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Antoine Bethea: Eric Mangini's Defense to Cause Offensive Confusion


Antoine Bethea covers all aspects of the 49ers defense in Wednesday's Niners Daily*.

If there's any player who has his finger on the pulse of the San Francisco 49ers defense, it's Bethea. The veteran strong safety, who is entering his 10th NFL season and second with the 49ers, held court during last week's open locker room media session.

Bethea coursed through a number of topics regarding the team's defense, but he began with the man pulling the strings, defensive coordinator Eric Mangini. It's Mangini's first season in his current position but third with the 49ers, having spent the 2012 season as a senior offensive consultant and the 2013 season as the tight ends coach.

Mangini has been a defensive coordinator once before, with the New England Patriots in 2005.

"Every defensive coordinator has their style," Bethea said. "Coach Mangini's thing is that we're going to cause confusion. The opposing offense won't know what we're going to do each down. That could be bringing pressure or dropping eight in coverage but it's all about keeping the offense on their heels.

"That means a lot of movement and everyone having to know what everyone else is doing. It could be different people doing different jobs. Everybody just knows what we have to do. It's going to be fun."

Creating confusion means avoiding confusing themselves. That may sound silly, but constant movement and the required ability to play multiple positions leads to a steep learning curve.

Every position brings with it a different set of responsibilities that can vary from play to play. The only way to get up to speed is through constant reps in practice. That's what the 49ers are trying to accomplish during the offseason program.

"That's what OTAs are for, getting into the playbook, getting out there in front of the offense, getting repetitions, and studying," Bethea said. "Then once the season comes the coaches can feel it out and say, 'Ok, we do this well and we don't do this as well.' As the season goes on, that's how the game plan works."

The 49ers 2014 MVP is part of a heralded safety duo with Eric Reid and will play behind a group of cornerbacks who will all be fighting for starting spots. Ahead of them stands the front seven, linebackers and defensive linemen who have garnered most of the offseason attention with the departures of Patrick Willis, Chris Borland and Justin Smith.

Bethea said he's confident the 49ers have the pieces already in place to fill those voids.

Team photographer Terrell Lloyd captured the safety's Week 16 interception of Philip Rivers, which Bethea returned for a touchdown.

"We have a lot of depth and a lot of good players up there that can get it done for us," he said. "Depth is always a good thing."

Finally, Bethea touched on his head coach, providing glowing reviews of Jim Tomsula's first offseason since his promotion.

"I love him, man," Bethea said. "He's a charismatic man and he's one with the players. I think it's going to be a good deal for us. His energy with the players and everything is good for us."

The coach and his star safety created a rapport with one another in 2014, when Tomsula served as the 49ers defensive line coach. As a strong safety, Bethea had conversations with Tomsula regarding his responsibilities in the running game and the need to fit in between defensive linemen to fill his gap.

Even with the new esteemed title of head coach, Bethea said Tomsula hasn't changed a bit.

"He's the same as when he was the D-line coach," he said. "He's going to come in and do what he does."

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