Veteran Bethea Helping 49ers Secondary Come Together

Safety taking on quiet leadership role with relatively inexperienced secondary of Brock, Culliver, Reid and Ward

Antoine Bethea has been a successful pro for quite a while now. The safety started eight seasons for the Indianapolis Colts and was a rock in the secondary, known for his steady play and football smarts.

But now that he’s the new kid on the block with the 49ers, Bethea is just trying to fit in with a defensive unit that has been among the NFL’s best.

As the 49ers prepare for their opening exhibition game Thursday night vs. the Ravens, Bethea just wants to play his part.

When he was asked in a radio interview on 95.7 The Game recently about his transition to the Niners, Bethea said he’s simply “trying to fit in.”

“This is a veteran team with a lot of good players,” he said. “I just want to fit in and do my job.”

Yet the 49ers are hoping Bethea can play a bigger role than just fitting in. In acquiring him to replace the departed Donte Whitner, now with the Browns, San Francisco is getting a player with 123 NFL starts, 14 interceptions and more than 800 tackles. The 49ers hope he can be a steadying influence and help make the secondary a cohesive, effective group.

The other players expected to start in the secondary this season – second-year safety Eric Reid and cornerbacks Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver – have a combined 29 starts. Plus, it’s expected that rookie Jimmie Ward will win the job as the nickel corner. The game against the Ravens will be his first as a pro.

After signing a four-year, $23 million deal with the 49ers in March, Bethea started to make himself at home through organized team activities, minicamp and now training camp.

“Coming into OTAs you’re trying to get your feet wet, get a good grasp on the defense,” Bethea told The Associated Press early in training camp. “Now being more comfortable in the defense, now out on the field I can let my eight years of experience take over and become more vocal out there.”

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio likes what he sees from Bethea. The former Colt doesn’t have the reputation that Whitner had as an intimidating hitter, but Bethea makes plays and is in the right position at the right time.

“He’s a pro,” Fangio said. “Antoine, besides being a very good football player that’s had a good NFL career up to this point, he’s a great person. He’s a great teammate. He’s willing to help anybody at any time and he’s a great team guy.”

With the first game action coming this week, Bethea believes this new secondary group – though inexperienced – is talented with vast potential.

“We have a lot of great pieces in this secondary,” Bethea told reporters. “We have the ability to do a lot of different things with a lot of great players.”

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