49ers safeties prepare for challenge of facing Tom Brady

49ers safeties prepare for challenge of facing Tom Brady

SANTA CLARA – Every member of the 49ers’ defense will be tested and taxed on Sunday when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots come to town.

But safeties Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid figure to have the biggest challenges awaiting them at Levi’s Stadium.

Bethea, an 11-year veteran, knows what to expect. Reid can only guess, as he prepares to face the Patriots for the first time in his four-year career.

As a member of the Indianapolis Colts, Bethea faced Brady eight times, including two playoff games. Bethea has intercepted Brady three times, including his first career interception in 2006. But the Patriots won five of those games.

“They’re technicians with what they do, with the coaching staff they have and from relaying that message from the coaches to the players, they hone in on what that particular scheme is for that week,” Bethea said.

“Tom Brady is going to be Tom Brady. He’s been in that offense for a while. He likes to get the ball out quick. He’ll take shots if you give it to him. They like to control the clock and whatever’s working for them on that day, they’re going to continue to do that.”

Brady sat out the first four games of the season after serving an NFL suspension resulting from the alleged deflation of footballs in the AFC Championship game in January 2015. He has come back better than ever in his five starts, completing 72.9 percent of his attempts, averaging 9.8 yards per attempt, with 12 touchdowns and one interception, and a passer rating of 125.5.

“Decision-making, his quick release, his accuracy, those are all components that make him a special player, a future Hall of Famer,” Reid said.

The 49ers enter Sunday’s game on an eight-game losing streak. The team is just one loss shy of matching the franchise-worst streak that was set in 1978. Yet, Reid said he is looking forward to the challenge of facing one of the all-time greats.

“It’s exciting,” Reid said. “It’s something I have to focus on as a safety is not giving away the coverage to him before the snap. If he knows that, it’s going to be a tough down for the entire defense. I think disguising what we’re doing is going to be important for us. After that, when the ball is snapped, we just got to make plays.”

Bethea made it to the Super Bowl as a rookie, getting past the Patriots in the AFC playoffs. In 2013, the Patriots defeated the Colts in the playoffs. No player on the 49ers has the perspective of Bethea when it comes to the Patriots.

“As a competitor, you can hate them as much as you want. But at the end of the day, you have to respect them,” Bethea said. “Year-in and year-out, they’re one of the best teams in the league, regardless of who’s out there at receiver or the defensive side of the ball. You could even see it earlier this year. When Tom wasn’t even playing quarterback, that team was still winning games. So you got to have a lot of respect for that organization.”

49ers increase competition for starting guard positions


49ers increase competition for starting guard positions

The 49ers are the fifth team to give Jonathan Cooper a chance after he arrived in the NFL as the No. 7 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals in the 2013 draft.

Cooper, 28, caught the attention of the 49ers with his career-high 13 starts last season with the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers signed him to a one-year, $4.95 million contract this week.

“We signed him to compete for one of the guard spots as a starter,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday at Stanford's pro day. “He played very well in our minds for Dallas last year and kind of resurrected his career. He’s battled injuries, but we really like the way he played, and we think he’s a very good fit for what we do. So we were pleased to add him.”

The 49ers plan to take it slowly this offseason with Cooper, who underwent surgery after tearing the medial-collateral ligament in his left knee during the final game of the season. The 49ers report for the offseason program in mid-April.

The 49ers are certain to have at least two new starters on the offensive line. Former New York Giants center Weston Richburg was signed to replace Daniel Kilgore, who was subsequently traded to the Miami Dolphins. Brandon Fusco, who started 16 games at right guard, signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an unrestricted free agent.

Laken Tomlinson has a chance to hold onto a starting job. Acquired shortly before the start of the regular season in a trade from the Detroit Lions, Tomlinson quickly moved into the starting lineup at left guard and started the final 15 games. Tomlinson was a first-round draft pick of the Lions in 2015.

“Laken played very well the longer he was there,” Lynch said. “I think people forget with Laken, he came here in Week 1. He was kind of force-fed. We didn’t have many options. But we saw a guy get better throughout the season. He’ll get his opportunity.”

Joshua Garnett, a first-round pick of the 49ers in 2016, spent last season on injured reserve due to an a knee injury sustained in training camp. The 49ers challenged Garnett to get in better physical condition. He has been cleared for football activity.

“Joshua Garnett has been working extremely hard, so he’ll be in that mix,” Lynch said. “He did a great job embracing the time he has last year to improve as a player. He remade his body and we're looking forward to see him get after it in the offseason.

“I think he’s excited about it. He’s feeling sexy, as he says.”

Erik Magnuson, 24, won a spot on the 49ers’ roster after signing as an undrafted rookie from Michigan. Magnuson could enter into the competition at guard. He displayed unique versatility in his first season, starting two games at right tackle before sustaining a season-ending foot injury. He can also serve as a backup center.

And, perhaps, the 49ers are not finished adding to the competition. The team owns the No. 9 overall selection, and Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson could be on the radar in the unlikely event he is not selected within the top eight picks.

When asked if the 49ers could also add another player to the mix with a draft pick, Lynch answered, “We’ll see. We’re always looking to get better there.”

49ers host two free-agent cornerbacks


49ers host two free-agent cornerbacks

The 49ers hosted two veteran cornerbacks on free-agent visits the past two days and could be signing either Jaylen Watkins or LaDarius Gunter as they wind down their activity on the free-agent market.

“We’re really pleased with what we’ve done,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday. “I’ll never say never. We’ve had a couple of guys visit in the last couple of days. Perhaps we’ll do something there. But for the most part, we’re wrapped up and pleased with what we’ve been able to do.”

The 49ers do not have much depth behind presumptive starting cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon. The team is also likely to add to its depth in the draft.

The 49ers met with Gunter (6-foot-2, 201 pounds) on Thursday. Gunter, 25, started 15 games for the Green Bay Packers in 2016. He recorded 54 tackles and broke up 12 passes. He signed with the Packers in 2015 as an undrafted rookie from Miami.

Gunter was waived at the beginning of last season and the Carolina Panthers claimed him. He appeared in just four games with Carolina, which did not tender him as a restricted free agent.

The 49ers on Wednesday met with Watkins, 26, a versatile defensive back who appeared in 36 games with five starts in four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Watkins (5-11, 195) played three snaps on defense and 17 plays on special teams in the Eagles’ 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4. He entered the NFL in 2014 as a fourth-round draft pick from Florida.