49ers DC Sends Message on Which Defender Must ‘Clean up Their Eyes’

DeMeco Ryans

Getty DeMeco Ryans on August 14, 2021 in Santa Clara.

Along with proving to be a masterful play-caller of defense, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is also one who doesn’t shy away from calling it how he sees it. Even if it involves some of his star players.

He focused on Pro Bowl safety Talanoa Hufanga on Thursday, January 5. While “Huf” has put together a spectacular sophomore campaign, he has noticeably been on the wrong side of an opponent’s big plays in recent weeks. Ryans let it be known where Hufanga must improve moving forward.

“He has to clean up his eyes,” Ryans said to the Bay Area media. “It’s too many big plays we’re giving up and Huf knows that. You have to clean up your eyes, especially when you’re protecting us in the back end. You’re the eraser for us. Your eyes can’t be dirty, you can’t be in the back field and he knows that and he has to get better at it.”

Ryans Gives Definition of ‘Eye Discipline’

Hufanga has proven to be a valuable aggressive defender for the 49ers — with improvement in his sack and tackle numbers as proof.

But Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Jarrett Stidham, in his first game replacing longtime Raiders starter Derek Carr, didn’t hesitate to attack Hufanga with the Silver and Black’s Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller:

Ryans explained how a play like that happens when a defender has bad eyes — or as coaches call it “eye discipline.”

“Eye discipline, it simply comes down to when you’re in whatever, zone coverage, man coverage, you have a certain progression of keys and where your eyes should be,” Ryans explained. “And where guys get caught a lot of times is, guys are looking in the back field at the action of the back or the quarterback when they don’t need to. And if you’re doing that and you’re not progressing and looking at the proper things, whether it’s a route concept, whether you’re passing a route concept off, whether it’s a particular man who’s coming within your zone, or if your eyes should be in that area and they’re not, it’s going to be really hard to make plays.”

‘Guys Will Make You Pay’

Ryans’ league-leading unit had a performance that looked the opposite of how they’ve dominated on defense: Zero sacks snatched, 34 points allowed and an astonishing 500 total yards surrendered at Allegiant Stadium.

All-Pro edge rusher Nick Bosa told reporters after the overtime win that “The NFL will humble you 100 percent of the time.” On Ryans’ end, he reminded of how fast opponents are when they face the star safety.

“Guys in his league are too fast, they’re too good for you to not look at the proper thing and then try to look late,” Ryans said. “And if you look late, it’s too late and guys will make you pay. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, the guys in this league are too good. They’ll make you pay.”

This doesn’t just applies to Hufanga, but every 49er defender he coaches.

“Yeah. Well the biggest thing is just being on it every single snap. And that’s the thing that I was talking to our guys about this week, like it’s not your play to make every play,” Ryans said. “Everybody will make plays in our defense when everybody is playing with discipline, playing with the proper technique, playing with the proper eyes, eye discipline. If everybody is doing that, there’s enough plays for everybody to go around, so when guys do get antsy and they try to do too much, they try to play hero ball. You try to make plays that you’re not supposed to make, that’s when you get gutted as a defense. So defensive football, you want to be sound, you want to play great defense, you have to be disciplined at all three levels.”

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