49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk highlighted how rookie safety Ji’Ayir Brown has stood out during OTA practices with a high interception total through a few practices. Being around the ball is nothing new for Brown, as he proved to have a nose for the football at Penn State.
Defensive backs coach Daniel Bullocks knows those ball skills translate to the NFL:
“When you look at a guy like who has 10 career interceptions in college — usually, the guys who are always around the football are going to get the football. And it really doesn’t stop when they get to the NFL. They’re usually around the ball as well.”
Brown finished with ten interceptions during his final two seasons with eight pass breakups. For all the talk about Brown’s slow-ish 40 time, you could watch any Nittany Lion game and see No. 16 making a play on the ball.
It won’t be easy for Brown to beat out veteran Tashaun Gipson, especially off the season he just had, but there are questions at nickel and the third linebacker. We will see how new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks adapts to his personnel, but Bullocks applauded Brown’s versatility:
“He has our DNA that we’re looking for on defense. We’re looking for a guy that’s physical, that’s smart, that can finish. When you look at Ji’Ayir, he’s versatile. He can line up on all three levels of the defense. He can line up on the line of scrimmage. He can rush off the edge. He can drop back a level and play man coverage. He can play zone as well. And he can also drop back into the post and show that range and go get the football.”
Between Gipson, Talanoa Hufanga and Brown, the 49ers have three players who can play three different positions. Gipson was much better in man coverage than fans realize, which will only allow Wilks to be more aggressive and use three-safety sets on earlier downs.
That’ll all depend on how quickly Brown picks up the defense and if he can be trusted in man coverage. If that’s the case, it’ll be difficult to pull Brown off the field as the 49ers trend toward positionless football in their secondary.