There’s no official tally, but 49ers veteran safety Antoine Bethea may have intercepted Peyton Manning more than any player in the NFL.
The two were on the same Indianapolis Colts team for six seasons, and Bethea said he had “some picks off of him” during practice in that span. Bethea had another at the end of Wednesday’s practice when he cut in front of one of Manning’s passes to the sideline.
The turnover triggered a small celebration from Bethea’s defensive teammates, who to that point were having a hard time with both the Denver offense and the mile-high altitude.
“It’s for real,” coach Jim Tomsula said of altitude adjustment. “Anybody who says it isn’t – we all feel it. It’s for real. They were able to blow their lungs out today. Another day (Thursday) with it. But I was real happy with the team that way.”
The 49ers’ first-string defense had two new faces Wednesday.
Dontae Johnson played cornerback opposite Tramaine Brock as part of the ongoing rotation at the position. Coaches have said they want to get long looks at all of their young corners, and Keith Reaser, Kenneth Acker and Johnson have had a chance to practice with the first string in recent weeks.
Michael Wilhoite was at inside linebacker after being sidelined the first 31/2 weeks of training camp because of a calf strain.
Bethea’s interception sparked a string of plays in which the 49ers either broke up or intercepted passes, mostly from Broncos backup quarterback Brock Osweiler. Wilhoite was one of the players who got a hand on a pass.
Asked if Wilhoite and Nick Moody are competing for a starting job, Tomsula said “everybody’s competing,” but he didn’t want to make any judgments yet.
“Michael needed to go right back to where he was and Michael needed to be playing,” Tomsula said.
As for Bethea, Manning was in his ninth season when the Colts drafted the safety. Bethea said his learning curve was accelerated by going against Manning every day in practice, something his younger teammates are experiencing this week.
“It helped me a lot,” Bethea said. “Especially my first couple of years in the league, just the different looks that he gives the defense, just the knowledge of the game that he has. ... Even (for) games, he makes it so easy. You’re going up against one of the best quarterbacks in practice, and game time comes and the game slows down.”
Hoo-ah for Kaepernick – During the offseason, Colin Kaepernick had the role of a lifetime – playing the character Al Pacino played in the 1992 film “Scent of a Woman.” The quarterback resurrected the part for a bizarre commercial for EA Sports’ “Madden NFL 16” video game that also stars New England’s Rob Gronkowski and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown.
Kaepernick, one of the ad’s most notable characters, nails Pacino’s “Hoo-ah” catch phrase. One of the highlights for Kaepernick was that Pacino had to give his consent for the role. “I thought that was a great honor to have him OK it,” Kaepernick said.
Et cetera – Tight end Vance McDonald had a walking boot over his sprained left ankle, but his injury, suffered in Sunday’s game, is not thought to be severe. Safety Craig Dahl (back) and linebacker Philip Wheeler (muscle strain) also did not practice.
▪ The offensive highlight came from tight end Garrett Celek, who caught a 50-yard pass down the middle from Kaepernick. Celek had jumped offside on the prior play.
▪ Fullback Bruce Miller did not practice and was not on the sideline during the session. He is not injured; Tomsula said he had an excused absence.