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Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

‘We’re not going to avoid any part of the field’: Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo discuss the 49ers deep ball

Aug 20, 2020 at 7:15 AM--

Travis Benjamin was supposed to replace Marquise Goodwin as a player who could potentially threaten an opposing defense deep downfield for the San Francisco 49ers. Then he opted out of the 2020 season amid coronavirus concerns.

That doesn't mean there isn't still speed at the receiver position on the roster. In fact, the recent additions of Tavon Austin and J.J. Nelson lowered the 40-time average of those players.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan was asked this week who his deep threat might be this year. Could it even be someone like running back Jerick McKinnon, who has been impressing during training camp?

"It depends if we're running go routes versus the linebacker, safety," Shanahan responded. "I think he's got the ability to beat corners, but it depends what you're talking about. Usually, your biggest deep threat versus cover two zones and stuff is the guy with the fastest 40. You've got to blow the top off and run.

"I think our fastest 40 on paper was Travis Benjamin and then he left and I think our fastest one on paper is J.J. Nelson. But we've got a few other guys who can run, too. Tavon's got that 40. I know some of our other guys do, but it all depends what coverages you're going against.

"When you start with a go route, sometimes the fastest guy is the worst deep threat because the corners know they can run by him, so they back up and those guys don't always have the skillset to go up and catch the ball. Sometimes your best deep threat could be the slower guy with the best hands."

Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne doesn't have the blazing speed of some others on the roster, but he has proven to be a clutch target for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Twenty-three of Bourne's 30 receptions last season resulted in either a first down or a score. During the postseason, he hauled in six passes, five of which went for either a first down or a touchdown.

"When you go with guys like Bourne, guys like Jennings, those guys make plays down the field, too, on go routes because they've got the right hands," Shanahan said.

It may take a while for the media to move on from Garoppolo's deep throw gaffe intended for Emmanuel Sanders in Super Bowl LIV. The irony is that the 49ers passer was the most accurate quarterback in the NFL last season on passes of 20-or-more yards. Garoppolo was 19-of-31 on such throws.

Garoppolo has some new weapons at his disposal, like rookie wideout Brandon Aiyuk.

"We mess up (during practice) sometimes, but he always comes in, he catches the next ball," tight end George Kittle recently shared of Aiyuk. "Honestly, I haven't seen him drop a pass, which is pretty sick, too."

It's been apparent through training camp practices that Garoppolo has been working on his deep ball. He's been on-target, hitting some of his offensive weapons, including Aiyuk, for would-be big gains.

"Yeah, I'm always working on it," Garoppolo said this week. "I like where I'm at with it. I think we've got guys who are able to run those deeper routes, post goes, things like that. As long as I can get it out there for them, we'll be in a good spot. It's always been one of those things that, it is what it is. I think we've got the guys to do it this year."

Shanahan's offense, built to deceive opposing defenses and boasting a top rushing attack, can certainly open up opportunities for Garoppolo to hit his receivers deep.

The 49ers quarterback gets to practice against last year's No. 1 ranked pass defense, too.

"Defenses rarely give you that opportunity (to go deep), especially our defense," Shanahan added. "They've usually got a guy pretty deep in the middle of the field, so you don't get many of those shots. You don't just call a play that says go deep, except at the end of a half or a game, it's called a Hail Mary. You usually have a deep guy on most of your plays, but it depends what the defense gives you.

"The more we can generate that in practice, even if it isn't what we totally do coverage-wise, the more reps our receivers and quarterback get at it and the more opportunities we give, obviously, the better they'll be.

"Hopefully, we can generate a lot more of that in camp, and then you see what the coverages are Week 1 all the way through Week 16, and you attack them. We're not going to avoid any part of the field. We're going to take the part of the field they're giving us."

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