This time a year ago, I had a pewter helmet on. Now I have a gold helmet on, and I'm excited to be starting this year as a San Francisco 49er.
I can safely say that beginning the year this way is making a world of difference.
I was consistently with the team during the voluntary workout period, trying to build more chemistry with the guys I'm going to be playing with, and gaining a better knowledge and understanding of this defense and what's going to be asked of me.
I'm looking to fill in wherever the coaches want me to fill in. I have both the physical and mental ability to come in and be a starter, and to play outside or inside. I'm comfortable either way. I'm comfortable starting or sliding in to play nickel situations and dime situations.
I'm versatile, and that's been the case my whole career.
I'm preparing as though I'm going to be a starter because that's just how I prepare. I've been a starter since I was a rookie in this league. That's all I know, and that's all I expect out of myself. I'm working to earn whatever spot they feel is available. I'm looking to earn that spot.
Last year, this point in the offseason was kind of chaotic for me, so I'm glad to have stability. Being with the 49ers from the start this offseason has allowed me to pick things up at the pace they're meant to be picked up at, as opposed to rushing to get a grasp of the entire defense in a short period of time.
As we wind our way through OTAs and mini-camp, the coaches take their time reintroducing defense to us. We basically started from scratch, and are rebuilding everyone's knowledge of the system, and what's expected out of each player. The coaches do a good job of gradually refreshing our memories, and building up our knowledge.
It allows me the opportunity to slow my mind down a little bit, really study and get ahold of all the little, intricate details of each coverage or game situation. That's going to put me in a much better position to go out, make plays and really execute my responsibilities.
It also gives me a lot more time to be able to go out there and correct any mistakes I might make, and get myself right in this time -- as opposed to working on borrowed time like I was last year, out there on the field in games. That's not the time to make a mistake. So when you're in that situation and don't want to make any mistakes, you play more tentatively.
It's a breath of fresh air to have this opportunity to learn.
It also allows me to interact with my teammates in a different way than I was last year. I'm working out with everybody. I'm in the meeting rooms with everybody. I'm preparing and getting ready the same way that they're preparing and getting ready.
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Team chemistry is one of the biggest elements of this game, and that comes from working and practicing together, as well as just talking football with each other. We're all making a conscious effort to learn how we best play together. That's how we become glued together as a unit.
When everybody has a great sense and understanding of the defense, it allows everyone to play that much faster. If I know that Eric Reid is going to react a certain way to a route concept, that allows me to play tighter or looser based on what I've studied.
Our defense has been great for several years now, but you're always looking to improve. Always. You can find ways to get better within the same system and the same scheme without changing things around.
It's an offensive league. That's the draw in this league: scoring touchdowns. It's my job to stop our opponents from scoring touchdowns. But offenses are constantly trying to find more ways of putting points on the board – whether it's by getting multiple personnel sets out there, or exploring new and different ways of attacking defenses.
With that being the case, there is always going to be a premium on defensive backs, because our job is to try to minimize the effectiveness of these explosive offenses. It's important to have defensive players that can help us slow that down.
In addition to our free agent acquisitions in that area, we also made some additions via the draft in Jimmie Ward, Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser and Kenneth Acker. These guys can play. They wouldn't be here if they couldn't.
I didn't know much about Jimmie before the pick, but he's a great player. We took him early to come in and contribute immediately. He has great physical skills and attributes that can help us now, and I know that's what's going be expected out of him.
With all these young guys coming in, I make sure I let them know that they can come to me if they need anything. In my opinion, that's really the basis of this league. You need to have veteran players who can coach and help the younger guys. Veterans are here to guide them in the right direction, both on the field and off the field, with things that they're going to have to deal with as an NFL player.
Because they don't know. There are so many things that we all have to deal with as players, everything from handling ticket requests to handling a trips set in the red zone. It's all stuff that rookies haven't dealt with before. So as a veteran, I try to let them know that I'm here to help in any way that I can. Anything that I know or I can share -- I'm more than willing to do that.
It's definitely a transition mentally to go from college to the NFL. I can only speak personally, but physically, it just kind of is what it is. In that respect, the game is going to slow down for you as you gain more experience and as you're out there more. That's something that's going to come.
But what can help you tremendously is the mental side. And you can gain an advantage there by knowing all of the things you possibly can about your own defense, as well as studying offensive concepts, and being able to anticipate things before they happen.
Those are the ways that you, as a young player, can really slow the game down a lot more.
As basic as it may seem to play whatever coverage is called, there are so many different elements in improving the same coverage and defense. We focus on the effectiveness of playing that coverage. We ask ourselves: How can we play this coverage better?
For me, it's about understanding what my teammates are going to do on a given play. If I'm playing the nickel position, there are situations where I have to basically know not only what Patrick Willis is thinking, but how he's going to interpret a release of a route, or how he's going to react to certain things. That will tell me how I can play certain routes. That requires me to see the game the way he sees it, and play the game the way he plays it.
It's a huge advantage for us to have guys like Pat, who have played a lot of football at a high level and have repeatedly gone deep into the playoffs. That's experience you can't really account for. It's extremely helpful when you've got guys trying to learn and you're trying to build chemistry. Just to know that we have those type of players around who have been through a lot, and have seen a lot, and who know a lot, it's just a huge advantage for us.
It's a brand new year, and as we make our way through OTAs, there's definitely a sense of the situation we're in as a team after coming up short of that ultimate goal the last two years. We're all well aware that we need to do more to reach that goal.
However, there are a number of different steps that need to be taken before we can have the opportunity to put ourselves in a position to get to the Super Bowl, and to achieve that ultimate goal and win a championship.
Everybody is focused on taking the steps we need to take right now, here in June. That's coming in every day during this OTA period, and putting in the work and effort that's needed.