The San Francisco 49ers did not pick a cornerback among the franchise's 10 selections in the 2015 NFL Draft.
General manager Trent Baalke told the Bay Area media that he had confidence in the franchise's eight cornerbacks on the current roster, a group that includes three 2014 draft picks (Dontae Johnson, Kenneth Acker and Keith Reaser) poised to leave their mark this coming season.
The team's offseason program and training camp will serve as the battle ground to determine who will be be atop San Francisco's cornerback pecking order. Antoine Bethea chimed in with his thoughts on where things stand prior to Organized Team Activities and a mandatory minicamp taking place in the next two months. In fact, the veteran strong safety sounded confident about the current group of cornerbacks and their ability to shine when the regular season begins.
"There's been a lot of competition," Bethea recently said after a voluntary offseason practice. "We've had a short minicamp and everybody's learning, so there are really no positions, but when training camp comes, there's going to be a lot of competition, a lot of good competition. I'm excited to see it."
The 49ers are set on the back end of the defense with Bethea lining up at strong safety next to third-year pro Eric Reid at free safety. Jimmie Ward is also returning as the team's incumbent nickel defensive back.
At cornerback, that's where the position battles will be watched closely in San Francisco's defensive backfield. In addition to the previously mentioned 2014 draft selections, the 49ers have five other viable options as perimeter defenders.
Most notably, Tramaine Brock and free-agent addition Shareece Wright have been given an immediate opportunity to seize starting roles. Both lined up with the first-team defense during a recent minicamp session. The club also re-signed veteran Chris Cook, who enters his fifth year in the league. Cook is tied with Wright as the second-most experienced cornerback on the roster.
Beyond the youthful competition set to take place, the cornerback battle is intriguing on many levels. The secondary and defense as a whole is learning Eric Mangini's 3-4 defensive scheme.
Bethea, a 10-year veteran, enters his second season with the 49ers and is on an equal playing field as his cornerback counterparts. They're all working on picking up a new system.
"I'm back learning again," Bethea said, "trying to learn a new defense and I'm always trying to get better."
Bethea finished third on the team with 86 tackles last year and was selected as the 49ers Most Valuable Player. He added four interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and first ever defensive touchdown, a 49-yard return on a pick-six against the San Diego Chargers in Week 16.
Bethea's impact was obvious in his first year in the Bay Area. But as he put it, the focus from holdovers from last season's group is all about moving on to 2015.
"Last year was last year, that's behind us," Bethea said. "We have a lot of good things to look forward to, and I'm going to do whatever I can to help this team improve."
Bethea will surely be counted on to be a defensive leader in Jim Tomsula's first season as 49ers head coach.
Judging by Bethea's early comments on the team's offseason training sessions, Tomsula, San Francisco's outspoken leader, has already rubbed off his energy off on the players.
"We've had really upbeat, high-spirited practices," Bethea said. "Guys are learning on the run and in the classroom. It just feels good to be able to go out there and compete. We're building, and I think we'll be fine."