In Week 1 of the 2022 preseason, fifth-round rookie cornerback Samuel Womack III had two interceptions off Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love. It was quite a statement, and those two selections put Womack in the first Secret Superstars team of the 2022 season.
“I think for him, throughout this whole camp, I’ve seen progress. Every day I’ve seen progress,” Ryans said of Womack, two days before his NFL debut. “I like the way he is in the men’s coverage; he has been clingy, he has been defiant. Lots of pitches played there, PBU. So he’s heading in a very good direction, he just keeps getting better. I’m excited about where he’s at and it’s exciting to see his growth and continued development.”
Ryans also said in the preseason that Womack had some things to work on, and if you want to start on this defense, you better be on point. For all of his early excellence, Womack has seen just 38 snaps of coverage in the regular season. It takes time to work in a group that does things at this level of complexity and fundamental strength.
One player who has risen this season is second-year safety Talanoa Hufanga, who is in the process of making 31 NFL teams regret leaning too heavily on his pre-draft medical history. The 49ers stole Hufanga in the fifth round of the 2021 draft and this season he has allowed five catches on 13 targets for 41 yards, 15 yards after receiving, no touchdowns, two interceptions, two pass breakups and one passer rating. of the opponent of…
The only safety in the NFL who allows a lower opponent passer rating? Veteran Tashaun Gipson Sr., Hufanga’s bookend, who hasn’t given up catches on four targets with an interception, two pass breakups and an opponent’s passer rating of…
Let’s go back to Hufanga’s two interceptions, which really should be four.
49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga has two interceptions this season. He should have four. This was great coverage against the Seahawks. Dre Greenlaw steps in to charge, and Geno Smith assumes he has Tyler Lockett open in the middle. Against a lot of safeties, he does. Not here. pic.twitter.com/H5zpglEsNw
— Doug Farrar ✍ (@NFL_DougFarrar) October 5, 2022
This was slot cornerback-level coverage of Tyler Lockett, and it should have been a pick. The pick-six that clinched Hufanga’s game against the Rams with 6:36 remaining was far more decisive.
“We were just guy coverage, locked in with the tight end,” Hufanga said of the play. “They were passing screens all night, I saw a different pitch than I’m used to, so instead of following my man, I turned my head and the ball landed in my face. I’m not going to lie, I thought Stafford was going to get me. My 40 time doesn’t help when it comes down to it. I’m thankful I got to hang out with my guys and have fun.”
Warner was happy for his young teammate.
“Huf, of all the people to get that, he deserves it, man, he’s been playing himself out. That was a great play at a great time.”
Ryans loved everything about it.
“It’s a great play and it’s a credit, as I talk every week, about Huf and the questions that come up about him. It’s always about preparation throughout the week. And that’s where it stands out and I think I’ve said it before and you see it right there on that particular play. He is capable of not just being a robot out there. We want our guys to be football players and instinctively, when you’re able to see something and activate it, that’s what makes you a special player.
“Some guys may see something, but it’s also, oh, I have to stick to my rules and just be a robot. Huf is not a robot in the field. That is what allows you to stand out. That’s what allows him to make the plays he’s made. That’s what allowed him to be like one of the best safeties in the league right now, because of his instincts. And he’s not afraid to make a play when he’s asked to make a play.”
Ryans have been talking about Hufanga for a while; he especially appreciates how inquisitive her stellar security is. Apparently, some of Hufanga’s former coaches have commented that his curiosity is almost annoying, which Ryans doesn’t understand at all.
“Yeah, he asks questions and I’m like, bring them in, so I don’t know what’s up with those other coaches, but I’m always up for it,” Ryans said last week. “When the player asks questions, I think as a coach you want guys who, man, want to know why. Why are we doing this? Or coach, how exactly does he want me, where does he want me to be in this? I love that in Huf. I love that in all players. If you’re asking those questions, that lets me know as a coach that you’re interested and want to know why. You want to know why. Not just, oh, I’m just doing something just because the coach told me to.
“And that’s what separates Huf and that’s why he stands out from everyone else because he asks those questions, he’s processing everything throughout the week, so when you see him on Sunday, he can let loose and that’s what everyone has watched and that’s why it’s been exciting to watch these first three weeks just because of those questions.”
Ryans wants his players to go all-in. It’s the only way this defense can work.