The 49ers officially have a frontrunner in their battle for the starting strong safety job. Although through a couple days of training camp it hasn’t been much of a competition. Second-year safety Talanoa Hufanga has been getting the first-team strong safety reps and acquitting himself well in that role.
Hufanga figured to be in a battle with veteran defensive back Tarvarius Moore, a converted free safety who missed all of last year with an Achilles tear he sustained in OTAs. Perhaps the team is just easing him back in from the Achilles tear, but defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans made it sound as though Hufanga is putting a stranglehold on the job.
“Yeah, Huf is doing a great job,” Ryans told reporters Thursday in a press conference. “He’s being more vocal, which is what I asked of him. Be more vocal, be more in that leadership role. At the safety position, we ask a lot of those guys. We ask them to communicate a lot, so Huf, he’s picking that up and he’s doing a much better job of it. And he’s always been a playmaker and an exciting guy to watch, so he’s doing that and communicating. So he’s headed in the right direction for us.”
This makes it pretty clear the gig is Hufanga’s to lose, which isn’t a huge surprise.
He was a playmaker at USC who was consistently around the football despite not bringing the athletic measurables of a player like Moore. In limited action last year Hufanga had ups and downs, but clearly got more comfortable in a third safety role as the year progressed.
Pro Football Focus graded him out as an average player in Year 1 with a 63.1 grade, which is a win for a fifth-round rookie who played in 399 defensive snaps after it wasn’t expected he’d play much defensively right away. He allowed 11 catches on 17 targets with two touchdowns and two pass breakups, and missed just three tackles all year.
San Francisco made it clear early they were comfortable with what they had in-house to replace free agent Jaquiski Tartt. They never made an attempt to bring back the veteran safety who exited to Philadelphia this offseason.
Things can change quickly when the pads come on and the action gets live, but Hufanga’s early performance and the praise he’s receiving from his coaches make it clear he’s the frontrunner to be the 49ers’ starting strong safety come Week 1.