49ers roster: 5 players with most to gain in preseason vs. Chargers
By Peter Panacy
No. 3: 49ers Safety Talanoa Hufanga
Sticking with the theme of rookie defensive backs, first-year safety Talanoa Hufanga was another one of those players who certainly rose to the challenge against Kansas City.
The whole “it’s just one game and a preseason one at that” argument still applies, of course, but it wasn’t hard to see how Hufanga’s tenacious presence on the field rubbed off positively on his defensive teammates. And what was arguably even more impressive was how the Niners didn’t just use him strictly as an in-the-box safety, too, rather giving him plenty of snaps atop the defense at free safety.
In the wake of the presumed starter at strong safety, Jaquiski Tartt, being out indefinitely with a toe injury, the competition is wide open for his starting replacement. While veteran safety Tavon Wilson seems to be the favorite here, having Hufanga show off some solid skills early affords defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans a lot of options.
Hufanga and Wilson could potentially be a starting safety tandem, freeing up fellow defensive back Jimmie Ward to play more of a nickel role, which he did at times last season.
This might not be exactly how Ryans draws things up this season. But Hufanga’s emergence at least gives him the flexibility to do so, provided the former USC defensive back shows up again in Los Angeles.