San Francisco 49ers strong safety Talanoa Hufanga is having himself a season in his second professional campaign. He’s transitioned from a part-time player to an every snap iron man counted on to play in the box, in the slot, and deployed deep, depending on the play call by defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans.
And in Week 4 of the 2022 NFL season, on Monday Night Football no less, Hufanga had his signature play in his signature game, picking off Matthew Stafford while his Los Angeles Rams were driving on the way to a defensive touchdown. Naturally, this would be an incredible accomplishment for any player, let alone a second-year former fifth round pick, as the game was still a one-score contest before Hufanga put it away, but when asked about his effort after the game, the USC product credited the play to the Niners’ strong team culture.
“Honestly, we just gotta go out there,” Hufanga replied. “And when you do your job, you know, that’s something I did this offseason, you want to be results driven. Everybody wants to be results driven, ‘I gotta get an interception, I gotta get a TFL,’ but being around Troy has been a blessing because he sees it from a very different perspective. When you really look at each play and you do your job on each play, great things will happen, whether you set somebody else up for an interception or you set someone else up for a sack. And if we have great coverage on the back end, we can let our front end and Bosa, and Sampson and all of those guys hunt the quarterback, so we just had a great time out there and had fun and just bring the energy.”
After drawing on-field comparisons to Troy Polamalu on the field, it’s nice to know the two offseason workouts between the collegiate Trojans have been helpful at the mental aspect of the game as well.
Talanoa Hufanga Draws Inspiration From Troy Polamalu
Speaking with Jerry McDonald of The Mercury News, Hufanga discussed how impactful working with Polamalu has been for his career.
“It’s an honor for me just to be able to train with Troy,” Hufanga said. “It makes sense that I play like I do because I train with him. You try to mimic someone’s game as much as you can, and you hope to see the results. By no means am I comfortable where I’m at. I’ve got a lot of room to grow and have to continue to grind. I’m very blessed to be around him.”
Later in the interview, Hufanga discussed how Polamalu’s discipline and NFL experience has impacted his selfless approach to helping his team make plays no matter who earns the specific stat.
“He’s a guy that played 12 years,” Hufanga said of Polamalu. “I’m only in Year 2, and I’ve got a lot of room for improvement. There are some risks you take within the game. You’ve got to see the game. But you’ve got to do your job. You do that, and you’ll help other guys make plays as well.”
A San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl Starter Believes Hufanga Is Elite
Speaking with his fellow co-stars on NBC Sports Bay Area’s 49ers Postgame Live show, analyst Donte Whitner made a bold claim about Hufanga’s standings in the NFL, as transcribed by his coworker Ali Thanawalla.
“It’s the instincts and the understanding of the defense to me,” Whitner said on “49ers Postgame Live” after the win. “You know they like to throw the ball out there to Cooper Kupp. He’s not even supposed to be there. He’s supposed to get on the outside of the receiver that’s blocking him and turn the ball back into the defense. But there, when you recognize something and you’ve seen it all week in practice, you go out and make a play in the game.”
“And that’s what he’s been doing at all levels of the defense. TFL’s, he’s leading the team in TFL’s, playing linebacker, playing safety, D-line, the reaction skills from just being back there and reading the quarterback’s eyes. Talanoa Hufanga is the No. 1 safety in the NFL currently.”
While only time will tell if Whitner’s claim proves correct, if Hufanga continues to play at the same level as Weeks 1-4 of the 2022 NFL season, it will go a long way in proving that claim.