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Film study: In his 14th season, can Antoine Bethea really be a center fielder at safety?

Bethea brings leadership and knowledge, but can he still do the job physically?

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks
Antoine Bethea
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

A sixth-round draft pick in 2006, Antoine Bethea has gone on to have a very successful career. He joined the New York Giants this past offseason, his fourth NFL team. Recently turned 35 years old, Bethea played his past two years with the Arizona Cardinals, but the rebuilding Cardinals released him for salary cap purposes. In Arizona, Bethea’s 2017 season was clearly superior to what he put on tape last year although he did log more than 1,100 snaps in his 13th NFL season.

In New York, Bethea reunites with defensive coordinator James Bettcher from their time together with the Cardinals. Obviously, Bettcher has a great understanding of what Bethea brings to the table, but there is a wrinkle here that we must explore.

Bethea has done the best work over his long career close to the line of scrimmage. For a defensive back, he uses his hands very well to disengage from bigger blockers and is a very reliable tackler.

This isn’t to imply that Bethea has only been a box safety and brings little in the way of coverage skills. That isn’t the case. In fact, Arizona used him in the deep patrol plenty last year. There have been times over Bethea’s career where he was amongst the best players at his position in the entire league.

With Jabrill Peppers now in the fold, Bethea is going to have to play much more of a traditional free safety role in Bettcher’s attacking scheme. The reality is, Bethea, considered a very high character guy and a strong leader, really has his most value as a mentor to Peppers as well as an on-the-field leader to this young secondary. From his new traditional free safety spot, Bethea should excel at aligning the rest of New York’s defense as well as communicating trends and keys to his teammates.

Matt’s Film Clips

vs. Chiefs:

1st Quarter: Second-and-10 with 6:04 Remaining: Bethea shows great recognition with a deep route and breaks up a TD

vs. Falcons

2nd Quarter: Second-and-10 with :19 Remaining: It wasn’t a play that just about any safety would get to, but you do see Bethea’s limited range on this TD

vs. Rams

1st Quarter: Third-and-10 with :42 remaining: What Giants might expect in 2019: Bethea allows the catch, but makes a solid tackle and doesn’t allow a big play

But what should we expect from Bethea in coverage?

Of course it was a long time ago, but as a college prospect coming out of Howard University, Bethea ran a sub 4.40 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. His jumps and change of direction testing were also impressive at just under 6-feet and 196 pounds. However, even early in Bethea’s career, he didn’t exactly play like a safety with truly elite speed. But considering how much time he spent in the box, Bethea was certainly a plus athlete for this role and closed on the football very well.

As mentioned above, Bethea also has played far off the ball plenty in his career and his athletic prowess certainly helped him succeed in this regard. However, after studying him on film, Bethea doesn’t run all that well any more and isn’t going to be an overly rangy deep defender in his new role.

What Bethea does have is smarts and experience. He rarely wastes steps, takes very good angles to the ball, isn’t easily fooled by quarterbacks and has an excellent recognition of scheme and what an offense is trying to do to attack his defense. He is historically a playmaker and we did see plenty of Bethea around the football once again in 2018. Maybe most importantly on the field, Bethea should use his guile to limit big plays and keep the action in front of him.

If Bethea logs more than 1,000 snaps as a 16-game starter for New York this coming season while bringing an immense presence in the locker room and on the field from a mental standpoint, the Giants should be very happy with this acquisition. That being said, it is pretty obvious that Bethea is a short-term placeholder and he most likely will be exposed throughout the 2019 season because of his declining skillset. He’s a true professional, but is miscast if playing a lot of deep middle coverage or even in a Cover 2 shell. Bethea should provide more to the Giants from a cultural standpoint than as a productive football player during his time in New York and that has quite a bit of value for where this team is overall right now.