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Antoine Bethea sounds off on the 49ers defense

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Antoine Bethea was voted team MVP by his San Francisco 49ers brethren last season, so yeah, the strong safety had a few thoughts on the recent defections and developments within the Niners defense, especially the unforeseen retirements of linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland.

“It was definitely a surprise,” Bethea said. “But, like Vernon [Davis] said, it put everything into perspective. This game is short-lived and you’ve got to put everything into it while you’re playing this game.

“Two great players. Chris Borland came on strong for us towards the end of the year, but we’ve got to keep it rolling. I’m pretty sure we’re going to have guys that are going to step in and play some great football for us.”

Bethea mentioned inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman's potential return from a devastating knee injury that kept him out all of last season, Bethea’s first with the Niners.

“Like I said, we’re going to get some guys to come in and step in and make some plays,” Bethea said. “We’re going to be a family out there and we’re going to do what we need to do.”

Being a defensive back might give Bethea more of an affinity for the players called on to replace starting cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox.

“It’s going to be fine,” Bethea said. “I have no worries about that. I think last year, I think there was a lot of talk about our secondary, but I think our secondary did pretty good last year. We’ve got a lot of young guys.

“T-Brock [Tramaine Brock] is healthy and once we come together, get this camaraderie together out here working, pushing each other, get these OTAs, minicamps and all that, I think we’ll be fine.”

The Niners led the NFL with 23 interceptions last season and are also breaking in a new defensive coordinator in former tight ends coach Eric Mangini, who was known as “Man-genius” in a previous role.

Bethea agrees with Mangini's nickname.

“You can tell he’s a smart guy, a really smart guy,” Bethea said. “The way he gives off the information, everybody on our defense is going to know what to do and there’s going to be some smart players out there. I’m just excited to get out there and play in the defense that we’re installing.”