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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

John Lynch: Losing Hufanga is tough, but 49ers fortunate to have Ji’Ayir Brown

Nov 21, 2023 at 8:47 AM--

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John Lynch clung to hope that safety Talanoa Hufanga hadn't sustained a severe injury during the third quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Unfortunately, fears were confirmed when it was revealed that Hufanga had torn his ACL and would miss the remainder of the season.

"I went in and saw him in the locker room after," Lynch said Tuesday morning on Bay Area radio station KNBR's "Murph and Mac" show. "He was still hanging on to hope. I was trying to, but unfortunately, that wasn't in the cards."

The silver lining is that the 49ers had a contingency plan. Rookie Ji'Ayir Brown, drafted in the third round, seamlessly stepped into Hufanga's position alongside Tashaun Gipson, demonstrating his NFL readiness.

"First of all, with Huf, I mean, those types of guys are hard to replace," Lynch said. "I think he just plays with an energy, with a passion. He's an instinctive player. He's a playmaker. He gives a lot to our defense, and he's made so many plays. He fires up our stadium. He fires up our players."

While losing a player like Hufanga is difficult, Lynch feels fortunate that the 49ers acquired Brown, trading up in the draft to do so.

Lynch continued, "He's a really good football player, and he's got, much like Huf, he's got an ability to make plays, and that was tested right away."

Brown was beaten early for a 41-yard reception. However, the rookie safety rebounded nicely, breaking up a touchdown in the end zone and later ending a Buccaneers drive by intercepting quarterback Baker Mayfield.

"I was really proud of the young man," Lynch said. "He came in, Baker, threw an incredible ball, but what Ji'Ayir did, it was his guy, and he tracked him down, and he gave us a chance to keep playing. And then he settled in. And I thought he made a number of plays in that game, was flying around, playing fast, and he's a very similar player to Huf in terms of their time speed may not be the best in the world, but man, they play fast, and they see the field very well.

"And then Ji'Ayir has tremendous ball skills, as we saw evidenced by that pick at the end. So he's been biding his time, been getting better each week. The coaches have done a great job, [he's] been a big-time special teams contributor, and really proud of the way he's worked and stepped up when he was asked to."

Lynch added, "But Ji'Ayir has done a great job from the first day he came in here of knowing his assignments, knowing them well. So much of the back end at safety is communicating the coverages, the changes of strength, and all those things, and Ji'Ayir has done a really good job."

You can listen to the entire conversation with Lynch below.

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