SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The San Francisco 49ers enter the final week of the regular season with league's fifth-ranked defense and 23rd-ranked offense.
Naturally, one would think the 49ers' standout defense, that's been without a number of key players throughout the season, would be the unit honored with Pro-Bowl recognition.
But that didn't happen Tuesday. Left tackle Joe Staley and left guard Mike Iupati were the 49ers' only two Pro-Bowl selections. Last year, when they finished 12-4 and played in a third-consecutive conference title game, they sent a league-leading eight players to Hawaii.
San Francisco will have five alternates slated for this year's game, played in Glendale, Ariz. a week before the Super Bowl. Defensive lineman Justin Smith, running back Frank Gore, linebacker Chris Borland, right guard Alex Boone and safety Antoine Bethea will be available if other Pro Bowlers are injured or playing in the Super Bowl.
"An award, nominated by the coaches, says a lot. There's a lot of deserving players in this locker room, so for the coaches to vote for me, it means a lot," Bethea said.
According to out friends at Pro Football Focus, Bethea was the league's top-graded strong safety. Only Eric Weddle (Chargers), Glover Quin (Lions), and Harrison Smith (Vikings) graded out higher than Bethea, and they all play free safety. Only Detroit, Quin's team, has a better overall defense than San Francisco headed into Week 17.
Four free safeties and two strong safeties were named to the Pro Bowl.
Tashaun Gipson (Browns), Quin, Earl Thomas (Seahawks), Weddle.
Ward is PFF's 35th-ranked safety. His -7.2 grade in coverage is 81st among 86 safeties. Bethea has the fourth-highest coverage grade at 9.8.
"Antoine Bethea has been a pro’s pro, on the field, off the field, in the locker room," Jim Harbaugh said Wednesday. "Real joy to be around every single day. As a football player he’s been outstanding in all aspects of safety play. It’s been a fantastic year for him."
49ers 2014 team awards
From the team's press release:
Len Eshmont Award: Frank Gore
The Len Eshmont Award is voted on by the players and is given to the 49er who best exemplifies the inspirational and courageous play of Len Eshmont, an original member of the 1946 49ers team. Eshmont, who coached at Navy and Virginia following his career in San Francisco, died in 1957. The award was established that year.
Bill Walsh Award: S Antoine Bethea
The Bill Walsh Award was established in 2004 in honor of San Francisco’s Hall of Fame Head Coach. Walsh served as the team’s head coach for 10 seasons from 1979-88. In that time, he compiled a record of 102-63-1 and led the team to three Super Bowls. He was twice named Coach of the Year (1981, 1984) and was later named Coach of the Decade for the 1980s. The award, which is voted on by coaches, is given to the 49ers team MVP, honoring his outstanding individual performance.
Bobb McKittrick Award: T Joe Staley
The Bobb McKittrick Award is given annually to the 49ers offensive lineman who best represents the courage, intensity and sacrifice displayed by the longtime offensive line coach, during his 21 years of service to the 49ers. The award was established by the 49ers in 1999, and is voted on by the offensive line.
Hazeltine Iron Man Award: DT Justin Smith
The Hazeltine Iron Man Award is named for former linebacker Matt Hazeltine, a 13-year performer who played more seasons at linebacker than any other 49ers player. Known for his durability and dedication, Hazeltine passed away in 1987 from ALS, and Bill Walsh established the award in his honor that year. The award is given annually to the most courageous and inspirational defensive player as voted upon by the defensive coaches.
Thomas Herrion Memorial Award: LB Chris Borland
Thomas Herrion Memorial Award was established in 2005 by 49ers owners Denise and John York and is presented to a rookie or first-year player who best represents the dream of Thomas Herrion. The recipient has taken advantage of every opportunity, turned it into a positive situation and made their dream turn into a reality. The award is voted on by the coaches.
Blue Collar Players of the Year (voted on by the players and coaches)
Defense: Justin Smith
Offense: Anquan Boldin
Special Teams: Kassim Osgood