Early in the 2021 season, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan took Brandon Aiyuk aside for a little tough love.
Aiyuk played less than half the snaps in the season opener against Detroit. A first-round pick out of Arizona State in 2020, Aiyuk had often displayed the skill set associated with being the No. 25 overall pick.
Just not enough for Shanahan’s liking.
Message received. Aiyuk went on to have a solid second season.
In training camp this season, middle linebacker Fred Warner picked a practice fight with Aiyuk for the sole purpose of lighting a fire and getting the best out of a potential gamebreaker.
Aiyuk was good. Warner thought he could be better.
Here is what Warner said Thursday as the 49ers went through their first practice at the frigid Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs, Colorado. in preparation for their Week 11 game against the Arizona Cardinals in Mexico City:
“Brandon, he’s come into his own, man,” Warner told reporters.
If the 49ers weren’t entirely sure what to make of Aiyuk, any doubts have been erased in Year 3. When the 49ers (5-4) face the Arizona Cardinals (4-6), their most frequently targeted receiver entering Estadio Azteca isn’t Deebo Samuel or tight end George Kittle.
Aiyuk’s name may draw blank stares in a national sense, but he leads a team with a run-first mentality with 62 targets and 44 receptions for 567 yards and four touchdowns.
In each of the last four games, Aiyuk has caught at least six passes and gained 80 or more yards. The last time that happened for the 49ers was 2001 with Terrell Owens in Weeks 8 through 11. If Aiyuk does it again Monday night, he’ll become the third 49ers player since 1970 with six or more catches or 80 or more yards in five consecutive games, joining Owens and Jerry Rice.
At 6-foot, 200 pounds, Aiyuk is more of a conventional outside threat than Samuel. He’s got long arms and thrives with precision routes as opposed to Samuel doing his damage with catch-and-run power through match-up style play design.
Aiyuk also caught on in terms of the demands of his profession and what it took to play for Shanahan.
“He came into OTAs in the best shape I had seen him in, then he came back to training camp in the best shape,” Shanahan said. “He has the stamina where he’s built to go. And to me, that’s how most of the great ones are, so they can be at their fullest every play and they don’t have two plays on, three plays off.”
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said Aiyuk’s “catch radius” allows him to attempt passes he might not otherwise throw. More than that, Aiyuk has a suddenness that belies his build.
“When you watch him run, it looks different than other receivers,” Garoppolo said. “When you have long legs like that, some receivers can’t get out of the break. They get stuck. But Brandon has the strength to get out of that, which is unique.”
Perhaps Aiyuk would have been fine without Shanahan giving him a talk …read more
Source:: The Mercury News – Latest News
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