But his efforts to help ready rookie Ji’Ayir Brown paid off, as the 23-year-old thanked Hufanga and veteran safety Tashaun Gipson after playing significant snaps in Hufanga's absence.
“Every step of the way,” Brown said. “I’ve been here since Day 1 with those guys. Watching them, how they prepare and watch film. Our [defensive backs] coach [Daniel Bullocks] too, he’s a hell of a guy.
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"The whole secondary has been great role models, great leaders for me helping me through this transition to the NFL and glad I could go out there and help them today.”
The third-round pick did not have time to hesitate when his number was called Sunday. Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield immediately targeted Brown when he entered the game late in the third quarter with a pass to Mike Evans for six yards.
Three plays later, Rakim Jarrett beat Brown in coverage for a gain of 41 yards. That drive ended in a touchdown, but on the following Buccaneers possession, Brown left his mark.
In a desperate fourth-and-4 situation, Mayfield’s pass intended for Evans fell incomplete while Brown was in coverage, turning the ball over on downs. After the Buccaneers' defense forced a three-and-out, Mayfield had another opportunity and intercepted a pass intended for receiver Chris Godwin on the third play of the drive.
San Francisco 49ers
“I thought he did a hell of a job,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “To lose a player like Huf in the game and for him to come in and step it up big, make two huge plays — the pick was huge and the fourth down.”
Brown simply appreciated the opportunity to show off his hard work.
“The biggest thing you can ask for is for a young guy to be ready,” Brown said. “Every week, I’ve been preparing for that day. Never knew when the day was going to come but just consistently working hard, extra time with the coach. When my number was called today, I was fortunate enough to go out there and execute the job.”
The performance might have been a surprise those outside of team headquarters but not to Shanahan, who has witnessed Brown's improvements since his arrival in Santa Clara.
“I notice him all the time because he goes against the offense on scout team all the time, and he’s one of the guys who consistently gets better each week on all the card looks,” Shanahan said. We always split the reps with the ones and the twos when the defense goes and he’s really taken off this last month and was ready for his opportunity.
“Never know when it’s going to come, and he’s been preparing the right way.”
Brown is hopeful the injury to Hufanga is not long-term, but he vows to be ready for whatever the team needs.