49ers

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

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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.

49ers assistant coach copes with tragic Paradise fire

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NBC SPORTS BAY AREA

49ers assistant coach copes with tragic Paradise fire

Shane Wallen was along with his dad on a torturous drive out of Paradise, down the Skyway toward Chico.

His father, Bob Wallen, was in his car with the family pets. Shane Wallen was 200 miles away at the 49ers facility in Santa Clara, where he serves as the team’s assistant strength and conditioning coach.

They were together on the phone.

“He was telling me what he saw,” Shane Wallen said on The 49ers Insider Podcast.

“He was watching 15 to 20 homes burn right in front of him, businesses, structures, all being burned right in front of him. He’s sitting there saying there’s 10- to 15-foot flames on both sides of the Skyway, and he’s driving right through the middle of it.”

His boss, 49ers strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright, told Shane Wallen if he had to leave to help his family, he should not even think twice about it. And last Thursday evening, just hours after the fire ripped through Paradise, Wallen left the Bay Area to return to his home area.

Tight end George Kittle gave his old bed to Wallen, who strapped it onto his truck to deliver to his dad.

The town of Paradise was decimated in the Camp Fire. As of Thursday morning, there have been 56 confirmed deaths with 297 people still missing. The fire has destroyed 140,000 acres with 40-percent containment.

There have been 8,650 residences and 260 commercial buildings destroyed. Wallen’s father’s house was burned to the ground, leaving just a chimney standing. He was one of more than 50,000 people in Paradise and surrounding areas to be evacuated.

After arriving the area on Thursday evening, Shane Wallen said he met a pregnant woman and her boyfriend, as well as a family with children, sleeping in their cars in a Walmart parking lot.

Hotels were completely booked and shelters were full. He said he plans to continue to supply blankets, clothing, whatever is needed to lend any assistance.

Wallen returned to the Chico area during the 49ers’ bye week. On Wednesday, he was taken on a tour of the devastation of the Paradise area.

“Moving forward, that’s the same plan I’m going to have when I go back, is to try to help anyone and everyone I can,” Wallen said.

Wallen started a GoFundMe fundraiser to assist those impacted by the fire with a goal of raising $50,000.

How running back Matt Breida became 49ers' best surprise in 2018

How running back Matt Breida became 49ers' best surprise in 2018

Editor’s note: The 49ers break for the bye week with a 2-8 record. This is part of a series that recaps the first 10 games with an eye to the future. In this installment, we look at the team’s best surprise.

Running back Matt Breida came to the 49ers immediately following the 2017 draft almost as an afterthought.

The 49ers recruited him, and he signed with the club as an undrafted rookie with the enticement of a $5,000 signing bonus.

The 49ers wanted him. But at the time, they wanted a running back from Utah named Joe Williams a lot more. The 49ers invested a fourth-round draft pick in Williams.

As the 49ers take a step back during their bye week, Williams’ NFL career already appears to be over. Meanwhile, Breida has been the 49ers’ best surprise through 10 games as the team’s starting running back.

Breida is the NFL's seventh-leading rusher with 632 yards and three touchdowns. His 5.6-yard average is better than any of the other running backs ahead of him on the list.

Breida has also shown improvement as a pass-catcher with 15 receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns.

“He's worked on it a lot,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Breida's worked on everything.”

Breida was the 49ers’ No. 2 back last season behind Carlos Hyde. His role for this season was in question when the club signed Jerick McKinnon as a free agent.

McKinnon and Raheem Mostert were assured of being suited up on game days, with Mostert serving as the third running back and a core special-teams contributor. That would have left a question whether Breida or Alfred Morris would have been active to open the season.

After McKinnon sustained a season-ending knee injury a week before the season opener, Morris got the first start of the season. Then, Breida took over. Despite dealing with shoulder, knee and ankle injuries, Breida has made every start for the past nine games.

“He worked a lot in this offseason so he could be ready for those opportunities,” Shanahan said of Breida.

In a season that has gone nowhere near up to expectations, the 49ers can enter next season feeling good about the possibilities on offense with a healthy McKinnon and a proven player with Breida as options – on the field, together.

Shanahan was asked this week if he can envision certain offensive packages with McKinnon and Breida in the backfield to pose the threat of more speed, creating dilemmas for opposing defenses.

“I envisioned it this year, so that won't change next year,” Shanahan said.