Following two weeks on the inactive list, cornerback Tarell Brown took his opportunity last week to play against Detroit and ran with it.
The second-year corner stepped in for an injured Shawntae Spencer, against the Lions and knocked down one pass, intercepted another and contributed to the efforts of a 49ers secondary that limited an 8th rated passing offense to just 146 yards.
"I definitely expected that of myself, because anytime you step out on the field you are a starter. If you want to be the best at what you do, you can never settle for less," said Brown of his play. "Anytime I get the opportunity to step out on the field, whether it's practice-wise, games, scrimmages, I feel like I'm a starter. I just work hard every day like I'm a starter and hopefully do the best I can."
Brown, who played primarily on special teams his rookie season looks to get more playing time as the season rolls on, as the team announced on Tuesday that Spencer is done for the year.
Starting veteran cornerback Walt Harris said the loss of Spencer, the team's starting nickel corner, does hurt. But, he expects guys like Brown to admirably fill in.
"Shawntae was a guy we look up to and he looks up to us as well. He's one of the guys who is a phenomenal athlete," said Harris. "He was a big loss to us, but like I said, we're a pretty tight-knit group on the back end. We definitely have guys on the back end who can step up and fill those shoes that we lost with Shawntae."
If that continues to be Brown, he expects nothing less from himself.
"I don't think that we'll lose anything. Shawntae was a great player, I hate that he had to go down with an injury like that, but at the same time, guys got to step up anytime there are injuries on a team," said Brown. "The next guy has got to be able to fit in and do the job just as well if not better, for the team to keep succeeding. The way we work at practice, our coaches keep us prepared every day on and off the field."
Brown can relate to the long rehab Spencer has ahead of himself. In fact, it's one of many reasons he's not taking this opportunity for granted. When Brown was carted off the field in the final game against the Browns last December, he thought his knee was done for.
Fortunately Brown suffered only a partial tear of his ACL, but there were times this off-season when the second-year corner worried about his ability to make it back in time for the injury. He took part as much as possible in the team's off-season conditioning program, worked in mini-camp and the OTAs, but it wasn't until the final month before camp when he turned the corner.
"I think once I went back home for that month before training camp came back around, I was working out without the knee brace with my trainers at home - doing a lot of stuff that I didn't think I would be able to do. So the confidence was coming back every day, and just got better and better."
Brown still had to cross the mental hurdle of knowing his knee was okay, but this sixth-round pick out of Texas has had several hurdles to overcome in life, including the murder of his mother at the age of ten, and the loss of his father to a heart attack a few days before he was set to leave for the Combine.
Brown used his first intercepted NFL football to pay tributes to his deceased parents.
"Definitely, I'm going to send it back to my house," said Brown. "I haven't written anything on it, but I dedicate that ball to my parents. I'm going to put it in a special spot."
Brown should get a shot this week to guard against some special players this week in New Orleans. Although they are without their top receiver in Marques Colston, the Saints are managing just fine - New Orleans features the NFL's number one rated offense. It's a challenge Brown believes he'll be more than prepared to take on.
"It doesn't matter, receivers are receivers," said Brown. "If you study your film and study the different types of things and put your film work in, I think you're going to be successful at anything you do."
One of the things that has impressed Brown's veteran teammates the most are his study habits.
"There are times when Tarell will say, 'Hey, I want to watch film with you on your study days during the week,'" said Harris. "When I hear something like that, it tells me a lot about him and his work ethic."
In his 13th season, Harris has played with a lot of talented corners over the years, and in his expert opinion, Brown has a promising road ahead.
"From day one when I met Tarell and just watching him on the practice field, he's a guy who has always been into the game," said Harris. "He's very into the defense. What you guys saw on the field on Sunday is what we've seen every day during practice. You're just beginning to see the fruition of it."