Steve Wilks non-committal on putting S Ji’Ayir Brown back in starting lineup

Jan 25, 2024, 4:01 PM | Updated: 4:25 pm

Ji'Ayir Brown #27 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on in action during a game between the San Franc...

Robin Alam/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Playoff football comes with tough decisions for personnel, with Ji’Ayir Brown finding out the hard way last Saturday.

The San Francisco 49ers’ rookie safety was benched in the team’s NFC Divisional Round win over the Green Bay Packers last weekend. The coaching staff opted for a more veteran approach to the game, slotting S Logan Ryan into the starting lineup alongside Tashaun Gipson.

It didn’t work out very well, with running back Aaron Jones gashing the 49ers’ secondary throughout the contest.

He finished with 108 rushing yards on 18 carries, averaging a whopping six yards a carry. Jones’ biggest run of the game came on a 53-yard halfback toss play, cutting back from left to right to race past SF to their 37-yard-line. That play was was made possible because Ryan missed the tackle on Jones, allowing him to get past the secondary for the scamper.

Ultimately, that was 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks’ decision. And while he acknowledges that Ryan was the culprit for that particular play, the coach deflected initially when asked about putting Brown back with the starters.

“I would say, overall, we all got to improve on tackling. I know we pointed out Logan, he’s got to improve on his tackling. He’s gonna get better with that,” Steve Wilks said about Ryan’s play.

Eventually, the coordinator addressed the Ji’Ayir Brown situation, but was non-committal as to what the team’s plans are for the third-rounder.

“Ji’Ayir is still in the mix. We’ll see exactly how it goes this week and exactly how much he’s going to play. If he will play, if he will start and whatnot. We don’t know, that’s still an ongoing process right now.”

Since stepping in for Talanoa Hufanga in the secondary, Ji’Ayir Brown has shown flashes of elite potential, recording a stellar 77.9 Pro Football Focus grade in his first year.

But after the Christmas night beatdown by the Baltimore Ravens, Brown suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for about a month. On top of that, the rookie had shown a tendency to miss tackles in the open field, all factors that contributed to the coaching staff going with a veteran approach last Saturday.

To his credit, Ji’Ayir Brown showed maturity when asked about it this week. And while he didn’t agree with the decision, the rookie trusts the coaching staff through and through.

“Me personally, I didn’t agree with it, but I understand it. I understood Kyle and I understand the mission of this team,” Brown told Jennifer Lee Chan of NBC Sports Bay Area. “As long as we can get the win, and however I can help the team out, I’m all good with it.”

But don’t get it twisted: Everyone has to improve on the defensive side of the football, including the veterans that have been there before.

“Everybody’s gotta improve,” Wilks added. “Really the whole defense as a whole…The 11 guys that are gonna be out there, they gotta step up and perform this week.

Key dates for Ji’Ayir Brown and the San Francisco 49ers

  • Jan. 28th – 3:30 pm PST vs. Detroit Lions (NFC Conference Championship)
  • Sunday, Feb. 4th – NFL Pro Bowl Games
  • Sunday, Feb. 11th – Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas
  • Tuesday, Feb. 20th – Teams can begin franchising players until Tuesday, March 5th
  • Tuesday, Feb. 27 – NFL Combine begins

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