Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

49ers Notebook: Talanoa Hufanga’s improvement; Brian Griese’s impact; DJ Jones talks 49ers; Why is Jimmy G so loud?

Sep 22, 2022 at 7:47 PM--

Today marked another day of media rounds for the San Francisco 49ers, with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, and run game coordinator/offensive line coach Chris Foerster being among those to speak to reporters in Santa Clara.

Among the topics discussed in those media sessions were the improvement of safety Talanoa Hufanga, the impact of new quarterbacks coach Brian Griese, and where Jimmy Garoppolo gets his vocal power from. There were also some quotes of note to come from outside 49ers facilities, including some thoughts from former 49ers defensive tackle D.J. Jones as he gets set to face his former team when the 49ers face the Broncos in Denver on Sunday night.

Here's a rundown of those topics and more in this version of 49ers Notebook.

Star on the rise?

It's safe to say Talanoa Hufanga has opened some eyes over the first two games of the NFL season.

After taking over a starting spot at strong safety, the second year player out of USC has 17 tackles, three passes defensed, an interception, and a 90.7 grade from Pro Football Focus over his first two games. That's not bad for a former fifth-round draft pick.

Ryans spoke on Thursday about where Hufanga has improved the most, and why.

"I think his biggest improvement overall is his communication and his confidence," Ryans said. "I think just being out there and playing, you have to play the game to gain that confidence. And he's gotten a lot of reps throughout the offseason and working with everybody on our defense. And it means a lot to him, that's why he's gotten better. He's staying out when everybody else is in the locker room, he's grinding. Always grinding, always working and it shows on Sunday. When you see guys show up on Sundays, it's because of the preparation that they're doing behind the scenes and Huf is one of the best guys at prepping throughout the week that I've been around."

The work ethic Hufanga brings to the table has carried over into gamedays, and is quickly making him into a favorite of both the 49ers and their fans.

"He's always into it," Ryans said. "He's always asking questions, trying to figure out just how many nuggets can he get to get another step, to see what the offense is doing. And then he goes to the field and he's able to process things in a fast way that allows him to trigger and make plays. So Huf, he doesn't hesitate because of his preparation throughout the week. That's what allows him to light up on gameday.

"And that's the guy you see, that's just a culmination of all the prep that he's done in the background when no one's watching. You see that show up on gameday, just a guy who plays with his hair on fire. He's everywhere, all over the field. Making plays, probably everybody's favorite player, just because of the plays that he's making. And he's definitely a spark of energy for our entire team, just because of the way he's played these past two weeks."

Griese making an impression

The decision by 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan to hire Brian Griese as the team's quarterbacks coach back in March raised some eyebrows because of Griese's lack of coaching experience while spending his post-NFL career in television. But Griese seems to be a hit so far among the 49ers quarterbacks, due in large part to the perspective he brings after playing 11 years in the NFL.

"Honestly I met him last year when he was calling one of our games (for Monday Night Football)... just the day before the game we were talking to those guys," Garoppolo said Thursday. "He was really cool, and having been with him now for probably a month or so, it's really cool. He sees the game as a quarterback. We see the game very similarly. It's nice to have him in the room."

Garoppolo's comments about Griese are similar to those made by Trey Lance over the offseason. Griese's experience as a player makes a clear difference, which the 49ers' quarterbacks seem to appreciate.

"It's tough to coach quarterback," Garoppolo said. "You've got to be able to see it the same way as him, which a lot of guys think they do, but they don't maybe. He has the experience of being on the field in those moments, and it's nice to have a guy like that around."

The quarterbacks aren't the only ones to enjoy having Griese around. Foerster gave him plenty of praise on Thursday as well.

"Brian's been awesome," Foerster said. "He really has been. I mean, I'm not going to stand up here and say, 'oh, he's a terrible coach. He should have stayed in the booth. I'm not going to say that.' He's done a really good job, honestly, he has, he's embraced it. I'm sure there's days where he wonders, what are we still doing here after 16, 17, 18 hours? I can't speak for him, but I think there's days where he probably wonders that. I see the look in his face, like, is it always this crazy? But he's been great, man. He's been great with the players. He adds a perspective. He's all in. He's very honest. He's very professional. He's got his opinions. He speaks them. There's nothing better than to have a guy that's willing, who has an opinion, right, wrong or indifferent, and he's willing to speak it, because we do need everybody's thoughts and opinions as Kyle's trying to formulate how we go forward. And Brian's not afraid to do that."

See also: Jimmy Garoppolo reveals his advice to Trey Lance

An old friend

The 49ers got plenty of good football from defensive tackle D.J. Jones after selecting him in the sixth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but following the 2021 season the 49ers decided not to give Jones a new contract, which resulted in him signing with the Denver Broncos for $30 million over three years.

Jones gets the chance to face his former team when the 49ers and Broncos match up on Sunday night (8:20 p.m. ET/5:20 p.m. PT, NBC). Back in the spring, Jones made it clear he was greatly anticipating this game when he said he was "going to go crazy" when the 49ers came to town. But this week, Jones was more reserved in his comments, choosing to downplay the meeting with the 49ers.

"It's another game," Jones said, per "It's just another game. If I look at it in any other way, I might not play good, so I'm looking at it as another game. … Just locking in, worrying about what I can worry about, stopping the run, making it third-and-long, second-and-long, just making sure we, as a defense, are ready."

Jones did have some praise for his former head coach in Kyle Shanahan, saying the Broncos will be challenged to stop what Shanahan throws their way.

"We're dealing with a hell of a coach," Jones said. "He's a genius mind, so he's all about his details."

It runs in the family

Jimmy Garoppolo brings a calm, laid back persona when talking to the media, but during games he can be much louder. Anyone who likes the voice of gameday Jimmy better can thank his family.

"I grew up in an Italian family, man," Garoppolo said. "Literally after games it's tough to talk because my voice is tired and everyone else is screaming, but that's just normal conversation. I don't know, it's a perk of being Italian, I guess."

Contrasting opinions

Are the 49ers better with Jimmy Garoppolo under center or Trey Lance?

That's been a popular topic of conversation this week after Lance's injury, and one that has had no shortage of interesting takes.

95.7 The Game radio posted two of them on Thursday from former NFL players. Longtime former wide receiver Brandon Stokley, who played for the Ravens, Colts, Broncos, Seahawks, and Giants, said he'd be happier to see Lance as an opposing player than he would Garoppolo.

In Lance's corner was former Cowboys, Giants, and Ravens defensive end Chris Canty, who now works for ESPN Radio. Canty thinks the 49ers are the best team in the NFC West with or without Lance but seems to feel they might have gone further with Lance at quarterback.

We'll never know for sure what the 49ers would have done this season with Lance at the controls, but Garoppolo will certainly be getting the chance to prove his supporters right.

Getting better and better

Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw is two games into his return from the knee surgery that prematurely ended his 2021 season, and so far he seems to be pleasing defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. Kinlaw has played 60 snaps in two games and has one tackle and one quarterback pressure. But what he's been doing to impress Ryans hasn't been coming up on the stat sheet.

"Kinlaw's been improving every week," Ryans said. "What I see from Kinlaw is growth. It's steady growth, each and every week. He's doing a great job in the run game, playing with good pad level. He's doing a great job of affecting the quarterback when he does get there. He's doing a really good job of affecting throws by getting his hands up at the proper time to force an errant throw. So I'm happy where Kinlaw is going and it's exciting because I see him continuing to get better. That's the cool part about him. He's getting better and better. So, who knows what it'll be mid-season, end of the season, how good he'll be playing, but I think it's going to be really great for us."

Reps make a difference

It was hard to know what to expect from second-year guard Aaron Banks this season considering he played sparingly as a rookie after the 49ers selected him in Round 2 of the 2021 NFL Draft. But so far he's performed well, drawing the praise of head coach Kyle Shanahan on Wednesday when Shanahan said Banks is doing "a hell of a job."

Foerster weighed in on Banks Thursday, saying there's still improvement to be made but that he's been pleased with the young lineman to this point. One of the biggest things helping Banks has been game reps, which he didn't see much of in 2021.

"We talked about it in the in the offseason, it's a developmental process," Foerster said. "So he's got a couple games in and he's made steps every game. There's always stuff to work on, but he's made some nice strides these first two weeks. That's two weeks, 17 game schedule and hopefully a post season, so we have a long way to go, but he is developing. I was talking with him the other day and he actually commented on, I said, 'how's it feel getting game reps?' And he said, 'man, it's different.' As much as we practice, as much as we work on things, the speed of the game, they've got other things to look at, using the offense to your-- whatever the things were, so he's been benefiting from the game reps and he's feeling the benefit and also feeling, oh boy, these problems are these things that I need to work on. I can see why I need to work on them, because they're showing up. It's been good for him. It's been a good process."
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