5 Things We Learned from Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid at 49ers OTAs

It didn't take long for Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid to make a lasting impression on their first-year defensive coordinator.

From the very start of the offseason program, Jim O'Neil has been enamored with the first-team safeties. The defensive coordinator explained why during his first 49ers press conference last week.

"I've been really impressed with the safety group," O'Neil said at the midway point of nine OTA sessions this spring. "Bethea and Eric Reid are very, very smart football players and with this being the fourth time I've been a part of an organization installing this system, those guys are further ahead than any other safety group that I've been a part of so far."

In turn, Bethea and Reid had a chance to share their assessment of O'Neil's defensive scheme last week prior to the final three OTAs of the 2016 offseason.

We've watched the tape, jotted down the best quotes and present you the top takeaways from the 49ers safeties below.

1. Chip Kelly's offensive scheme is pushing the defense in a good way

An 11-year veteran with 146 career starts under his belt like Bethea knows how to prepare for the rigors of an NFL regular season. However, this offseason is the first time Bethea has faced an offensive attack that moves with Kelly's signature pacing in between plays.

Bethea explained that O'Neil's defensive approach compares favorably to a 3-4 system he excelled with the Indianapolis Colts for defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. The familarity, to an extent, has Bethea more prepared for facing Kelly's schemes.

"I've been in this defense once before, so that kind of helps the situation as far as the tempo and everything," Bethea said. "At the end of the day I just think that going against Chip Kelly's style of offense is going to help everybody else once the season comes."

Reid, on the other hand, admitted that it's difficult to face an up-tempo offense like Kelly's at this point of the offseason.

"I'm open to that," he said. "I accept that challenge because when the game comes, name a team that is going to go that fast. So the game should be slow motion for us when it comes. So I like it, it's a challenge, and I'm up for a challenge. It should make us better in the long run."

Bethea added that he appreciates Kelly's interest in the defensive unit and frequent visits to the group's meeting rooms. "I'm always a firm believer (in that) I want to see for myself, and I love what Chip is doing for our group," Bethea said. "Just everybody is flying around out there having fun."

2. O'Neil's scheme makes a ton of sense to the players

Reid was candid when detailing how last year's defense relied more on players reacting off of each other.

"But that's the past," Reid said. "I'm focusing on this year and this year is looking good."

Reid explained that the decisiveness of the scheme allows the players to be confident in O'Neil's calls.

"When you line up and get a call, I know exactly what I'm doing," Reid said. "I know exactly what the guy next to me is doing, and when you feel that way, you can be confident on the way you break from the ball."

With trust and understanding between teammates supremely high, Reid sounded like a player who believes the defense will be more aligned in the coming season.

Bethea, too, shared what the defensive installation process has been like this offseason.

"I think everyone is getting the hang of it," he said. "It's complex, but the way they're teaching it, they way we're implementing the defense, the way we're talking out there, we're having some mistakes but you learn off your mistakes."

3. O'Neil's teaching style has resonated with the team

At the age of 37, San Francisco's defensive coordinator has shown plenty of youthful exuberance this offseason.

"You can definitely see he's stern," Bethea said, "but he does have that energy that we need. Even out there on the field, he's smiling, he's running around talking trash. (I'm) pretty sure our defense can feed off that as well.

Reid said he's noticed a passionate teacher in front of his defensive teammates.

"He wants every down to be a good down," Reid said. "He doesn't want the offense to catch the ball. He was pretty upset, they caught a couple balls on us yesterday and wasn't happy about it, so we came out had a better day today."

4. Several players have stepped up into leadership roles

Bethea acknowledged that the 49ers have a young team, but the veteran safety was confident in the types of leaders in the locker room being capable to help the group come together this offseason.

"I think we have a pretty good mixture as leaders in each room," said Bethea, who pointed to himself, Reid, Tramaine Brock, NaVorro Bowman and Quinton Dial as some of the key figures on defense.

Bethea, who enters his third season with the 49ers, said he enjoys being considered a teacher at this stage of his career.

"I love to go out there and play," Bethea began, "but when it's time for those guys to come to me and ask questions or if I see somebody doing something that maybe I could give them a pointer or two, that's when I do that."

Both Bethea and Reid spoke highly of the young players on the 49ers roster, which includes three draft picks at the cornerback position.

5. Reid isn't preoccupied with the business side of the game and ongoing contract talks

General manager Trent Baalke told reporters this offseason that he wanted to get a contract extension done with Reid, who had the fifth-year of his rookie contract picked up earlier this month.

For his side of the equation, Reid detailed how he's approaching the final two years of his original rookie deal.

"I just want to play football," he said. "What's going to happen is going to happen, It's out of my control. Me worrying about it isn't going to make it come any faster. So I just want to be out here to play football with my guys and go home to my family every day."

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