49ers training camp preview: Safeties

49ers training camp preview: Safeties
July 24, 2014, 6:15 am
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Antoine Bethea will replace Donte Whitner in the 49ers' defensive backfield, and team up with Eric Reid. (USATI/AP)

Editor’s note: Matt Maiocco provides position-by-position breakdowns each day leading up to 49ers training camp. The full squad reported on Wednesday, with the first practice day scheduled for Thursday. In the final installment, Matt focuses on the safeties.

Who they have: Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea, Jimmie Ward, C.J. Spillman, Craig Dahl, Bubba Ventrone, James McCray, D.J. Campbell.

Who they lost: Donte Whitner.

Looking back: After losing Dashon Goldson to free agency, the 49ers put all their trust last season into Reid. They traded up to select him with the No. 18 overall pick, and he did not disappoint.

Reid teamed with Whitner to give the 49ers strong play from the safety position. Reid did not experience many growing pains as a rookie. He was solid in all aspects of the game while recording four interceptions.

Whitner was penalized five times for unnecessary roughness. He defended himself as a legal hitter. Upon review, the NFL seemed to agree. Whitner did not see any money deducted from his paychecks for fines.

The 49ers signed Dahl, coming off a 16-start season with the St. Louis Rams, prior to the draft. He saw action on defense only when Reid had to be removed from two games due to concussions.

Overall outlook: Whitner signed a lucrative contract with the Cleveland Browns, and Bethea replaced him as the 49ers’ starting strong safety. The two-time Pro Bowl player is very similar to Whitner – without the penalty issues. Bethea was not penalized last season.

Bethea signed a four-year, $21 million contract as a free agent after eight seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. He has the longest current streak among NFL safeties with 96 consecutive games started.

Reid is much more comfortable with his assignments as he enters his second NFL training camp. The 49ers expect him to be a fixture in the team’s secondary for a long time.

Ward was selected with the No. 30 overall pick. He’ll compete against Dahl to be the primary backup. Ward is also being counted upon to contribute as the team’s third cornerback.

Camp competition: The starters are set with Reid and Bethea. Ward will have to win the job as the No. 3 safety from Dahl, who has the advantage of six years of NFL experience. There should be good competition for the final spots on the roster with special teams playing a huge role. Spillman is one of the top special-teams players in the league. Ventrone was also one of the team’s core special-teams contributors last season.

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