This certainly stings, though it is not a huge surprise. But on Monday morning, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan revealed that safety Talanoa Hufanga does, in fact, have a torn ACL in his right knee, suffered during San Francisco’s Week 11 win over the Buccaneers on Sunday.
Hufanga, in his third season, was coming off of Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections last year, and will miss the remainder of the year as he undergoes surgery and tries to get ready for next season.
“The guys from last night, got confirmed with Huff (Talanoa Hufanga) this morning. He does have a torn ACL. They don’t think there was any meniscus or anything, so it was as clean as it could be for just being ACL,” Shanahan said at his Monday presser.
While it is not easy to lose a player of Hufanga’s caliber, it does ease the blow somewhat that one of the stars of Sunday’s win over Tampa Bay was rookie safety Ji’Ayir Brown, who has three passes defended against the Bucs, and added the fourth-quarter interception that sealed the 49ers win.
Big Day for 49ers From Ji-Ayir Brown
It will not be fair, of course, to expect Brown to fully replace a player like Hufanga, who recorded four interceptions and two sacks last season. But Shanahan, and others on the team, were impressed by what they’ve seen from Brown, both in practices and in the game on Sunday. He was a third-round pick from Penn State but had not seen the field much in the 49ers’ first nine games, during which he mostly played special teams.
Brown had played 30 defensive snaps all season, but played 36 on Sunday. It will be a big opportunity for him down the stretch of the season, though it remains to be seen whether the 49ers attempt to sign anyone to the roster to replace Talanoa Hufanga, or if they’ll move forward with Brown.
In the short term, with a quick turnaround thanks to a Thanksgiving night game against Seattle, there won’t be time to bring a new guy entirely and get him on the field. The 49ers are planning to add cornerback Jason Verrett, an oft-injured former member of the team, to the practice squad.
Talanoa Hufanga Should be Back for 2024
As for the near future with Hufanga, Shanahan said he will get surgery soon after the injury and while he won’t be 100% ready for training camp, he should be ready by Week 1.
“Just with the timing he did it, he’ll need a plan for training camp, but with the time and everything, if everything goes smoothly, he should be ready for Week 1,” Shanahan said.
As for how Talanoa Hufanga had been progressing following up on his All-Pro season, Shanahan said his performance had mirrored that of the defense in general—up-and-down, but trending up lately.
“I thought he started out well,” Shanahan said. “I thought he hit a little lull during the season in our skid. He played one of his best games versus Jacksonville. I thought the same thing was going to happen here. I thought he was going to end up having a real good year.”