49ers’ Kyle Shanahan Sounds off on Brandon Aiyuk’s Week 1 Dud

Brandon Aiyuk 49ers

Getty Brandon Aiyuk leaves the field after a preseason game between the Chargers and 49ers.

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk was held without a target in Sunday’s win against the Detroit Lions. Head coach Kyle Shanahan’s comments on Wednesday, September 15 didn’t seem to suggest that was simply a fluke occurrence, either.

Shanahan said Aiyuk needs to be significantly better than the player behind him on the depth chart if the 2020 first-round draft pick wants more snaps, never mind balls thrown his way.

“I’m not going to sit here and say, he’s got to do the A, B and C to get back out there,” Shanahan told reporters when asked about the target-less game, which the 49ers won 41-33 in Detroit. “It’s more, we’ve been practicing the last month and one guy has been there every day and the quarterback’s got a lot of confidence in him. I do. If he wants to be out there every single play, he’s got to be a lot better than the guy behind him.”

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The guy behind Aiyuk, in this case, is Trent Sherfield, an undrafted free agent who signed with San Francisco in the offseason after spending his first three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals.

Sherfield had two receptions on three targets for 23 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s Week 1 win.

Sherfield’s touchdown came on a succinct zag route from five yards out where rookie quarterback Trey Lance hit him in stride.

It was a fitting touchdown connection given the two new players showed a strong connection during the preseason.

Kyle Shanahan 49ers


Shanahan: Aiyuk ‘Not Totally’ Taking Foot Off Gas

Aiyuk, meanwhile, is battling back from a hamstring injury that limited his preseason playing time significantly. The reduced role is a 180-degree shift from his impressive rookie season, where the first-rounder was the most targeted receiver.

The Arizona State product also led the team in targets, receptions and receiving yards amid a slew of injuries to the offense, including to QB Jimmy Garoppolo, TE George Kittle and fellow wideout Deebo Samuel, as pointed out by DraftKings Nation.

Shanahan referenced the disparity in draft status in the two receivers vying to be Garoppolo’s No. 1 target.

“Anytime you do have a setback with a hamstring and you have a guy behind you playing as well as Trent’s played, I know Trent wasn’t a first-round draft pick, so that might not be as obvious with the talent level, but he’s been a hell of a football player since he’s been here,” Shanahan said. “Aiyuk’s been a little inconsistent because he’s been in and out with his injury. And that’s what we felt was the best chance for us last week. Aiyuk’s still got a chance to get that spot up and not rotate as much, Trent just doesn’t make that very easy.”

But, Shanahan was asked whether part of the reason laid with Aiyuk, whether the 6′ 200-pound receiver out of Arizona State has taken his “foot off the gas” this year compared to his strong freshman debut.

Shanahan’s initial answer didn’t squash down the question.

“Not totally,” the coach said.

Garoppolo Addresses San Fran’s WR1 Situation

The team is practicing and staying at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, rather than travel back to the West Coast between back-to-back road games to begin the 2021 season. They’ll next play the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, September 20.

Asked about the battle between the two receivers for the top spot, Garoppolo said that both are competing hard for that designation. The idea that both could earn that role is a comfort to any quarterback who faces the brutal attacks of NFL defenses.

“You know, it’s one of those situations where competition is going to bring out the best in everyone,” Garoppolo said on September 15. “Trent and B.A., they bring it every day.”

“They’re guys who you know, you can rely on them in tough situations. They’re always battling. As a quarterback, when you can have a receiver that you know where he’s going to be, when he needs to be there, it puts your mind at ease and it’s one of those things where you’re thinking about a million things as it is. If you could cut one of those things out, it makes for a lot easier of a play. So the two of them, just those little things like that go a long way in a quarterback’s eyes.”

In addition to more targets and catches on Sunday, Sherfield logged one extra offensive snap, 27 to 26, than Aiyuk. Getting Aiyuk back in the starting slot will have a lot to do with the No. 1 receiver getting healthy and getting reps in practice, Shanahan said.

“These three days are important in practice, how we balance out our game plan, how we balance out our routes,” Shanahan said. “And I’m happy with Aiyuk. It’s nothing against Aiyuk. I’m just also happy with Trent too. And I think both of them can continue to get better.”

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