After drafting safeties within the first two rounds of the past three drafts, it would only figure the 49ers have accumulated good, young talent at that position.
And the 49ers have a veteran coming off an injury who is trying to hold onto his spot.
“But he’s a really good football player,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said of Antoine Bethea at the NFL owners meetings this week in Boca Raton, Florida.
With Bethea, Eric Reid, Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt on the roster, the 49ers figure to have some good competition once the offseason program begins.
“I just see that as a strength,” Kelly said. “They’ve done a really good job of drafting those guys, whether it’s Jimmie, Jaquiski, Eric. Then you have Antoine.
“There’s talent at a position where everybody’s looking for players. Safety is one of those positions, where I think everybody is scrambling to find players. I think we have talent. That’s definitely one of the strengths of this football team.”
The reason safeties are difficult to find, Kelly said, is because every team has different expectations from that position.
“Some people play one safety low all the time and a true free safety,” Kelly said. “Some people play left and right safeties. Some people require their safeties to cover. Other people make sure their safeties don’t get matched up on slot, always be in-the-box guys. So I think they’re used differently depending on the different defensive schemes.”
Bethea, who turns 32 in July, is considered more of a box safety. He is scheduled to be full strength after missing the final nine games of the season with a torn pectoral. He was voted the winner of the Bill Walsh Award for the team MVP in 2014.
Reid, a first-round draft pick in 2013, has started all 47 games in which he has appeared in his first three seasons. Ward, a first-round pick in 2014, had a strong second season as the 49ers' nickel back. Tartt, a second-round pick last year, showed promise in his eight starts after Bethea's injury. He also saw action in certain packages before he was thrust into a starting role.
Kelly said 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil will take a long look at the safeties during the offseason program and training camp before making a decision how to use the players already on the roster.
“We have to see them first,” Kelly said. “One of the things with Jimmy’s defense is, let’s get a real good look at the personnel we have and figure out how we’re going to deploy them.”