cool being able to hear a call in your helmet,” Warner said. “In college, you just get the call from the sideline. Did it take some time to get used to? I wouldn’t say hearing the call in my helmet and relaying it. But just lining up and making sure I’m not only getting the other guys in the right spots, but getting myself in the right position to play football.
“Playing inside linebacker was completely new to me at that point. I feel like I’ve come a long way since then.”
Warner leads the 49ers with 83 tackles and six passes defensed. He has one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He said the time off during the bye week gave him a chance to take a step back and see what he needs to accomplish to finish the season strong.
“Overall consistency,” he said, “and being able to make the big plays we need on game days, creating those turnovers.”
Foster was considered a prototypical mike linebacker, but the 49ers added Warner in the draft at a time when it was unclear whether Foster would ever play again for the 49ers. Foster was facing felony domestic violence charges.
As it turned out, charges against Foster were dismissed. But he would play in only six more games with the 49ers. Foster was released after being arrested at the team hotel in Tampa, Florida, on a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence against the same woman who initially accused him during the incident in February in Los Gatos.
Saleh said he knew from the moment he first met Warner that he could handle all of the communication responsibilities and multi-tasking. He compared him to former NFL linebacker Paul Posluszny, whom Saleh coached with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“He’s one of the smartest interviews I’ve ever had,” Saleh said of Warner. “He can take in information better than anyone I’ve been around. He’s up there with Paul Posluszny to me, and Paul Posluszny was darn-near a rocket scientist.
“When you look at Reuben, Reuben’s personality, he wants to run, hit and hurt. That’s his personality, so just let him go do that. Not that he wasn’t capable of playing the mike, because he’s very, very capable. He’s very intelligent, very smart. But, when it came to Fred, just his intelligence and his IQ are off the charts.”