The San Francisco 49ers defense will look different in 2015. There is no doubt about that.
In the secondary, notable free agent departures include cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox.
In the middle, the unexpected retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland leave holes that will test the 49ers linebacker depth.
Add linebacker Dan Skuta, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the release of DT Ray McDonald in December, and that makes six key contributors on the 49ers defense from 2014 who will not be on the field for the team this season. The roster overhaul combined with new defensive coordinator Eric Mangini taking over may leave some to question the 49ers defense heading into the 2015 season.
But safety Antoine Bethea isn't concerned. When asked Friday about his outlook on the defensive backfield, Bethea was concise. "It's going to be fine," the 49ers 2014 team MVP said. "I have no worries about that. Last year there was a lot of talk about our secondary, but I think our secondary did pretty good last year."
Bethea is confident that with the return of cornerback Tramaine Brock, who suffered a toe injury in 2014, and the emergence of younger players including the likes of Dante Johnson and Jimmie Ward, the 49ers cornerback group will exceed expectations. But this can only happen after they develop chemistry. "Once we come together, get this comradery together out here working, pushing each other, get these OTAs, minicamps and all that, I think we'll be fine," Bethea said. As for the exit of two starting linebackers, Bethea admitted it was an unexpected hurdle. After the initial shock settled, perspective set in.
"This game is short lived," the nine-year veteran acknowledged. "You've got to put everything into it while you're playing."
Bethea thinks that the next men up will fill the void. "We've got to keep it rolling," the safety said. "We're going to have guys that are going to step in and play some great football for us."
As with the secondary, a veteran coming off injury will be looked upon to lead a transformed linebacker group in 2015. It helps when that veteran is NaVorro Bowman.