Programming note: Greg Papa's "49ers Game Plan" interview with general manager John Lynch will debut Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Bay Area and 11 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area, immediately after "Dubs Talk Live."
Following the loss of Talanoa Hufanga to a season-ending ACL injury, the 49ers are turning to rookie safety Ji'Ayir Brown to slide into a starting role on the defense's back end.
During an interview with Greg Papa on NBC Sports Bay Area's "49ers Game Plan," general manager John Lynch explained that while the loss of Hufanga is a gut punch, he remains confident in Brown's ability to step in for the All-Pro safety.
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"Thank god we drafted a kid like Ji'Ayir Brown," Lynch told Papa. "The hope was that we were able to work Ji'Ayir in there with [Hufanga] and [Tashaun Gipson] because Ji'Ayir was making that hard not to do with the way he's been practicing. You kept seeing these little hurdles. Early, it was special teams. OK he's turned it on there; he gets it. The speed with which he was playing."
Lynch also noted the similarities between Brown and Hufanga, citing the pair's testing numbers and propensity for creating turnovers.
"He's a lot like [Hufanga]," Lynch shared. "Neither one of those guys had a great 40 times at the Combine or their workouts, but they play the game fast. Both those guys have playmaking ability. Ji'Ayir, a reason we traded up; he's got a lot to like. He plays the position, he sees it well. When he sees it, he trusts it, and he goes, he can play with physicality. And then he's been a ballhawk. He led the country in Junior College with interceptions. At Penn State, he did the same thing. He's a guy who's always around the ball."
The 49ers' general manager praised the rookie for the way he performed in Sunday's win over the Buccaneers, citing how impressed he was with Brown's poise after being targeted immediately by Tampa Bay's offense.
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"I think we saw, he came in, they [Tampa Bay] came after him early, they got one on him," Lynch explained. "But I loved his finish; he didn't let the guy score, went and tracked him down, and then he started playing. He made a bunch of plays, and I was really proud of the young man. I think he's ready for the opportunity.
"It's nice to have a vet like Tashaun Gipson, who's played a lot of football, back there with him. Trying to help take on the communication and let Ji'Ayir just focus on his job. I think he'll do a really good job. Hard to replace a guy like Talanoa, but Ji'Ayir is a really good player. He just needs to play his game, and we're really excited to watch him do that."
After being selected in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft, Brown recorded just 31 defensive snaps in four games this season prior to the 49ers' Week 11 clash with Tampa Bay.
After taking Hufanga's place during the win over the Buccaneers, Brown eclipsed his season total with 36 defensive snaps on Sunday alone, logging two critical pass break-ups and the game-sealing interception.
While Brown has large shoes to fill, the confidence in his ability to execute could not be more apparent from Lynch.