SANTA CLARA – In one year’s time, Adrian Colbert has gone from the 49ers’ clear-cut starting free safety to a player who enters the final three weeks of the preseason on the roster bubble.
After an impressive ending to his rookie season, Colbert took a significant step back in Year 2. Now, he considers the 2018 season a distant memory, as he tries to build on the player who entered the NFL in 2017 as a hungry seventh-round draft pick.
“I’m trying to get back to my old self -- the one everybody seen in my rookie year,” Colbert said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “I feel like I’m finally back in a good place mentally, physically to go out and perform the way I used to.
“There were a lot of reasons, just a lot of outside stuff that I was dealing with and the way I handled the offseason. Lessons, not losses.”
Colbert said he did not get complacent after locking down the starting job. He said he merely did not work as hard as he could have to prepare himself for a 16-game regular season. He ended up appearing in seven games with six starts and finished the season on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain.
“I’ve prepared tremendously this offseason in ways I wish I would have going into my second year,” Colbert said. “But I didn’t. Got to live it and build myself back up to what I used to be and where I used to be.”
Jimmie Ward, who is returning from a fractured collarbone he sustained in June, and Tarvarius Moore appear to rank ahead of Colbert on the depth chart. Moore played a team-high 70 snaps in the 49ers’ preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys. Colbert played in just seven snaps after getting disqualified for a targeting infraction.
“There’s a great competition going on in that safety room,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “There are legitimate safeties all over the place in that group. I’m very excited about them.”
Two plays before Colbert was ejected from the game, he made a play that impressed Saleh. Dallas rookie running back Mike Weber broke through the first two levels on a play that Saleh said looked like it would go for 50 yards. But Colbert came flying up from his spot in the deep middle of the field to upend Weber for a 9-yard gain.
On that play, Colbert reached the second-highest game speed on the 49ers (behind wide receiver Deebo Samuel), according to the team’s tracking devices, Saleh said.
“Those are the plays that made him special his rookie year, and when you watch that clip, it was awesome,” Saleh said.
Colbert’s regression in his second season is nothing Saleh has not seen previously with other players after successful first years in the NFL.
“Not all of them understand what made them great their first year,” Saleh said. “They think they do, but they forget. They always go into that second year thinking they’ve got it. The three most dangerous words in the NFL are, ‘I’ve got it.’ For him, getting back in touch to what made him great as a rookie.”