While the San Francisco 49ers have been known for their hard-hitting, smash-mouth defense for the past few seasons, the biggest offseason splash was signing former Indianapolis Colts safety Antoine Bethea. The two-time Pro Bowl strong safety and Super Bowl champion inked a four-year, $23 million contract with San Francisco back in March.
The move was a necessary one made by the front office. Donte Whitner, the starting strong safety for the 49ers for the past three seasons, signed a contract that took him back home to Cleveland. This immediately created an area of need for a team that already had its fair share of issues in the secondary. Once Tarrell Brown and Carlos Rogers, who were starting cornerbacks for the 49ers at various times last season, left for the Oakland Raiders, Bethea became a key part of the 49ers’ defense and their success in the upcoming season.
Bethea’s strengths are his ability to cover large areas of the field and to make safe plays. While his style of play will be a sharp contrast to the big-play game that Whitner was known for, it will suit this team better. With the loss of the aforementioned Brown and Rogers, the 49ers are going to be depending on Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver, who have a combined 13 starts between them. With that inexperience, Bethea will be relied upon to be the safety net in a defense that remains centered around their front seven.
Two underrated aspects of Bethea’s game are his durability and discipline. For the past six seasons, Bethea has started every single game. The last time he didn’t start a game was in 2007. His disciplined play is also something that will be a welcome sight for the 49ers. In 2013, Whitner had five unnecessary roughing penalties, one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a taunting penalty. Bethea had zero penalties of any type.
The 49ers’ secondary this season isn’t expected to win games for the team, but they need to do their best not to lose them. With Bethea anchoring the perimeter, they are poised to do just that.