Rookies making their marks on 49ers' defense

Three and Out: Rookies make impact; the 18-play drive

Rookies making their marks on 49ers' defense
October 13, 2013, 7:30 pm
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The 49ers selected Corey Lemonier in the 3rd round (88th overall) and traded up in the first round to select Eric Reid 18th overall. (AP)

SAN FRANCISCO – A 49ers defense that leans heavily on a cast of proven veterans and All-Pro type players got a huge lift Sunday afternoon from a couple of rookies.

Rookie safety Eric Reid picked up his team-leading third interception of the season and returned it 53 yards to set up the 49ers’ first score of the game in their 32-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Reid later had a fumble recovery. And outside linebacker Corey Lemonier, playing on pass-rush downs while Aldon Smith remains out of action, recorded a safety with a sack of Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer in the end zone. Lemonier also produced a forced fumble.

“They drafted a great group of guys,” Lemonier said. “We’re coming in and showing the older guys we’re ready to play week in and week out. We’re doing a great job.”

Reid has been particularly outstanding for the 49ers’ defense. The team traded up 13 spots in the first round to select him with the No. 18 overall pick to replace Dashon Goldson, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the offseason.

There has been no dropoff with Reid taking over for the two-time Pro Bowl player. He might even be playing at a higher level than his predecessor.

“He’s blessed with a lot of ability,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of Reid. “He’s very sharp. He learns well. He doesn’t repeat mistakes. He’s not an error-repeater. Once he does something (wrong), he gets coached on it and you don’t see that same mistake again.”

Said Reid, “I think I’ve come leaps and bounds. That’s credit to our coaching staff and the veterans around me, especially (Donte) Whitner. He’s taken me under his wing. He’s constantly coaching me on the field during practice and he’s taught me how to be a professional football player.”

While the 49ers needed Reid to step in and contribution from the first game of the season, Lemonier was forced into a significant role once Aldon Smith took a voluntary leave of absence and entered rehabilitation for substance abuse on Sept. 23.

[RELATED: No change in Aldon Smith's status]

Veteran Dan Skuta plays outside linebacker on base downs, with Lemonier entering in pass-rush situations.

“Pass-rushers in this game are hard to find and he’s doing it,” Harbaugh said. “It’s exciting seeing him do the job he’s doing.”

And the 49ers will likely require more contributions from the defensive members of their rookie class. Defensive linemen Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial are eligible to being practicing this week after opening the season on the reserve/non-football injury list.

Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey sustained a right hamstring strain in the first quarter and did not return. Although Dorsey downplayed the injury, saying, “It’s cool – it’ll be all right,” he is likely to miss some game action.

Tony Jerod-Eddie took over at nose tackle for Dorsey. And when he had to leave the game briefly in the second half due to leg cramps, the only other backup lineman on the 53-man roster, Demarcus Dobbs, took over in the middle of the defensive line.

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