Editor's note: This is the third part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Panthers matchups to watch Sunday, 1:05 p.m., at Candlestick Park.
[MATCHUP NO. 3: Lotulelei vs. Iupati]
[MATCHUP NO. 2: Ginn vs. Spillman]
49ers FS Eric Reid vs. Panthers QB Cam Newton
Tale of the tape:
Reid (35): 6 foot 1, 213 pounds, rookie, LSU
Newton (1): 6 foot 5, 245 pounds, third season, Auburn
Eric Reid never got onto the field to play a snap of defense, but he had a sideline view of the best player in college football during the 2010 season.
Reid was a backup safety and special-teams player as a freshman at LSU, which boasted one of the best defenses in the nation.
Auburn quarterback Cam Newton threw for just 86 yards that day. But he provided a Heisman Trophy performance nontheless in a 24-17 victory when he rushed for 217 yards and two touchdowns.
“I watched him run all over us, actually,” Reid said. “I was like, ‘Sheesh, we got to find a way to stop him.’ But we couldn’t. That was their championship year, and a lot of that was because of him. He’s a great player.”
And if there’s one thing that stands out from Reid's rookie season with the 49ers, is that he’s a quick study. There will be a lot of pressure on him Sunday to make sure Newton does not find consistent success against the 49ers. Reid must be able to do what the 49ers' need or him, whether he’s coming up to stop a scrambling Newton or making sure he does not allow any receiver to get behind him when Newton is able to buy time to look down the field.
“He’s been outstanding,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of Reid. “And he’s better than the player that he was when he first got here. And he’s not the player that he’s going to be either. There’s a lot of room for growth and improvement. He’s been a continuous-effort guy, continuously striving to get better, and that bodes well for him and us.”
Reid came to the 49ers under the microscope after the club traded up 13 spots in the first round to select him with the No. 18 overall pick. He was the top safety on the 49ers’ draft board. He stepped in from the first game of the regular season and there has been no drop-off at free safety. And that was a big question mark after Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the offseason.
“The most impressive thing about Eric is that you can tell Eric what to do, how to do it, and then he goes out and he has the physical ability to do it,” Harbaugh said. “And then you tell him what he did right, tell him what he did wrong and where he could be better and he rarely makes the same mistake a second time.”
Newton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, ranks as the NFL’s eighth-leading passer. He has 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. And, of course, he is also a threat with his legs.
Reid saw Newton up close three years ago. And the first eight games of his NFL career have helped prepare Reid for Sunday’s challenge, he said.
“There’s a lot of great quarterbacks in this league,” Reid said. “Our first game was against Aaron Rodgers. Then, we played Seattle and Indianapolis, so every week is a challenge for the secondary. We just try to prepare as well as well as we can.”