49ers

How Fred Warner became quality field general, leader for 49ers defense

How Fred Warner became quality field general, leader for 49ers defense

Fred Warner sat quietly in the 49ers locker room on Friday, seemingly insulated from the activity around him. His eyes were locked on a tablet displaying Kansas City Chiefs film. He scrolled back and forth, scanning the offense for tendencies and clues on how to defend it.

There were but a few moments between the time he plopped down and his weekly press conference, but he wasn’t letting spare seconds slip.

The 49ers middle linebacker clearly was taking advantage of every waking moment to prepare for Super Bowl LIV’s clash with the dynamic Chiefs attack.

All 49ers defenders will fine-tooth comb leading up to the championship game, as they have before each clash. It’s particularly important Warner understands what Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s offense can and will do, and how the 49ers' defense will respond.

The green dot demands it.

That indicates Warner is the 49ers' signal caller, relaying defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s play calls to players on the field. He’s chiefly responsible for making checks and ensuring defenders are in proper position to make plays.

“I feel like it's an honor just to be able to be out there and have the green dot and give the calls,” Warner said. “I take a lot of pride in that, and I try and make sure I'm the most prepared every single week with my own preparation individually, outside of our meeting rooms and stuff like that, just making sure I'm watching tape.”

Just like he was in moments before uttering this quote Friday afternoon. Warner assumed the responsibility as a rookie last season and has grown into an adept field general capable of making sure the 49ers are in position to react quickly. He has been a rock in the middle, keeping the team's linebackers afloat this season after Kwon Alexander went down with a pectoral injury. 

Warner has been excellent calling plays and executing them in his second professional season. He has 124 tackles, six passes defensed, a forced fumble and three tackles for loss in a year where he played 99 percent of all defensive snaps. He was even the NFL's Defensive Player of the Month in November. 

Warner’s also in great sync with Saleh after nearly two seasons working with him.

“As a rookie, hadn't played in the box or even given calls before, so it was an adjustment for sure,” Warner said. “There was a learning curve. But this year, he's been great about just keeping up with me, just seeing where I'm at, if it's too much, and lightening the load for me so I can go out and just play fast and be able to anticipate what the offense is doing.”

Saleh talks extensively about removing gray area from his game plans, and taking some from Warner's plate, so his guys can react quickly and use immense talent to make plays. Reid’s offense can be complex, with ways to deceive defender’s eyes and make them a step slow. That’s death against Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his track team of skill players.

“It's our job as coaches to try to make it ... you're always just trying to tell them a story and you’re trying to make it as easy as possible,” Saleh said. “You don't want to show them every play that coach Reid has run in the history of his system. You'd die, I think. But, at the same time you do have to -- coach Reid has a philosophy and we have to find a way to pull that out so the players can understand it.

“… It's our philosophy in this system to eliminate gray area from players, as much as you can. Gray area always creates hesitation. You want these players playing in a world of black and white so they know what's expected of them so they can go as fast as humanly possible.”

[RELATED: Chiefs' Travis Kelce poses tough challenge for 49ers in Super Bowl 54]

Warner must have great understanding before the snap and relies on Saleh and extensive film study. He has grown to enjoy his homework and the mental side of a violent, yet cerebral game.

“That's something that for sure evolved over the years,” the BYU alum said. “[New England Patriots LB] Kyle Van Noy went to BYU and kind of took me under his wing, and he was a film junkie. I kind of took that from him. And then once you get to the NFL, it's a whole ‘nother ball game. You can't just go out there just hoping you're going to figure things out. You've got to be able to anticipate what's going on.

"You can't know that unless you're looking at the tape so you can see what they're giving you.”

49ers, Sharks games not expected before November, health official says

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AP

49ers, Sharks games not expected before November, health official says

A South Bay health official suggested this week that an optimistic goal might be for the return of sporting events in mid-November.

Santa Clara County executive officer Dr. Jeffrey Smith told the county’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that games -- presumably high school, college and professional -- might not return to the South Bay for at least another seven months due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Smith said he did not expect there would be “any sports games until at least Thanksgiving, and we’d be lucky to have them by Thanksgiving. This is not something that’s going to be easy to do."

His comments were first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The project would mean no games in Santa Clara County for the 49ers, San Jose Sharks, Stanford University and San Jose State University.

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The 49ers will follow the lead of the NFL, as well as local and national health officials, a team official told NBC Sports Bay Area. The 49ers stance is consistent with a statement the club released on March 12.

“Our organization continues to collaborate with federal, state, and local health organizations, as well as our League office, to monitor the evolving developments regarding COVID-19,” the organization said. “Our intent is to make the most informed decisions regarding the health and wellness of all San Francisco 49ers and Levi's Stadium employees, patrons, and the community at large.”

Last week, NFL executive vice president Jeff Pash said the league is proceeding as if there will be a full 16-game schedule this season.

"All of our discussion, all of our focus, has been on a normal traditional season, starting on time, playing in front of fans, in our regular stadiums, and going through a full 16-game regular season and full set of playoffs," Pash said. "That's our focus."

The NFL has proceeded with the free-agent signing period and the upcoming 2020 draft despite travel restrictions and shelter-in-place guidelines for all league personnel. The NFL is also expected to release its full regular-season schedule around May 9.

[RELATED: Oklahoma WR Lamb could be 49ers' Sanders replacement]

But the Santa Clara County official told the Board of Supervisors he believes the risk of exposure to the coronavirus is not going away any time soon.

“There will definitely be individuals who will get sick,” Dr. Smith said. “And because there are individuals who get sick, there will be individuals who die after the order is released, unless we come up with a foolproof immunization, which is highly unlikely.”

Why Bobby Wagner is wrong Seahawks, not 49ers, are NFC West team to beat

Why Bobby Wagner is wrong Seahawks, not 49ers, are NFC West team to beat

The 49ers are reigning champions of their conference and division. They held a double-digit lead midway through the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV. Though the Kansas City Chiefs ultimately came back to win, that was only San Francisco's fourth loss of the season, including the playoffs. In those four defeats, the 49ers lost by a combined total of only 24 points -- nearly half of which resulted from the Super Bowl.

So, naturally, San Francisco would be the team to beat -- if not in the NFC, surely in the NFC West -- next season, right?

Not according to Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner.

During an appearance on ESPN's "First Take" on Wednesday, Wagner expressed significant confidence in his team, and made the case that the Seahawks should be the favorites in the NFC West.

"I feel really confident," Wagner said. "Obviously, Russell [Wilson] is an amazing quarterback; the things that he does on the field are just amazing. Like you said, he's one of the greatest quarterbacks in our game. We're confident on that side. I feel like from the defensive standpoint, there's a lot of room for improvement. We have to play a little bit better. I feel like if we make those changes and make those improvements, I still feel like we'll be the team to beat."

Still? Hmmm ...

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He's absolutely right about Wilson. The guy is a magician in the pocket -- and that's where you hope to contain him. Wilson has been a thorn in San Francisco's side ever since he entered the NFL, and there's arguably no more terrifying opposing QB to 49er fans. With Wilson having two deep targets in Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, as well as a strong running game, there's ample reason for Wagner to be confident about Seattle's offense.

The defense, on the other hand? Well, he's correct that there's room for improvement. Plenty of it.

Last season, the Seahawks ranked 26th overall in total defense, and tied for the second-fewest sacks in the NFL. That was with standout defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney in tow, but all signs point toward him signing elsewhere this offseason in free agency. They re-signed defensive tackle Jarran Reed, traded for cornerback Quentin Dunbar and signed pass-rushers Benson Mayowa and Bruce Irvin, but other than that, Seattle hasn't really addressed the defensive side of the ball this offseason. Granted, the 2020 NFL Draft is right around the corner, but there's no guarantee they'll find any immediate contributors there.

Wagner is phenomenal, and fellow linebacker K.J. Wright is very solid, as well. But they both lived up to those reputations last season, and look how that worked out. Yes, the 49ers won the division by a matter of inches in Week 17, but Seattle also required overtime to beat a shorthanded San Francisco squad in Week 10, which was without star tight end George Kittle.

Though the 49ers have retained most of their own free agents, they did see wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders sign with the New Orleans Saints, and made the tough decision to trade defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts. Of course, San Francisco didn't lose Buckner for nothing -- like Seattle might with Clowney. The 49ers got the No. 13 overall pick in the upcoming draft in exchange, which should help them replace Buckner or Sanders, or address another position.

[RELATED: Oklahoma WR Lamb could be 49ers' Sanders replacement]

The Seahawks currently have five picks in the first four rounds of the 2020 draft, but they gave up a third-rounder to acquire Clowney last offseason, and their earliest selection doesn't come until No. 27 overall.

In addition to the No. 13 overall pick, the 49ers also possess No. 31.

Any team with Wilson behind center should feel confident. But last I checked, he doesn't play defense, and that, among other reasons, is why the 49ers -- and not the Seahawks -- are the team to beat in the NFC West.