49ers

Relentless older brother Eric Reid helping to mold a star for Stanford

justin-reid-stanford-.jpg
Mindi Bach

Relentless older brother Eric Reid helping to mold a star for Stanford

Ten-year-old Justin Reid didn’t stand a chance. His brothers, 13-year-old Ryan and 15-year-old Eric, were bigger, stronger and merciless.

"He was the baby, so my parents always treated him like a baby. Me and Ryan hated that, so we would always go that much harder on him,” the now 25-year-old Eric told NBC Sports Bay Area from the 49ers locker room after a recent practice. “Whether it was video games, sports or whatever. We just always made sure we beat him into the ground.”

Justin may have been smaller than his older siblings, but he was every bit as competitive. And he had a plan for payback.

“Whenever we weren’t around, he would just practice, practice, practice until he got better than us,” Eric said.

At age 12, Justin landed his first knockout in "Dragon Ball Z," one of the brothers' favorite video games.

“One day, I could never beat him any more at video games,” Eric said through a smile. “I was like, ‘OK. I guess I’m not playing that any more.’”

Beating his older brothers in something as frivolous as a cartoon video game was just a sign of bigger things to come. Justin is currently a safety on the Stanford football team. His drive to conquer the near impossible arrived with him on The Farm.

“I think we could ask him to do anything defensively, and he’ll find a way to get it done,” said coordinator Lance Anderson following a day of preparation for the Cardinal’s Pac-12 opener against No. 6-ranked USC. “He’s so driven to be good. All I have to say is, 'This is so hard. I don’t know if we can get this done.' He takes it personal. 'Yes, I can get that done. I can do that.'”

Justin plays special teams and seven different positions on defense – strong safety, free safety, boundary corner, field corner, the nickel, the dime and the X.

“His job will change from play to play depending on what position he’s playing,” said head coach David Shaw. “But Justin’s a playmaker: Make plays on the ball. Make plays on the runner. Make plays on routes.”

In Saturday's opener, coaches plan to put Justin mainly in position to disrupt the passing connection between quarterback and Heisman favorite Sam Darnold and his talented receivers.

“We’re going to try to get him matched up against their best guy as much as we can,” Anderson said. “There will be some opportunities where they play Deontay Burnett in the slot that will allow Justin to continue to play nickel and get matched up there a lot.”

Justin’s speed, athleticism, length and solid tackling ability make him just as important stopping the run, but his most important asset is his football IQ.

“He has really become a student of the game,” Anderson said. “He has such a great understanding of not only his position, but the whole defense now and how everything fits. I think that’s what’s helped him be able to move around to different positions. It’s just been seamless.”

“I feel like everything is moving in slow motion,” Justin said. “I can read keys so much quicker. I can go through a million checks in my head before the play even starts, and I can anticipate -- not guess -- what the play is before it even starts. It allows me to play faster than I’ve ever played before.”

And consider, Justin’s play his sophomore season was fast enough to land him on the watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, which recognizes the nation’s top collegiate defensive back.

Justin's biggest mentor, helping him take his football skill to new levels, is the same agitator who was once determined to pummel him into non-existence. The sibling rivalry between Eric and Justin evolved into a brotherly bond over football once Justin started playing in high school.

“And I was out of the house, too,” Eric added, laughing.

Eric grew up to become an All-American at LSU and a Pro Bowl safety in his rookie year with San Francisco. Their dad, mom and older sister, Christina, also went to LSU, but Eric pushed Justin to attend Stanford. He saw the football program and the academic opportunities as a perfect fit for a brother he calls an "extremely bright kid."

“It’s the best choice of my life,” Justin said.

The brothers get together in Eric’s South Bay home whenever their schedules allow (and whenever Justin is hungry for a home cooked meal by Eric’s wife, Jaid) so that Eric can break down Justin’s Stanford games as well as his own from the NFL.

“He’ll give me tips on what things worked for him in college and also what things will work for me in college now,” Justin said. “He teaches me things from an offensive perspective about what [opponents] are trying to do. Then, when you can see that as a defensive player, you better know how to counter it. You can almost start baiting it so you can steal plays away from them.”

“I always tell him the difference between good and great players is the mental aspect, especially when you get to the League. Everybody’s big. Everybody’s fast. Everybody’s strong,” Eric said. “I tell him not to try to make big plays, let them come to him based off what he knows is happening.”

Justin has to know what is happening with Stanford’s entire defensive secondary, considered one of the best in the Pac-12 this season. But his knowledge goes beyond the in-game responsibilities of a safety or even a team captain.

“I’m so intrigued by football and the playbook. It’s stimulating to me,” Justin explained. “I always like to keep venturing out and learn more positions and learn what each player on the field is thinking. Because knowing what they’re thinking allows me to see, allows me to anticipate what they’re going to do on the field so I better know how to protect them, and I better know how to do my responsibility, because I know what the strengths of the coverage are and I know the weaknesses of each coverage are.”

“He’s a great communicator,” Shaw said. “Part of his job is to make sure everybody else knows what they’re doing, and then everybody’s got to play fast.”

It can be a lot to take in, and there is no easing into it as the Cardinal will face many of the nation’s top quarterbacks and offenses in the Pac-12 this year, starting in Los Angeles this weekend.

“We live for games like this,” Justin said. “It’s a great challenge for us to show the conference and show the whole world what type of defense we really are.”

Eric will be watching, even as he prepares to stuff Cam Newton and Justin’s former Stanford teammate, running back Christian McCaffrey, in the 49ers' season opener against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

The NFL chatter that comes with the start of each collegiate season already includes Justin’s name. Eric has been there. He entered the draft after his junior year at LSU and became a first round draft pick of San Francisco. He's advised his younger brother to stay focused on school and football and let their dad handle any off-the-field NFL business, just as he did for Eric. They’ll decide what’s best for Justin after the season.

“The more he plays, the stronger he gets,” Eric said. “I’m excited to watch him play this year.”

Eric and Justin are now the same height, 6-foot-1, though Eric has a nine-pound advantage. Where he once saw a childhood adversary, he now sees potential that may surpass his own. Eric can now admit that Justin just might be the fastest of the three Reid brothers.

“But never let him know I said that,” he added quickly.

Some sibling rivalries are never outgrown.

Rookie LB Fred Warner is setting the tone for 49ers, but he might be a little too loud

fredwarner49erscampap.jpg
AP

Rookie LB Fred Warner is setting the tone for 49ers, but he might be a little too loud

When the 49ers selected inside linebacker Fred Warner of BYU in the third round of the draft, it was easy to see how he fit into the team's plan with the degree of uncertainty surrounding Reuben Foster.

While Foster remained away from the team’s offseason program for five weeks, Warner felt a need to get up to speed quickly if he was needed to be a starter for Week 1 of the regular season. Warner said he was determined to learn as quickly as possible at whatever position he lined up.

“They want consistency over a guy who can make a play here and there,” Warner said on The 49ers insider Podcast. “Because if you’re a liability and you’re out there missing assignments, stuff like that, that’s going to get you cut. You have to be able to retain this information very quickly and be able to produce on the field and put a good product out there. That’s the biggest thing.”

The 49ers consider the middle linebacker (mike) and weakside linebacker (will) positions as nearly interchangeable. The major difference is the mike position is the player who communicates in the huddle. Malcolm Smith is lining up with the first team at mike, while Foster is at will. Warner is leading the second team at mike.

Foster joined the 49ers’ offseason for the final four weeks after a judge dismissed two felony charges of domestic violence. Warner knew all about Foster, the player, before meeting him as a teammate.

“He’s a very physical player, and something I didn’t know about him that I know now, he’s probably the smartest guy in the room,” Warner said. “This dude has the memory of an elephant. He doesn’t have to write notes down. He just retains things very quickly. And I think that’s what allowed him to play at such a high level as a rookie last year, aside from his physical talent.”

Warner has also learned a lot from Smith, who played six NFL seasons before sitting out last year with a torn pectoral.

“We’ve worked after practice on man coverage on tight ends and running backs.,” Warner said. “Even though that might not be something we touch on in practice or a meeting, he just wants to touch on that with me because he said, ‘If you can do this, you can play on any team in the NFL.’ “

One of the few critiques of the rookie during the offseason program is that Warner, who said he was a quiet kid as a youngster, has been a little too loud.

“He’s very smart and he plays like it on the field,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said during the first week of OTAs. “He doesn’t hesitate. He’s a rookie out there, but he’s calling the plays maybe even too loud because I can hear him from the offensive side. But, he doesn’t mind speaking up. He’s confident in what he’s doing.”

Warner said he wanted to win the confidence of his teammates, so that might have contributed to his increased decibel level.

“I want to make sure that when I get in that huddle and I’m talking to these guys, that they know that I know what I’m doing and I’m ready to go,” Warner said. “I’m the one who’s going to set the tone in the huddle before the play even happens.”

Former 49ers lineman Keith Fahnhorst, 66, passes away

keith49ersap.jpg
AP

Former 49ers lineman Keith Fahnhorst, 66, passes away

Keith Fahnhorst, who played 14 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and started on two Super Bowl-winning teams, died on Tuesday. He was 66.

Fahnhorst was among a large group of players from the 49ers’ first Super Bowl championship team that gathered at Levi’s Stadium in October in a celebration of Dwight Clark. Fahnhorst and Clark were teammates for the 49ers’ Super Bowl-titlle teams of 1981 and 1984. Clark passed away on June 6 from ALS.

Fahnhorst, who was in a wheelchair during his trip to the Bay Area last season, battled many physical ailments since his career ended in 1987. He was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease and underwent a kidney transplant in 2002. Fahnhorst was also later diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis.

A second-round draft pick of the 49ers in 1974 from the University of Minnesota, Fahnhorst was a mainstay at right tackle as the organization struggled in the mid-to-late 1970s, then found success in the 1980s under coach Bill Walsh.

“Everybody knew they could count on Keith,” Walsh said in the 2005 book, “San Francisco 49ers: Where Have Gone?”

Fahnhorst appeared in 193 regular-season games, ranking behind only Len Rohde among offensive linemen in 49ers history. He started 170 games, including all 10 postseason games in which he appeared. He was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team and was selected as a first-team All-Pro after the 1984 season. He was a two-time winner of the Bobb McKittrick Award for best representing the courage, intensity and sacrifice displayed by the longtime 49ers offensive line coach.

Keith Fahnhorst and his younger brother, Jim, were 49ers teammates for the final four years of Keith’s career. Jim Fahnhorst, a linebacker, played for the 49ers from 1984 to 1990. Neither Keith nor Jim Fahnhorst played for any NFL team other than the 49ers.