No More ‘Doghouse’: 49ers Hint at Change With WR Brandon Aiyuk

Brandon Aiyuk

Getty Brandon Aiyuk is heading in the right direction following an improved Week 2 performance in Philadelphia.

It’s hard to imagine a one-catch performance changing the narrative around one player for the better, but that appears to be the case for San Francisco 49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk.

Aiyuk hauled in one grab for six yards in the team’s Week 2 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, September 18. But the reception moved the chains on a critical third-and-3 on a drive the team later scored on to extend a lead it would never relinquish on its way to the 17-11 win. The catch also earned the praise of head coach Kyle Shanahan afterward in the postgame press conference.

Shanahan, who had blunt words about Aiyuk after the receiver’s target-less showing in Week 1, praised the grab as a critical one in a drive where yards proved hard to come by.

“A hell of a catch,” Shanahan called the reception during his Week 2 postgame press conference.

“Ball was a little high and he made it, and he kept the chains moving,” Shanahan continued. “When you haven’t done anything, not much throughout the whole game, my guess is we probably had, I don’t know, 35 yards total at the time, at the most, and to get 97 on one drive definitely … (has you) feeling a lot better.”

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Aiyuk’s Playing Time Up

Despite Aiyuk’s 2021 stat line of one reception for six yards, the receiver is trending in the right direction as the team prepares for its home-opener against the Green Bay Packers in Week 3.

Aiyuk played more snaps in Week 2 than he did the previous week in Detroit when the 23-year-old wasn’t targeted by QB Jimmy Garoppolo a single time. Trent Sherfield, Aiyuk’s backup, played 27 snaps to Aiyuk’s 26 against the Lions, but in Week 2, Aiyuk earned 38 snaps against Philadelphia, compared to Sherfield’s 24, according to NBC Sports Bay Area.

“He’ll get there, I have full confidence in Brandon,” Shanahan told reporters on September 19 about Aiyuk’s slow but steady progress returning to his starting role. “He wants to get there and I want him to get there and it’s a matter of time. He’s had a much better week this week than last week.”

Shanahan: Aiyuk Would Be Starting if Not Injured

Brandon Aiyuk played more snaps in Week 2.

GettyBrandon Aiyuk played more snaps in Week 2 against the Eagles.

Shanahan has maintained Aiyuk’s slow start was a matter of the receiver regaining his health. After the coach’s initial comments about needing to be better than Sherfield, Shanahan has said Aiyuk was never in the “doghouse,” he just simply needed to work his way back into playing condition.

“He was moving along,” Shanahan told NBC Sports about Aiyuk prior to the injury. “If he would have played in that third preseason game, he would have started.”

The 2020 first-round selection was the team’s leading receiver as a rookie with 748 yards and five touchdown receptions. Shanahan said Aiyuk is heading in the right direction as the receiver tries to regain full health and reclaim his top receiver status.

That’s a different tune than what Shanahan said following the team’s Week 1 win in Detroit. Following that game, Sherfield garnered more praise from the coach than Aiyuk, whom he said needed to be better “than the guy behind him.”

Sherfield had one reception on three targets for nine yards against the Eagles.

“I know he’s a lot closer to getting that spot than he was last week,” Shanahan said of Aiyuk regaining last season’s form. “His first time back was last Wednesday, so we kept it how it has been. Trent’s earned that through training camp. I’m glad I did it that way. I don’t think Aiyuk was ready to play, the amount that he had. And also Trent helps us, he’s a good player and that makes that decision a lot easier.”

On Tuesday, September 21, San Francisco (2-0) was listed as 3.5-point favorites against Green Bay (1-1) for the primetime Sunday Night Football matchup in Week 3. San Francisco hosts its home opener at Levi’s Stadium tied for tops in the competitive NFC West. The division is 7-1 overall with the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams also boasting unblemished 2-0 records.

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