49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga aims for Week 1 return following knee surgery

Updated Jun. 5, 2024 5:05 p.m. ET

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — San Francisco 49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga aims to be ready to return to action in time for the season opener after tearing a ligament in his knee last November.

Hufanga tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last Nov. 19 in a win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and is spending the offseason rehabilitating in hopes of being ready for the start of the season.

“The goal is to be ready by Week 1,” Hufanga said Wednesday. “The goal is to be in training camp, not at the very beginning, but to ramp up correctly so it’s not just to throw me out to the wolves and good luck. But try to be smart with that. We’ve had plenty of conversations with the training staff and putting me in the best possible situation to succeed.”

Hufanga said the competitor in him wants to be back on the field as soon as possible but recognizes the need for patience to make sure he is fully healed when he returns. San Francisco opens the season on Sept. 9 against the New York Jets.

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Hufanga is taking advantage of this time to spend even more hours than usual poring over film, studying his own teammates at practice and some of the top safeties around the league like Antoine Winfield Jr., Derwin James and Minkah Fitzpatrick to get any tips he can.

“You’re taking all their great attributes and your goal is to put it into a player on your team," he said. “So learning how to be more patient and keying your run-pass keys versus just like trying to play the call or playing the concept.”

Hufanga was drafted in the fifth round by San Francisco in 2021 and played mostly on special teams at the start before working his way into the defense late in his rookie season.

Hufanga then became an All-Pro his second season and was playing at a high level again last year before getting hurt after amassing three interceptions and 52 tackles.

The defense regressed a bit after his injury, allowing 4.4 more points per game and 0.24 more yards per play after Hufanga went down.

The late-season issues on defense contributed to a change in coordinator with Nick Sorensen being promoted to replace Steve Wilks in the offseason.

Hufanga has said the transition has been seamless since Sorensen has been on staff two years working under both Wilks and former coordinator DeMeco Ryans.

“He’s been in the meetings. So it’s not like he’s just a fresh new face,” Hufanga said. “He knows what the system was. He’s been in it with DeMeco as well. So he really understands what we’re trying to accomplish. Yes, he makes tweaks here and there and knows what we can do.”

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