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The 49ers will look to lean on veteran Logan Ryan with Ji’Ayir Brown out

The 49ers are leaning on the veteran safety against the Commanders.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers are set to take on the Washington Commanders in Week 17, looking to secure a win and get one step closer to clinching the NFC’s No. 1 seed.

However, they’ll be doing so without certain key players, as defensive tackle Arik Armstead, safety Ji’Ayir Brown, and receiver Jauan Jennings have all been ruled out ahead of Sunday’s contest.

Armstead and Jennings both missed San Francisco’s Week 16 game against the Ravens, but Brown played every defensive snap, and his presence will be missed against the Commanders.

The 49ers are already down one starting safety, as Talanoa Hufanga sustained a torn ACL earlier in the season, which means they’ll be delving into the backend of their depth, as veteran safety Logan Ryan is expected to earn the start.

Ryan, who was signed just three weeks ago, will be thrust into the limelight, as the 49ers will roll out a tandem of him and fellow veteran Tashaun Gipson to solidify the backend of their secondary.

What provided head coach Kyle Shanahan the confidence to trust Ryan so quickly?

“Just us playing against him,” Shanahan said about Ryan. “He always seemed like such an aware, smart player and a guy that had a lot of experience playing a lot of different defenses. We brought him in here when we had a few injuries. He looked just since he’s been here like what we hoped he was. Now that we’ve had those injuries, he is in that role. He’s looked exactly like we hoped he’d be. He’s very comfortable and knows what he’s doing and the game’s not too big for him.”

Ryan follows the trend of a veteran backup, rather than the role being filled by a younger player, which Shanahan believes can be a huge element to their success.

“I think it’s huge,” Shanahan said about having veterans as depth pieces. “It’s not necessarily that’s the overall philosophy. Our just overall philosophy is in that given day, in that given week, in that given season, what gives you the best chance to succeed? It might be the younger guy. It might be the older guy. I think it’s very wrong when you take an absolute philosophy to anything. Like, ‘hey, you’ve always got to give the younger guy the first shots because he needs that experience and that’s how you develop him.’ That’s great, but not at the expense of the other 52 guys on the team and the organization and losing games.”

A part of why it may be tougher to trust younger players early? There’s a developmental process that goes alongside early playing time, and the 49ers can’t afford to lose games at the expense of providing such opportunities always.

“The first decision always is what helps you win the most or gives you the best chance to win. In a league that it’s very hard to develop guys because when you do anything at a professional level, it’s hard to do it at extremely high level when you’re not working on it year-round.”

“So, those guys who really can play in the NFL are usually guys that have experienced the NFL. They know how to handle those situations,” Shanahan said Friday. “They were fortunate enough to get those so they could go through that and get better. I hate the feeling of there’s one guy left and you believe in that guy a lot, but he’s not quite ready. But there’s no third string and that guy’s got to go. Now he goes in and he plays three games before he is ready and the team gets frustrated with him because he makes some mistakes, he’s not ready. The guy loses his confidence. Sometimes that can kill a guy, but you have no other option.”

Now, every team doesn’t have the option of adding veteran depth that can still provide quality reps, but with the new practice squad rules that allow for six veterans, it has become easier to navigate.

“You can’t always have the luxury of bringing vets in because if you always do that, then you never have youth coming up,” Shanahan acknowledged. “But, that’s what’s so cool about the 16 practice squad guys, the six vets we’re allowed. That’s what has allowed us, to me, do some things like that over the last few years that used to be real hard to do.”

Earlier in the week, defensive coordinator Steve Wilks praised the veteran defensive back for his quick acclimation to the team, both as a player and a leader.

“Logan has done a great job. I was excited when we got him,” Wilks shared. “I knew at some point in time that he was going to do a great job in stepping in for us. His leadership there, and I talked to [LB] Fred [Warner] about this coming off the field yesterday, and I was like, ‘did you feel and see Logan?’ He’s like, ‘yeah, man, he talks.’ And that’s the great sign of a safety. His ability to communicate, particularly when you’ve got a new guy in there, and he’s stepping up and doing those things. So, I like his presence. He has skin on the wall, as I call it. He’s been around the league for a while, played in a couple Super Bowls, so he understands the magnitude of where we are at this time of the year.”

Wilks dubbed Ryan as the true team player, which has been illustrated by his willingness to play special teams and be on kickoff coverage.

Ryan himself is looking forward to the chance to start against the Commanders, and isn’t going to hold back.

“It’s a great opportunity. I’m super excited for it. I’m definitely prepared, and going to go let it rip,” Ryan said, via SI’s Grant Cohn. “I’ve been doing this for a long time. I just kind of trust what I know and my instincts. And obviously, [I’m] a player that they wanted me to come here based on some of those instincts, so I’m going to go listen to them and go play.”

“I love football. I’m not here for the money. I’m here to play football. When you’re competing for a championship, no role is too small.”

The 49ers have a crucial game ahead of them and are looking to trust the veteran safety in a bigger role with the NFC’s No. 1 seed potentially on the line.