Impressing early, Hufanga set to compete for 49ers starting role


Talanoa Hufanga is set to make a significant impact in his second season with the 49ers.

The second-year safety only logged three NFL starts his rookie season but is already taking first-team snaps alongside veteran safety Jimmie Ward during organized team activities. 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans has noticed a heightened confidence in Hufanga, who spent the offseason working with long-time mentor Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu. 

“I see the way he works, I see the way he's in the building,” Ryans said after the second week of OTAs. “He’s always asking questions in meetings. He's always looking to get the answer and get it right and get it done exactly how he want it done, It's just his consistent approach daily. That's what sets him apart. That's what will allow him to be a really good player for us.”  

Hufanga, who appeared in 15 games for the 49ers in 2021, is in what safeties coach Daniel Bullocks calls an open competition for the spot to start next to Ward. The USC product knew improving his communication was his biggest challenge and he has already started answering the bell. 

The young safety has been seen being very vocal during team drills when practice has been open to the media. Both Ryans and Bullocks have taken notice. 

“This offseason has been eye opening for me just to see Huf the way he's communicating out there, much better, louder, better communicator,” Ryans said. “You do see him move faster because I think things are starting to slow down for him.”

When speaking to the media, Hufanga gave credit to not only the veterans who surrounded him in his first NFL season — Ward, Jaquiski Tartt, and Tavon Wilson, but also his parents. The 23-year-old added that he “is not perfect” but is working hard on his preparation. 

“The biggest difference I’ve seen so far is his confidence,” Bullocks said. “Having that first year under his belt, his confidence is through the roof. He is out there communicating better than he ever has. I’ve seen him take a big step coming back this offseason and movement skills he’s quicker, a step faster, twitchier.”

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Hufanga’s goal as a rookie was to be named to the Pro Bowl as a special teamer. Appropriately, the safety made his biggest play of the season on special teams recovering a blocked punt attempt for a touchdown in the divisional-round win over the Green Bay Packers

The sophomore safety still has the same goal for 2022 but also wants to win a starting role on the defense. It appears that both could be possible for Hufanga as he continues to improve and prepare for the season.

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