And this key piece is heading to the AFC champions, per the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero.
ALL the latest 49ers news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on 49ers newsletter here!
The NFL Network insiders reported on Saturday morning, February 19, that 49ers senior defensive assistant James Bettcher is leaving to become the linebackers coach for the Super Bowl 56 runner-up.
“49ers senior defensive assistant James Bettcher is expected to fill the vacant LBs job with the #Bengals, sources tell me and @TomPelissero. A strong addition in Cincy,” Rapoport tweeted.
While Bettcher is a significant loss for the 49ers, one 49ers reporter in the Bay Area mentioned one name to keep a close eye on who is not only a past Super Bowl winner, but knows the organization well.
The Name to Keep an Eye on
From Jack Hammer of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, here’s the name worth monitoring now that Bettcher is on his way to Cincy:
Norton knows what it takes to be successful with the 49ers. After all, he starred at linebacker for the 49ers’ last Super Bowl winning team of the 1994 season. Per Pro Football Reference, he collected 693 total tackles and 549 solo stops in seven seasons in the Bay.
He also had a brief coaching stint with the franchise under Kyle Shanahan.
But that only lasted one week.
Now, the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator is the first name mentioned as Bettcher’s replacement.
Bettcher With the 49ers
Bettcher, 42, was a strong fallback option for the 49ers when it came to linebackers coach Johnny Holland.
As noted by The Athletic’s 49ers insider David Lombardi, Bettcher was a fill-in on the coaching staff when Holland was battling a form of cancer — and went on to witness production from Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, Azeez Al-Shaair and Marcell Harris.
“James Bettcher filled in at LB coach for the 49ers while Johnny Holland was away receiving treatment for multiple myeloma this season,” Lombardi tweeted. “That position group was once again one of the team’s best — Warner, Greenlaw, Al-Shaair, Harris all delivered.”
Warner, in 16 games, led the way with 137 total tackles including 79 solo stops. Meanwhile, Al-Shaair produced career bests in every tackle category — experiencing his first 100-tackle season in his young career. Harris also delivered new personal best marks as a fill-in linebacker: Producing career-highs in combined and assisted tackles. Greenlaw produced one pick six for 39 yards.
Bettcher, 43, spent one season in the Bay Area. He was previously with the New York Giants as defensive coordinator from 2018-2019. However, once Joe Judge was named head coach, Bettcher was never retained.
Before that, Bettcher was coaching against the 49ers as a member of the Arizona Cardinals staff under then-head coach Bruce Arians — where he held the same position of outside linebackers coach from 2013 to 2014 and then defensive coordinator from 2015 to 2017 once Todd Bowles left for the New York Jets head coaching job.
Bettcher’s defenses were immensely productive in the desert: Ranking seventh overall and fifth in yards allowed in his first season as coordinator (2015), then second in yards allowed (2016) and sixth in the same category (2017) the last two seasons. Bettcher went on to help produce Pro Bowlers in Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson in his first season as coordinator, then Chandler Jones and Budda Baker in his final season.
His other NFL role was outside linebackers coach for the Indianapolis Colts in 2012, during a time Arians served on an interim basis.
Bengal Linebackers Pre-Bettcher
While the Bengals established themselves as an offensive-minded team during their run to the Super Bowl, Cincy did witness strong production from some members of their linebacking core.
Notably second-year pro Logan Wilson — who went from third rounder to leading tackler.
Wilson, out of the University of Wyoming, snatched 100 tackles including 57 solo stops in 13 starts. Wilson also led the team with four interceptions.
Outside of Wilson, Germaine Pratt produced career-highs in combined tackles (91), solo stops (57) and QB hits (2). Pratt also became beloved in “Who Dey” country with this final play in the AFC wildcard round:
Now, Bettcher will aim to spark a unit and team that ranked 17th overall and 18th in yards allowed.