49ers’ Talanoa Hufanga is ‘everyone’s favorite’; Kittle nears debut

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SANTA CLARA — Safety Talanoa Hufanga’s early-season impact on the 49ers’ defense is obvious.

“He’s probably everybody’s favorite player, just because of the plays he’s making,” defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said Thursday. “He’s definitely a spark of energy for our entire team, the way he’s played the last two weeks.”

Hufanga’s two-game start to his second season goes beyond his statistics, as impressive as they are: a team-leading 17 tackles (three for loss), three passes defended, one interception.

“He doesn’t hesitate because of his preparation throughout the week. That’s what allows him to light up on game day,” Ryans added. “That’s the culmination of all the prep he’s done in the background when no one’s watching.”

That would be in the film room. He’ll watch with his coaches, he’ll come on off-days to watch more, and, at home, he’s reviewing even more, because, “you can’t get enough of it,” Hufanga said. “You look at the corrections, as well.”

The 48 hours after a game is devoted to dicing up film. Eventually, he moves on to study the next opponent, to get a day ahead of the team’s preparation. First and second downs are scrutinized. Then third down, then red zone, then any tendencies, intricacies and nuggets to help.

Those study habits began in middle school with his father, Tevita. “Mind you, my dad never played football at all, but he was a rugby player, and one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever been around,” Hufanga said. “He really just taught me continuously to be detailed and watch film.”

His dad taught him tackling techniques through his rugby background. Film study took on another dimension once Hufanga got to USC.

“When I got to college, it was very different,” Hufanga recalled. “I didn’t know the playbook. I didn’t know Cover-6, Cover-8, Quarters. When I got there, I had to learn and it was a big step in putting more time in.”

He left USC as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, yet he didn’t get drafted until the No. 180 spot overall, in the 2021 draft’s fifth round.

“I knew I had injuries. I know I don’t run a 4.4 (seconds time in the 40-yard dash); I run 4.6, almost 4.7,” Hufanga said. “But I just go out there and play the game how I think it should be played – that’s fast and efficient.”

His quick thinking keyed the 49ers’ playoff win in Green Bay eight months ago, when he recovered a blocked punt for a tying touchdown.

And now? He is “a guy who plays with his hair on fire,” Ryans added. “He’s everywhere, all over the field, making plays.”





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