Change is good for veteran Bethea

Antoine Bethea (Getty Images)

The San Francisco 49ers wanted a durable and tested safety to replace Donte Whitner who left for a lucrative free-agent deal with the Browns. They landed Antoine Bethea - an eight-year veteran - who hasn't had any problem fitting with his new team while sharing the common goal of getting back to the Super Bowl.

Even without winning a Super Bowl, three straight deep postseason runs have given the 49ers a relative fortune of experience.

But only two players currently on the roster have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. One is Anquan Boldin, who helped defeat the 49ers with a monster game for the Ravens in Super Bowl 47. The other is newcomer Antoine Bethea, who has felt the joy and despair of both winning and losing a Super Bowl during his eight years with the Indianapolis Colts.

Having experienced both sides of that emotional spectrum, Bethea can both empathize and motivate his new teammates after coming to the 49ers at the start of free agency the same day the team lost veteran safety Donte Whitner to a lucrative free-agent deal with the Browns.

Bethea helped the Colts to a 29-17 win over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl 47. He also started in the big game three years later when the Saints came back in the second half to beat Indianapolis 31-17.

"I'm just hoping we could just get over that hump and get that Lombardi Trophy. I'm extremely excited to be here with this team," Bethea said.

Bethea brings with him a respected veteran voice to a locker room that already has Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Justin Smith, and Boldin among others.

"(Bethea) has a very similar demeanor to Donte as far as he's pretty quiet, pretty reserved," Colin Kaepernick said. "But when he steps on the field he's about business. I think that's something that our defense kind of has about them. They really don't talk too much until you step on the field and then you now they're there."

Joining an accomplished and veteran group made the choice relatively easy for Bethea when it came to his decision in free agency. He signed a backloaded four-year, $21 million contract to replace Whitner, who signed for four years and $28 million with the Cleveland Browns.

"Obviously it's different being in one place for eight years, but change is good. I think this is going to be a real good fit for me," said Bethea.

"One of my things in wanting to come here, it's just a great team. Being a fan first of the game, just watching how these guys play on film, on TV. Just what this organization has been all about for years…We have a lot of players that have done a lot of good things for this team and for this league."

Bethea leaves a Colts defense that ranked 22nd in yardage in 2013 and was in the middle of the pack in most other major categories en route to divisional round of the playoffs where they fell to the Patriots 43-22. The 49ers ranked fifth in yardage and third in scoring last year before losing in the conference title game for the second time in three seasons.

It was clear the San Francisco was hoping to find a veteran presence to replace Whitner to avoid having to play two young safeties at the back end of one of the league's most stout defenses. They did so in finding Bethea, who can continue in Whitner's footsteps when it comes to helping develop second-year standout Eric Reid and this season's first-round pick Jimmie Ward - who could serve as Bethea's replacement down the road.

In 2013 it was commonplace to hear praise about Reid and his beyond-his-years cadence around the team's facility. The former first-round pick earned Pro-Bowl recognition in his first year after replacing All-Pro Dashon Goldson, who left via free agency to sign a lucrative deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the spring after the team lost the Super Bowl.

Reid often credited Whitner for his veteran leadership in helping him develop so quickly.

Almost a year later, it's Reid that's helping the veteran Bethea get used to life with the 49ers.

"Just sitting next to (Reid) in the meeting room talking to him, and even out on the field discussing different coverages, different routes, it seems like he's been in the league for more than just a year. And that's great just to be able to have somebody with that knowledge of the game to be able to work alongside with," Bethea said.

An added bonus Bethea brings is durability. He started his last 96 regular season games for the Colts. The 49ers hope he can string together 19 or 20 more games this year, with the last being Super Bowl 49 in Arizona.

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