SANTA CLARA — Almost every time Donte Whitner looks at rookie Eric Reid he's reminded of what it was like to be a safety selected in the first round competing for a starting spot.
Whitner, San Francisco's savvy strong safety, had little time to adjust to NFL life. After being taken eighth overall by the Buffalo Bills in 2006, he had quite the Week 1 opponent: Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Reid, the former LSU standout the 49ers drafted at No. 18 after trading up to get him, is hoping to start against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the regular-season opener on Sept. 8.
And when San Francisco hosts Denver in his first preseason game Thursday night, Reid might even get a few snaps against another former NFL MVP: Peyton Manning.
“I think that would be great,” Whitner said Monday. “I think that would be great for him to get experience in all four (preseason) 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.”
While Reid is getting his turn with the first-team defense, he has yet to win the starting job.
The competition to replace All-Pro free safety Dashon Goldson — who signed a free agent deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — has been among the closest in camp. C.J. Spillman, Trenton Robinson and Craig Dahl all have spent time starting in practice, giving way in the rotation this week to the rookie.
“Right now it's a battle,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “It will sort itself out. The one good thing about training camp, we get a lot of reps. Everybody will get a lot of work and it will sort itself out.”
Reid played three seasons for LSU and is still considered somewhat of a raw talent in pass coverage, though he's effective at stopping the run — one of the staples of San Francisco's stout defense. The 6-foot-1, 213-pound Reid said comprehending the more advanced schemes in the NFL has been one of his toughest tasks. Not to mention learning an entirely new defense.