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Safety Group Strong as 49ers Near Broncos Matchup

Posted Aug 15, 2014

Jim Harbaugh has plenty of confidence in the new partnership between up-and-comer Eric Reid and newcomer Antoine Bethea.

This has been a tumultuous training camp for the San Francisco 49ers defense.

Starting nose tackle Glenn Dorsey suffered a season-ending injury; there has been an open (and still murky) competition at inside linebacker to replace the already-injured NaVorro Bowman; and starting cornerback Tramaine Brock has missed action lately because of his own ailment.

It's worth asking then: How is the last line of the 49ers defense holding up?

Let's talk about the healthy starting safety pairing of second-year pro Eric Reid and veteran newcomer Antoine Bethea.

“I think it’s coming along really good," Jim Harbaugh said before practice on Friday evening, where 10,000 fans watched from Levi's® Stadium seats. "I think our safety play has been very good. Has been in practice and in game.

"I’ll say that (too) for Jimmie (Ward), Craig Dahl, C.J. Spillman. They’re playing very well as a group.”

Don't use the team's public session as a measuring stick. The white-uniformed defense had shoulder pads and helmets on but were instructed to move at a slower pace in advance of Sunday's preseason home opener versus the Denver Broncos.

Nevertheless, Reid and Bethea moved around the field well, seemed to be piloting the defense from the backfield and should give fans a better barometer on Sunday.

Here are some other notes from the final camp workout:

–Linebackers Patrick Willis and Bowman walked out through the south end zone tunnel and toward practice together after individual drills, eliciting cheers from the fans in attendance.

Chris Borland and Michael Wilhoite started in their place at the start of team drills; Wilhoite made the pre-snap calls and broke the huddle, while Borland had two swift pass break-ups in coverage.

–The other nine players working with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's first unit: Bethea, Reid, cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox, linemen Ray McDonald, Ian Williams, and Justin Smith to with outside linebackers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks.

–Brock, who is expected to be the team's top cornerback come the regular season, didn't participate in team drills and watched from the sideline in his number 26 uniform.

–First-round draft pick Jimmie Ward was again the first cornerback off of the bench inserted into the nickel role. He also worked at safety.

–Another rookie defensive back, Dontae Johnson, continued to impress. He disrupted a would-be touchdown toss to wide receiver Quinton Patton early on before knocking down an easy interception while blanketing wideout Lance Lewis.

–Second-year cornerback Darryl Morris, who is competing for playing time in the nickel, had a nice pass break-up in the end zone, costing veteran pass-catcher Kassim Osgood a score.

–The session included a lot of scout team looks, as the number two defense tested the offense and the number two offense ran new schemes against the number one defense.

–At one point, new linebacker Kion Wilson knocked running back Carlos Hyde into quarterback Colin Kaepernick, forcing a fumble.

–Aldon Smith had a would-be sack on reserve quarterback Josh Johnson.


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