The San Francisco 49ers got some pretty good news on Wednesday.
After just over a week on the COVID-19/reserve list, star 49ers linebacker Fred Warner has been removed from the list, meaning that he is active and eligible for the team’s opening game against the Arizona Cardinals.
The #49ers have activated LB Fred Warner from the Reserve/Covid-19 List.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) September 9, 2020
It doesn’t come as a major surprise that the 49ers are able to have Warner back in the team for an all-important NFC West game, as San Francisco submitted their first official roster with 52 players rather than the max of 53, with the understanding that Warner would take that spot.
But considering the nature of COVID-19 and the NFL, it’s still an immense positive for the 49ers to see a key cog return in time.
Kyle Shanahan says Fred Warner is "good to go." "We were obviously pretty nervous about that."
— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) September 9, 2020
Warner’s Presence in 2019
In many ways, Warner had a Pro Bowl caliber season in 2019, despite not receiving the honor. 89 solo tackles, 7 for loss, along with three sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception for a touchdown to boot.
Typically, those types of stats would get you a Pro Bowl selection, but in a crowded 49ers team that features stars on both sides of the ball, Warner didn’t seem to generate the national attention he deserved until after the regular-season was over.
But it’s not just about the stats that Warner provided, it’s the fact that he brings an impact in a variety of ways, including in the moments that don’t show up on the stat sheet.
Warner’s 2020 will be one to watch. For one, there’s no reason to expect any serious regression from the third-year linebacker. For two, Warner will be highlighted as a problem for opposing offenses, which will make his job harder, but also provide the test needed to figure out exactly how high-up the LB leaderboards Warner is.
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Warner for Arizona
It’s obvious that the 49ers are a better team ahead of Week 1 against the Cardinals, but what exactly does that entail?
Well, it starts with the ground game. While the marquee names on Arizona’s squad are quarterback Kyler Murray and newly-acquired wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the rushing tandem of Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmunds are not to be underestimated.
Besides Drake and Edmunds averaging a respectable 4.7 and 4.3 career yards per carry, it’s their threat in the passing game that will truly test Warner, Dre Greenlaw and Kwon Alexander.
The Cardinals look to slice and dice opponents with forward-thinking passes under head coach Kliff Kingsbury, utilizing their running backs and tight ends as more typical bailout options, rather than a focal point like what 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan looks to do.
The difference in style is certainly more risky, evidenced by Murray’s 20 touchdowns to 12 interceptions in 2019, but a key part of the aggressive passing is having those options like Drake and Edmunds underneath.
For the 49ers defense to truly suffocate the game and make every play for the Cardinals difficult, Warner and his other linebackers have to execute in pass coverage.
It won’t be an easy task, but it’s one they ought to be able to handle and will provide a good sign of what the 49ers defense will be looking at the rest of the season.
Evan Reier is a sportswriter covering the San Francisco 49ers for Heavy.com and local sports for the Montana Standard in Butte, Mont. Reach out to him on Twitter at @evanreier and join our 49ers community at Heavy on 49ers on Facebook.