The San Francisco 49ers have a unique trio of safeties that are expected to anchor the team's secondary in 2016.
Let's start with the two veterans of the bunch: Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid. Bethea, an 11-year pro and the 49ers 2014 team MVP, is back to 100 percent after an upper-body injury ended his 2015 campaign after seven games. Reid was a team captain for the first time last season and posted 66 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble.
"They're pros. They come to work everyday, they put the work into it and they love being here," defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley said of the duo. "They're very smart football players. With those two guys, you can do a lot. And it's fun to talk ball with them. You bounce ideas off of each other, and you keep working to get better."
Reid reciprocated the positive feedback with praise for San Francisco's new coaching staff, including defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil. The safety called O'Neil's scheme his favorite since coming to the 49ers as a first-round pick in 2013.
He also admitted candidly that the 49ers defense was far too reactive throughout last season. Now that Reid and the rest of his teammates are in a defense that "just makes sense," Hafley hopes the thinking will be taken out of the equation.
"It's my job to put him in a position to make plays," Hafley said in his conversation with 49ers.com. "Whether it's telling him to align a certain way or what to look at, I want him to find things very clearly so when he goes out there, he's just playing ball.
"I don't want him to think. He's so athletic, and he's so bright, he sees things well. If you see a little, you see a lot. If you see a lot, you see a little. He needs to understand that: look at this, react to it and go play ball. I'm not going to over-coach that. We've got to let our players make plays."
Reid has also expressed his hope to play more man coverage in 2016. Hafley plans to utilize the versatility of his 6-foot-1, 213-pound safety in order to create desired matchups against opposing pass-catchers.
Moving Reid around the field might also carve out a bigger role for the final member of the aforementioned trio: Jaquiski Tartt. As a rookie, Tartt tallied 64 total tackles, one interception and one forced fumble in 15 games (eight starts).
Hafley provided a scouting report on his second-year safety.
"I think right now he's just young. He hasn't played a lot of football at this level, so we're teaching him the game a little bit," the coach said. "He's another guy who has size, skill set and versatility to do a lot of different things.
"With him it's just teaching him, pushing him on the field and working on his fundamentals. Hopefully we'll be able to develop and use him in a lot of ways."
A notable piece of Tartt's versatility is his potential to be a hammer in secondary. The Samford product has a knack for delivering a big hit, evidenced by several highlight-reel stops during his rookie season.
"He's physical enough to go down in the box," Hafley said. "He's shown range to play in deep zones, and he's got coverage ability. He's very explosive."