The NFL has officially cracked down and suspended linebacker Reuben Foster for two games without pay. This is in relation to the two different off-field incidents he was involved in. This is good news for 49ers fans though. Yes, it is true that Foster has a big impact on the game when he is on the field but two games aren’t much. Plus, the team has learned to play without him and made preparations to do so this offseason while they waited to see how the Foster incident played out. The team drafted linebacker Fred Warner in the third round of this year’s draft. He looks to be the early favorite to be the starter during Foster’s absence.
Is it Fred Warner Time in San Francisco?
Warner is currently sitting as the team’s third-string middle linebacker, behind Foster and Brock Coyle. But with an impressive training camp and preseason, he should be able to beat out Coyle for the starting role.
How Warner is best suited for this role
Throughout the draft process, the 49ers did not hide their love for Warner. They raved about his high IQ, athleticism, and coverage skills. He is a great fit for the defense and could find success because of this.
In San Francisco’s defense, the linebackers are asked to drop into coverage and cover hash to hash quite often. Warner has a ton of experience doing so. During his time at BYU, he played a hybrid outside linebacker/nickel role. He was asked to cover tight ends and slot receivers quite often when facing teams that liked to spread the ball out. Then with teams who used more two tight end sets, he played a more traditional linebacker role. These skills should help him translate well to San Francisco’s style of defense.
After playing in mostly a hybrid role at BYU there are questions on how fast Warner will be able to adapt to being an inside linebacker. That was the biggest knock on him coming out and led to his fall into the third round. Clearly, the 49ers had no worry about it as they view him as a long-term starter for the team and part of the “new age” of linebackers. Over the years we have seen smaller linebackers who have really good coverage skills and hit like safety’s enter the league and find success. The likes of Telvin Smith and Deion Jones come to mind and both have had great success since stepping on the field. Warner could be the next name added to the list if all goes how the 49ers plan.
Where he fits after Foster returns
Having a coverage background allows him to be the front-runner to be the starter the first two weeks of the season, but where does he fit when Foster returns? Depending on his play and transition to the league, Warner will most likely be a solid rotational guy for the 49ers. He could see a lot of snaps on passing downs. With good play, we could see Warner take reps at the WILL linebacker spot for the defense. Malcolm Smith is currently listed as the teams starting WILL linebacker but Warner could challenge him as the season progresses.
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Overall, the 49ers look to have the linebacker position figured out. Warner should be a good fill in for Foster for the first two weeks. After, that we could see him transition into a full-time starter as he develops more.