The San Francisco 49ers are closing in on the end of their bye week, and will be returning to practice on Monday. We are not exactly halfway through the season, but the timing of the bye is close enough that it makes sense to take a look at where everything stands. We will be going through each position over the next week. Thus far we have looked at the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, offensive line, tight ends, defensive line, inside linebackers, outside linebackers and cornerbacks. Today, we move on to the safeties.
Grade: 1.3 (26th out of 61); 1.2 run, 0.5 coverage, -0.3 penalty
Tackling efficiency: 28th out of 62
Coverage snaps per reception: 21st out of 63
Grade: 6.1 (9th out of 61); 1.2 run, 3.0 coverage, 1.2 pass rush
Run Stop %: 19th out of 54
Tackling efficiency: 44th out of 62
Coverage snaps per reception: 43rd out of 63
Reserves: Craig Dahl, L.J. McCray, Bubba Ventrone, Jimmie Ward (sort of)
One of the more notable offseason decisions was to let Donte Whitner depart in free agency, and bring in Antoine Bethea as his replacement. Bethea is a year older than Whitner, so there were some concerns about what we might see in 2014. There was hope he would be a capable replacement, but reactions were still a bit mixed.
The general belief was that he would be a bit of a poor man's Donte Whitner, and yet he has been so much more. Whitner has bounced back from a slow start to the season, but for the most part, Bethea has easily outplayed him this season. Bethea has been incredibly strong against the run, decent enough against the pass, and he avoids penalties. Whitner's penalties often were later ruled to be legit hits, but his style opened the team up to personal foul penalties. Learning after the fact that the hits were legit did not bring back the penalty yards. With Bethea, that has not been an issue.
At the other safety position, Eric Reid has not been a huge playmaker, but he has been a fairly steady presence. He has given up some big plays, but opposing offenses have not gone after him all that often. He and Bethea have proven to be a very solid back end to a secondary that was a big question mark heading into the season. As the 49ers get more defensive players back, that solid back-end to the secondary could improve further.
The biggest reason for this is the eventual return of Aldon Smith. The 49ers pass rush has been inconsistent at best, and poor more often that not. Adding Smith into the mix will improve that group, which could bode well for the entire secondary. If there is more consistent pressure, I would not be at all surprised to see more turnovers. Additionally, it could allow the 49ers to continue moving a safety down close to help with run protection and coverage on shorter passing plays. If the 49ers can get more consistent pressure from just their nickel front four, that opens the door for so much more.