Eric Reid should be no stranger to pressure.
When the San Francisco 49ers moved up 13 slots in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft to select the safety out of LSU, the expectation was that he would come in and start right away. Reid also had big shoes to fill, as he was set to replace a two-time Pro Bowler in Dashon Goldson who had left via free agency.
Despite being under the microscope from day one, Reid played like a veteran for most of the season and was a stabilizing force on the back end of the defense. He finished second on the team with four interceptions and defended 11 passes. Reid recorded 77 tackles, which would put him third on the 49ers behind only Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.
One of the main reasons for Reid’s success was the fact that he was fortunate enough to play with veterans around him in the secondary. He was able to watch and learn from fellow safety Donte Whitner, as well as cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown
Now, with all three of the aforementioned players no longer with the team, Reid finds himself as having started more games with the 49ers than any other players in the secondary after just one season.
Is Reid ready for the leadership role he has found himself thrust into?
The 49ers feel he’s up to the task, but did provide some insurance just in case. San Francisco signed veteran safety Antoine Bethea to replace Whitner, giving Reid a partner who has a wealth of experience in the NFL. Bethea started every game the past six seasons for the Indianapolis Colts and has played in two Super Bowls. Should Reid get injured or take a step back, Bethea can provide the needed leadership to the unit.
Where the 49ers no longer have the experience they once did to support Reid is at the cornerback position. Right now the only sure thing at corner is Tramaine Brock, and he has seven career starts.
Beyond Brock is a myriad of questions marks. Chris Culliver looks to be the other starter but missed all of 2013 with a knee injury. Chris Cook is coming over from the Minnesota Vikings but struggled last season, allowing nine touchdowns against him. Rookie Jimmie Ward is the front runner to play the slot, but will compete with Perrish Cox and Darryl Morris for the role. The team also has a wild card in another rookie, Dontae Johnson.
Despite the unknowns in the secondary, San Francisco will still have a strong front seven, which should take some pressure off of Reid and his counterparts. It bears mentioning though that that unit will be without Bowman and most likely Aldon Smith for a large chunk of the season.
With the supporting cast not quite what it was in 2013, the 49ers will find out a lot about Reid this year, and if he is up to the task of becoming a leader on the defense. The answers they get will go a long way in determining if Reid is indeed a core piece of the puzzle long-term.
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
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