Leading up to the 2014 season at 49ers.com, we'll get to know new and intriguing players. We continue our series with safety Antoine Bethea, whom San Francisco signed as a free agent from the Indianapolis Colts on March 11. *
- He hasn't missed a start in six seasons.
That's 96 consecutive starts in the regular season for those of you scoring at home. Bethea last missed a start in 2007. He suffered an injury and missed the final three games of the regular season, the year he made his second Pro Bowl team. Since then, the 5-foot-11, 206-pound defensive back has been a reliable force in the NFL. Bethea has started every game he's appeared in since joining the Colts as a sixth-round draft pick eight seasons ago.
- His style of play is different than the safety he's replacing.
Unlike Donte Whitner, San Francisco's new strong safety doesn't have any plans to alter his last name. Sure, he doesn't have a surname that lends itself to a clever moniker, but Bethea's on-field reputation is known more for sound fundamentals than jarring hits. Bethea was not penalized in 2013, while Whitner was flagged for five unnecessary roughness penalties. In total, Bethea produced 110 tackles. Whitner also made no bones about his feelings when meeting with the media. Bethea, on the other hand, said he's not one for speaking his mind to reporters. "You're not going to hear me say too much," Bethea said.
**3. He has experience playing both safety positions.
Secondary coach Ed Donatell confirmed what many of us already assumed: Bethea will begin his 49ers career at strong safety and has the ability to line up at free safety. Bethea said he envisions and interchangeable system is which San Francisco can be less predictable with its pre-snap looks. Bethea doesn't want to be a single-high safety, nor does he want to only be a box safety tasked with run-gap responsibilities. The versatility of Bethea and Eric Reid will allow defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to mix up his looks and tailor his defense to the strengths of each safety.
- He has used his small-school college experience as motivation.
NFL free agency was a big deal for Bethea. He was not recruited heavily out of college, but he was valued highly by the 49ers when the free agency period began. Bethea attended Howard University and was the 207th overall pick in his draft class. "Being able to have a team come talk to you and really want you within the first hour of free agency, it meant a lot," Bethea said. The veteran safety didn't shop around and make visits with any other team. He agreed to terms with the 49ers and signed his contract the following day. Bethea is also different than three of the team's offseason additions in the sense that he's a late-round draft pick joining his second team. Cornerback Chris Cook (34th overall in 2010), quarterback Blaine Gabbert (10th in '11), and offensive tackle Jonathan Martin (42nd in '12) and all were top-50 talents who are looking to better their careers with a second organization.
- He came to the 49ers to win a second Super Bowl.* *Bethea won a Super Bowl and lost another chance at a ring with the Colts. He certainly knows what a championship-caliber team looks like. When the eight-year vetertan signed with the 49ers, the possibility of winning another Super Bowl was very much in mind. "It's one reason I'm here in San Fran," Bethea said. "A great opportunity to get another ring. That's what I'm here to do." Bethea has a wealth of postseason experience, too. He's been to the postseason in seven of his eight seasons with the Colts, with a Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck-less 2011 season being the lone exception. Bethea is joining a 49ers team that has been to the conference championship game for three consecutive season. Should San Francisco return to the big stage, Bethea will be fit to handle the moment.