49ers OTAs

How 49ers DBs Hufanga, Lenoir can get better in 2023

The 49ers expect both second-year defensive backs to take the next step during the 2023 season.

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Talanoa Hufanga was the breakout star on an already-stout 49ers defense last season, making the unit even scarier for opposing offenses.

The second-year pro earned his first All-Pro honors and was a first-time Pro Bowl selection, and while the ballhawk safety had four interceptions and 97 total tackles and was everywhere on the field, his position coach wants him to take his game to the next level.

"Just utilize his weapons," 49ers defensive backs coach Daniel Bullocks told reporters Thursday after organized team activities in Santa Clara. "The biggest thing with [defensive coordinator] Steve Wilks coming in, we talk about utilizing our weapons as a defense, and the biggest thing that, what are our weapons? Our weapons are our eyes. Hands. Hips and feet. Every defensive player is going to utilize those weapons every single play."

"So, when you look Talanoa Hufanga, he played at a high level last year, he did give us some plays as well, some explosive plays, but you can identify what was the issue, and the issue was, I guarantee you is from utilizing our weapons where it's playing with poor eyes. And you hear me always say, 'Poor eyes equals poor technique.' Or where it's using my hands when I'm taking all blocks. Using my hips, getting in and out of breaks and man coverage."

If Hufanga wasn't using his eyes to the best of his abilities and still had that type of season, the rest of the NFL is in trouble once he develops that part of his game.

Deommodore Lenoir, who started 13 games last season, is another second-year pro the 49ers will count on this coming campaign.

The 2021 fifth-round draft pick entered the starting lineup in Week 5 after Emmanuel Moseley sustained a season-ending torn ACL, and while it wasn't a smooth ride for Lenoir, he had a breakthrough that pleased 49ers general manager John Lynch.

Now that Lenoir has established himself as a mainstay, Bullocks wants to see the 23-year-old focus on one area entering the 2023 season.

"Just being consistent," Bullocks told reporters Thursday. "He finished off strong last year. We definitely know he had the two picks in the playoff game, but this offseason, he's having a great offseason. But my biggest thing with him is just being consistent day-in, day-out, getting better every single day and competing against himself."

Lenoir had only one interception during the regular season, but when the bright NFL playoff lights turned on, he picked off one pass in each of the home wins over the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys.

The 49ers had one of the NFL's top defenses last season, in large part because their run defense was rock solid. If the pass defense -- led by Hufanga, Lenoir, Charvarius Ward and Tashaun Gipson -- can improve, San Francisco will be hard to beat.

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