49ers Rookie LBs have been molding their games after Fred Warner

Aug 17, 2023, 6:00 AM | Updated: 8:29 am

Linebacker Jalen Graham #50 of the San Francisco 49ers tackles running back Sincere McCormick #47 o...

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Life as an NFL rookie can be tough for many, but 49ers linebackers Dee Winters and Jalen Graham have a few role models to mold their games after.

Speaking to the media Wednesday, the LB duo seemed confident in what they have been taught, and what they’ve obtained since joining the team in the spring.

“You know, I would say I got a good grasp of how the defense goes right now. I think right now, it’s just maximizing the opportunities when I go in there, just kind of making plays at the end of the day,” Dee Winters said Tuesday.

Both standouts in college, Winters and Graham have shown flashes of their potential in training camp. And while the duo plays their own style, it doesn’t hurt to have the best linebacker in the game alongside you.

Both LBs made the switch to the position in college out of necessity. To do this, they studied the elite linebackers of the game, including 49ers All-Pro Fred Warner. Winters contributes his growth to the 49ers captain, having a relationship with him prior to the NFL.

“I actually kept up with Fred, when I transitioned to the linebacker position my freshman year in college. Just started watching him a little bit and it’s kind of amazing how God works and kind of put me in the room and learn from him. So, definitely grateful for that opportunity,” Winters stated.

While working behind him on the depth chart, Warner has instilled some wisdom with the rooks. But the biggest advantage for them is watching their defensive captain go about his business every day.

Yeah, he comes to work every day, man, same energy every day. And I think that’s just something that us rookies see, like me and Jalen, and we look up to him and we kind of want to fulfill our game like him,” the rookie LB said.

A similar sentiment resonated from Graham, except the entire 49ers LB room, not just Warner, has inspired him to be better.

“Just really the whole [LB] room. Coming into it, seeing their work ethic and how they come in every day and treat every day like it’s pretty much the last day. So, it’s come in, trying to get better at something every day. You never want to kind of stay [stagnant], always want to keep getting better each day, stack the days. So, really just coming in every day with that same mindset to go get better,” Graham explained Wednesday.

The two rookies have also seen their performance on the field grow from their relationship off it.

While not being introduced until after the draft, the pair grew chemistry initially through Zoom virtual meetings. That helped them build rapport with one another.

But by the time they both hit the field together, they had grown so much because of one another.

“That was great, just being able to get to know him. And then when we got down here, just like you said, it does make it a little easier coming in with a rookie,” Graham said about Winters. “Everything that is new to me, is also new to him, and we talk to each other by different things, bounce ideas off of each other’s head. Learning the playbook together and things like that.”

Both players have shown enough to warrant playing time in the preseason, with Graham standing out in a big way.

The Purdue alum had a team-high six combined tackles in Las Vegas. Showing elite burst and speed, defensive coordinator Steve Wilks was pleased with his young player’s performance Sunday.

“What you see with Jalen is what we saw on tape. A guy that plays in the slot and plays out in space and he can maneuver when he’s chasing things down,” the coach said about Graham. “What I’m impressed with is when he’s in the core, tackle to tackle, you’re starting to see a little bit of that physicality. Of course, it’s going to take him some time to gain the weight that he probably needs to maintain it throughout the year. But, I’m very impressed that he doesn’t shy away from contact.”

As for Winters, he had a solid day as well, ending up with three combined tackles.

For now, the LB duo will look to improve a little each day as 49ers, getting the playbook down before the start of the regular season. But with veteran LB Oren Burks out for a few weeks, that should allow the two rookies to see ample playing time the next two weeks x

“I think it always gives guys opportunities to excel with reps, to get better. We mentioned Jalen, also opportunity with [LB] Marcelino [McCrary-Ball], Dee Winters, who I thought flashed in the game as well. Still growing, still learning. So, with O.B. [Oren Burks] being out, it just gives other guys opportunities to step up and make plays,” Steve Wilks said.

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49ers Rookie LBs have been molding their games after Fred Warner