SANTA CLARA -- There’s no better test in the NFL than trial by fire, and the 49ers' young secondary survived with flying colors.
Just a few short months ago, rookies Deommodore Lenoir, Ambry Thomas and Talanoa Hufanga all felt like the freshmen on campus. In the 49ers' preseason opener, no one played mistake-free, but all three showed how far they have come since arriving in Santa Clara.
“It was a crazy feeling,” Lenoir said. “Just to see all the fans out there and see my parents in the stands. I was just living the dream. And then to be able to make a big play in the game, was mind-blowing.”
Not only did Lenoir play, he snagged the only interception of the night catching a pass that glanced off the hands of Kansas City Chiefs tight end Noah Gray. The rookie also broke up a pass and recorded three tackles — two solo.
Of course, Thomas and Hufanga were the first two players to run over to congratulate Lenoir after his first NFL interception.
The USC safety also had a standout debut, recording two special teams tackles and two solo tackles on defense. One of Hufanga’s goals is to become a special teams Pro Bowler in his rookie season. If he continues on this trajectory of improvement, the lofty target could become a reality.
“I saw he made some plays today,” Shanahan said of Hufanga on Saturday. “Saw a couple hits on defense and one on special teams. I think he’s getting better each week and he’s one of the guys I’m excited to watch how he played.”
Thomas also saw a lot of the field with Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams, and Emmanuel Moseley not playing. The Michigan product was charged with pass interference on one occasion but also racked up five solo tackles on defense.
“I know they got beat a couple times, but I also saw them playing some tight coverage and not giving up,” Shanahan said. “They got a lot of reps out there and never seemed to tire out, but I know they tired out.
“They played their hardest and as much tape as you can get with those rookies the better and I think DeMeco put them in a lot of man situations which is what we wanted to see. Now we can grade the tape and see how they can get better.”
The young trio likely will get quite a bit more experience in the 49ers' second preseason game facing the Los Angeles Chargers as well as in the joint practices leading up to the contest.