Who starts at safety? That’s a question that’ll be asked over 100 times during training camp and throughout the preseason. Early on in OTAs, it’s been second-year safety Talanoa Hufanga who has the leg up on the rest of the competition as he was the only player returning who played in 2021.
Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans spoke about Hufanga’s confidence now that he’s in Year 2:
“The confidence in Huf is just his daily approach. It’s not a surprise to me that Huf plays well, that he does great things for our team because of his approach every day, so it’s not like you get out there on game day and he surprises me because I see the way he works, I see the way he’s in the building. He’s always asking questions in meetings. He’s always looking to get the answer and get it right and get it done exactly how he want it done, so it’s just his consistent approach daily. That’s what sets him apart. That’s what will allow him to be a really good player for us.”
If a young player is already ahead of the curve from a preparation standpoint, it’s a great sign. Too often, first and second-year players come into the NFL without any clue of how much work they have to put in once they leave the practice field.
It doesn’t seem like much, but hearing Hufanga engaging in meetings and wanting to know how he can improve — to the point where the defensive coordinator notices it — is telling.
Ryans went on to say Hufanga has been a pro since the moment he arrived and, unlike most youngsters, that eagerness to learn hasn’t died off. Safeties coach Daniel Bullocks said Hufanga looks faster and twitcher this season. Here’s Ryans’ response:
“Sure, this offseason has been eye opening for me just to see Huf the way he’s communicating out there, much better, louder, better communicator. You do see him move faster because I think things are starting to slow down for him. As a rookie, things are flying, it’s hard to figure things out. As a rookie, you’re just trying to figure out where do I align and what do I have on this particular play?
Now, Huf is getting more comfortable where he’s able to decipher, ‘okay, how is the offense trying to attack me? And where can I be to put myself in the right position to make plays?’ So Huf is definitely ascending in the right direction and I’m happy with where he is just because that’s what OTAs is about, guys coming in, owning the techniques and trying to get better every day. And when you see a guy like Huf do that, you see the purpose for it. And it’s been great for him.”
That’s something I’ll be keeping an eye on once training camp rolls around. I like how Ryans notes the difference in how the game is slowing down for Hufanga.
If you know which routes are coming or where the quarterback wants to go, you get a jump on the play, and all of a sudden, that 40-time doesn’t mean as much if you’re mentally ahead of the game.
I’m in the mindset that it may not matter who starts at safety opposite Jimmie Ward if the cornerbacks play to their potential and the pass rush is as productive as we believe they will be. In addition, the talent around Hufanga should make him a confident player. Ryans is smart enough, especially with a year of experience, not to put Talanoa in situations where he can’t excel.
We have a long way to go to see who starts at safety, but it appears the second-year protege of Troy Polamalu has the leg up.