I can't remember the last time the San Francisco 49ers entered a regular season with the fanbase feeling confident in the defense's secondary. Every season in recent memory has featured multiple question marks at the cornerback position, and at least some uncertainty at the safety position.
Fooch's note: This article was written before Bethea's move to IR was announced
Veteran free agent signings and smart drafting paid off time and time again despite many thinking the 49ers might just be screwed when it comes to the position. Guys like Donte Whitner and Carlos Rogers wound up being excellent signings for a year or two, and guys like Tarell Brown and Dashon Goldson briefly worked out despite struggling to start their careers.
The 49ers somehow always made due despite low expectations. In 2011, Ed Donatell's first year as defensive backs coach, the 49ers ranked No. 16 against the pass, right in the middle of the pack. In 2012, they ranked No. 4 in the league, No. 7 in the league in 2013 and No. 5 in the league in 2014.
Last year, Antoine Bethea looked excellent and both Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver played very well at times. The 49ers' secondary was supposed to be a mess, but it was anything but. They were excellent more often than naught.
Unfortunately, that hasn't lasted. The 49ers rank a the absolute bottom of the NFL this year, No. 32 and that doesn't have anything to do with the fact that they just played on Thursday. Even if you take out that game, they still rank bottom of the league. The 49ers have allowed 2,049 passing yards this season, with the next-worse team allowing 1,791 passing yards (New York Giants).
So what's the difference this year? Other than a whole new coaching staff that dumped Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell, the 49ers didn't make any significant signings this offseason. Eric Reid is struggling massively after an injury-riddled 2014 season, Antoine Bethea is playing well but he's the only one. Tramaine Brock has his moments, but the 49ers elected to roll with Kenneth Acker, Keith Reaser and Dontae Johnson behind him, all of whom were seriously unproven.
It blew up in their faces this time. Acker has three interceptions, but all have been egregiously bad throws by the opposing quarterbacks. He has not played well. Brock is great in certain aspect, but he can't defend the deep ball to save his life. Reaser and Johnson are spotty at best and the 49ers are pretty screwed as far as the position goes.
That doesn't mean one of Reaser, Johnson or Acker can't develop into something good down the line. But all three are struggling big time. The 49ers got lucky in the secondary a whole lot over the last couple years, but it's finally completely blown up in their faces. There are still some ugly, ugly games in our future.