JiAyir Brown

Brown benefits from 49ers' vets as rookie returns to starting lineup

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SANTA CLARA -- Rookie safety Ji’Ayir Brown missed the 49ers' final two games of the regular season due to a knee injury.

When he returned to practice last week, he had the opportunity to sharpen up against one of the NFL’s top offenses.

The 49ers last week had one fully padded practice, and coach Kyle Shanahan had the starting defense go up against the starting offense — something that generally is not done after the regular season begins.

“You don’t want to take the bye week off and completely get away from football,” Brown said. “When we did ones against each other, it allowed you to stay in the speed of the game, that mindset.

“You never want to sit back and chill, so it keeps you on your toes.”

Veteran safety Logan Ryan stepped into the starting lineup while Brown was out of action. Shanahan raved about how well Ryan played so soon after San Francisco signed him as a free agent on Dec. 5.

When Brown was cleared to resume practice, he returned to the starting job he has held since Talanoa Hufanga went down with a torn ACL on Nov. 19 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brown is expected to be in the starting lineup Saturday night when the 49ers play the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs at Levi's Stadium.

“Nothing changes for me,” Brown said. “I’m going to go out there and try to play my best game for the defense, try to get the win for the organization and attack everything how I attacked it earlier on in the season. Just head down and keep working.”

The 49ers did not have picks in the first or second rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft. They traded up to No. 87 overall to draft Brown with the team’s first selection.

Brown helped secure the 49ers’ Week 11 victory over the Buccaneers with an interception of Baker Mayfield in the end zone. He had two interceptions and 31 tackles in his six games after Hufanga’s injury.

Brown believes he has benefited from his veteran teammates, including starter Tashaun Gipson, Ryan and recent practice-squad addition Erik Harris. Those three players have a combined 31 seasons of NFL experience.

“Everybody has experience, and we all feed off each other and see what we can learn from the next guy,”  Brown said. “We just try to be the best group we can be just by helping each other.”

Brown tried to use his two games on the sideline as a learning experience. Ryan, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots, started and played well.

“I picked up a lot of things from Logan, just watching him play,” Brown said. “I know the defense. He knows the defense. So just seeing how he approaches certain plays, certain sets that he gets, the way he disguises, I sat back and watched and I learned.

“And I continue to learn from Logan. I’m always picking his brain, not just on football stuff but stuff outside of football, too. He’s been a great addition to this room.”

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