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.

Inactives: 49ers third-round pick yet to make his debut

ahkello-us.jpg
USATSI

Inactives: 49ers third-round pick yet to make his debut

As the 49ers take on the Rams on Thursday Night Football, the team will be without five defenders and two from offense. 

Ahkello Witherspoon, who the team drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft, will have to wait to make his debut another week. 

Below is the full list of inactives from Insider Matt Maiocco. 

49ers building defensive identity: 'We can help ourselves a lot by...'

49ers-gang-tackle-seahawks.jpg
AP

49ers building defensive identity: 'We can help ourselves a lot by...'

SANTA CLARA – After spending the past three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, inside linebacker Brock Coyle knows how it is supposed to look.

And he believes the 49ers have gotten off to a good start under the direction of first-year defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who has installed a scheme based on the Seahawks’ blueprint.

“What’s really cool about this defense is if you look at Seattle, Jacksonville and Atlanta, they all have their different traits, their different personalties and their characteristics,” Coyle said. “And we’re building our own identity on defense.

“You see guys flying around and growing. And this was just our second regular-season game together in this defense.”

Saleh uses such terms as “all gas no brakes” and “extreme violence” to describe the kind of style he wants to see from his defense. In the 49ers’ 12-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers seemed to compete physically with the Seahawks for the first time in a long time.

On the first possession of the game, 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt set the tone when he separated Seattle tight end Jimmy Graham from the ball with a big hit. Graham was never a factor in the game, catching just one pass for 1 yard.

“If you’re looking from a progress standpoint, I don’t look at so much production as much as what it looks like on tape and the violence, the speed, attacking the ball, that’s what I’m excited about,” Saleh said.

The 49ers will have another chance on a quick turnaround to establish that identity on Thursday night against the Los Angeles Rams at Levi’s Stadium.

Rookie linebacker Reuben Foster will miss his second game in a row with a high-ankle sprain. Ray-Ray Armstrong started against Seattle, alongside NaVorro Bowman, but Saleh said Coyle also fits into his plan.

Coyle entered the game at Seattle in the first half in place of Armstrong, and Saleh hinted he could use both players more interchangeably until Foster returns.

“He deserves it,” Saleh said of Coyle. “He works his tail off and he works hard and we wanted to make sure that we got him some more reps. And to be honest with you, I feel he should probably get a little bit more.

“He’s a great communicator and knows everybody’s job on the football field. He’s very, very strong at the point of attack and he is pretty athletic and fast.”

The 49ers' physicality is showing up on the early downs, as the defense leads the league in allowing just 2.7 yards per play on first downs. But the 49ers have to get a lot better on the down that matters most. The 49ers rank 23rd on third downs, allowing the opposition through two games to convert 46.9 percent of their opportunities.

“Third down is a major emphasis -- every week it is," Saleh said. "We faced 12 more plays than we needed to that first drive just because a lack of execution on that first third-down and 9. We were in great position to get off the field.

"We’ve got to tackle and that takes all 11 running to the ball because a lot of times that first guy does miss, but we can help ourselves a lot by being better on third down for sure.”