SANTA CLARA, Calif. - With veteran strong safety Antoine Bethea out for the season after suffering a reported pectoral injury in Thursday's 20-3 loss to the Seahawks, the 49ers will likely be relying on rookie safety Jaquiski Tartt to fill the void at the back end of the defense.
"He has all the things you need to play the position. He’s showing it," Eric Reid said. "He had a tackle for loss against Marshawn Lynch, which might be the hardest tackle to make in the league, against that guy. So, he shows that he has what it takes to play in this league."
After getting drafted in the second round out of Samford last spring, the writing was on the wall for Tartt to become Bethea's eventual replacement. Bethea, 31, started 119 straight games dating back to 2007 with the Indianapolis Colts. Prior to last season, he joined the 49ers as a free agent, signing a reported four-year, $21 million contract to replace Donte Whitner.
If Tartt (6-1, 221) were to replace Bethea going into next season, the 49ers could save over $10 million in salary cap dollars over the next two years. Because of the injury, Tartt might be stepping in sooner than originally expected.
San Francisco's defense heads into Sunday's game against the Rams ranked 22nd in scoring, allowing 25.7 points per game, and 31st-ranked total defense, allowing an average of 406 yards.
For the year, Tartt has 20 tackles, including a sack in the season opener against the Minnesota Vikings.
With the exception of Thursday when he replaced Bethea at strong safety in the second half, the majority of Tartt's playing time has come as roving linebacker in coordinator Eric Mangini's dime package, matching up with running backs and tight ends in long-yardage situations.
Tartt going forward should expect a similar role as he had Thursday.
"It was a good experience, I was able to get my feet wet for the first time. I felt like I did OK...But the speed is different," said Tartt.
On San Francisco-based radio station KNBR Tuesday, 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula indicated he's looking at Tartt and second-year player Jimmie Ward as Bethea's possible replacement.
"We’re looking at that right now with the guys. We feel really good about both those guys," Tomsula said.
Since San Francisco used their first-round pick on Ward in 2014, he's been the primary nickel cornerback and has only played traditional safety in the preseason. He missed half of his rookie season after suffering a Jones fracture in his foot that hampered his preparation during the team's most recent training camp.
Chris Biderman is the Editor-in-Chief of Niners Digest and covers the 49ers from their headquarters in Santa Clara. Chris has been writing about the team since the spring of 2013. The Ohio State alum received his Journalism degree in 2011 and has been working in sports media since 2008. Chris, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, is also a contributor to the Associated Press covering sports throughout the Bay Area. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.
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