Starting safety Talanoa Hufanga tore his ACL in the 49ers win against the Buccaneers.
Losing Hufanga who was an All-Pro last season is going to sting the 49ers. But the bright side is they have a promising rookie in Ji'Ayir Brown. He showed why he has such promise when he filled in for Hufanga by registering a clutch interception that cut the momentum from the Buccaneers' offense.
“I thought he did a hell of a job," said Kyle Shanahan on Brown's performance. "I mean to lose a player like Huf in the game and for him to come in and step it up big, make two huge plays. I mean the pick was huge and then the fourth down, where you got an all-out blitz, and they just throw it up. Sometimes it’s your biggest fear when they throw it up. It's like what happened to Buffalo, on that Monday night. When it's underthrown, it's so hard not to get a PI and for him to not PI the guy and to get back in from what I saw, it looked like he knocked it down. That was a hell of a play.”
As great as Brown was when he filled in for Hufanga, I don't think that will be the normal thing to expect from him as the starter going forward. At least, not right off the bat. There's going to be some growing pains with him. On the first defensive series that he stepped in, Brown was locked in man-to-man coverage in the slot and was immediately picked in. He allowed a chunk gain to the slot receiver that gave the Buccaneers some life on that drive.
So, while he finished the game strong, there is still going to be some growing pains from him where he makes mistakes and gets beat. Opposing offenses are going to try to test him from here on out. I think it would be unfair to expect him to come in and look like a stud as he did late in the game against the Buccaneers. There's going to be some lows to tag along with the highs. The hope, of course, is that he keeps those lows less frequently and that they aren't so detrimental to the defensive success.
Either way, this will be a great experience for Brown in the long-term. It was always thought that he would end up taking over the starting job for Tashaun Gipson, but Gipson has been playing well all year long. Now, he comes in for Hufanga who is lost for the year. A lot of weight is on the shoulders of Brown, especially given how strong he finished against Tampa Bay.