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Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

How has 49ers rookie Ji’Ayir Brown progressed?

Nov 19, 2023 at 12:44 PM--

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San Francisco 49ers rookie safety Ji'Ayir Brown has seen limited action on defense this season, with only 30 defensive snaps through nine games. However, he has been actively contributing on special teams, where he has amassed 137 snaps. That's because the 49ers have a lot of confidence in their starting safety duo of Talanoa Hufanga and Tashaun Gipson.

Brown will likely eventually replace Gipson, who is in his 12th NFL season and flirted with retiring this past offseason before signing a one-year deal to return to the 49ers. That means Brown's opportunity could arise sooner rather than later.

On Thursday, defensive coordinator Steve Wilks provided insight when questioned about Brown's progress, stating, "It's funny, we were just talking about him on the last play of practice. He's progressing, gotten a whole lot better."

Brown showcased his skills during the preseason, prompting optimism within the 49ers organization about the former Penn State player's potential.

"Him going through the season with us so far, it feels like we got the right guy," head coach Kyle Shanahan said in October. "I mean, just the way he carries himself each day on the practice field, he's really owned his role. When he's taking the backup reps at safety, he's getting better in all of it. The special teams stuff, he gets better each week, and he's become a real force out there."

Heading into the season, Brown was itching to prove he fit within the 49ers' aggressive defense.

"These guys, they hunt," Brown told reporters in August. "Guys like [LB] Fred [Warner], leading the pack, [LB Dre] Greenlaw. These guys hunt. They set the example. And if you ain't out there hunting, you can't be with them. So I just joined in on that hunt. I hunt with those guys."

Wilks suggested that Brown's limited role has been beneficial, allowing the rookie to acclimate gradually without the pressure of being an immediate contributor. The coaching staff believes Brown will be prepared to step in when needed, be it this season or the next, and they are enthusiastic about the potential he brings to the team.

"So he's really had that full year, and you can really see his confidence and how he moves around at practice, just the way he communicates and those kind of things, that he's gotten better with this year," Wilks continued. "So I'm excited about him moving forward, and any time we can get those guys into the game, it's just only going to continue to help develop them."

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