SANTA CLARA -- Donte Whitner was the No. 8 overall pick of the Buffalo Bills in 2006. There were never a doubt he would be on the field for Week 1 of his rookie season.
The opponent in his first game: Tom Brady.
Eric Reid was the No. 18 overall of the 49ers, and he'll be given every opportunity to win the starting job. His potential first opponent on the 49ers' regular-season schedule: Aaron Rodgers.
But Reid has yet to win the job. He can take a step Thursday night, if he gets the opportunity to face Peyton Manning in the exhibition opener against the Denver Broncos.
"I think that would be great," said Whitner, the 49ers' starting strong safety. "I think that would be great for him to get experience in all four games because you can go out and make mistakes in these games, get your first NFL game action and not cost us anything.
"The only thing it might cost you is a little confidence if you get beat. But it don't cost you in the win column, and this is where he's going to gain his experience. You can come out here every day on the practice field and get comfortable going against against Kap (Colin Kaepernick) and go against B.J. (Daniels) and the backup quarterbacks, but when you get out there in live action, everything will tend to move a little bit faster. It's harder to grasp things and revert back to the playbook because there's nobody out there to ask questions to. So you need that experience."
Reid lined up at free safety in the starting defense during practice Sunday. It's his turn to see what he can do. Reid is in a competition to replace Dashon Goldson, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Craig Dahl, C.J. Spillman and Trenton Robinson are also competing for the job.
Whitner said he sees plenty of potential in Reid, whom the 49ers traded up 13 spots to select in the draft.
"The potential is always there, but potential can get you beat, too, by being rushed out there and playing some of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League and not be ready experience-wise," Whitner said. "He might know what to do but it might be the way it's drawn up in the book when you get out on the field.
"It's going to take a little experience. He's going to take some lumps. He'll have to give up some passes and understand where he's supposed to be. But, hopefully, he comes along really fast , really fast. Right now he's working with the ones and he's not making a lot of mistakes. He's making plays on the football. I want to see him in live action."