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Kyle Shanahan: 49ers’ Brandon Aiyuk needs ‘to be a lot better’ than Trent Sherfield to earn more playing time

Rohan Chakravarthi
Sep 15, 2021 at 11:15 AM


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The 49ers have a conundrum on their hands. At least it seems so, with the constant hesitancy around Brandon Aiyuk from head coach Kyle Shanahan.

Brandon Aiyuk was the 49ers' promising 1st-round pick from just a year ago, catching sixty passes for 748 yards and seven combined touchdowns while starting only 11 games, being an explosive piece in both the run and pass game.

However, this past Sunday, when the 49ers opened their season against the Detroit Lions, Aiyuk was not involved in either aspect, catching no passes and getting no rushes, which raised eyes about the 49ers' offensive game plan.

While Aiyuk nursed a hamstring injury throughout the offseason, there was optimism that the second-year receiver would return and play a prominent role as the regular season began.

Aiyuk had 26 offensive snaps, compared to Trent Sherfield's 27, but was not involved during the plays he was in, while Sherfield had two catches for 23 yards and a touchdown from Trey Lance on three targets.

Kyle Shanahan attributed the lack of involvement for Aiyuk to the hamstring injury and the emergence and consistency of WR Trent Sherfield, who signed in the offseason.

"[Aiyuk didn't totally take his foot off the gas pedal]," Shanahan responded. "Any time that 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 [like Aiyuk] and stuff, so that might not be as obvious with the talent level and stuff, but he's been a hell of a football player since he's been here."

Sherfield played for the Arizona Cardinals over the last three seasons and could never really set his footing after a somewhat promising rookie season. As for Aiyuk, Shanahan felt it was most fair that Sherfield got the opportunity based on his play and Aiyuk's inconsistency.

"Aiyuk's been a little inconsistent because he's been in and out with his injury and stuff. That's what we felt was the best chance for us [last] week. Aiyuk's still got a chance to that spot up and not rotate as much. Trent just doesn't make that very easy. So these three days are important in practice, how we balance out our game plan, we balance out our routes."

However, the head coach did provide optimism for the second-year receiver in his lengthy presser Wednesday.

"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."

While Shanahan didn't point out a place where Aiyuk could specifically improve, he did infer that it was Sherfield's job to lose in a way because of the rapport that the quarterback room has built with the 25-year old over training camp and the preseason.

"I'm not trying to single out any specifics because it's like very player," Shanahan said. "You've got to grow in every single area. And know this is all being like we're punishing Aiyuk or something because Trent got even reps with him, or we rotated those guys. I'm not going to sit here and say he's got to do A, B, and C to get back out there. It's more we've been practicing the last month, and one guy's been there every day, and I think the quarterback's got a lot of confidence in him. I do. ... But yeah, if he wants to be out there every single play, he's got to be a lot better than the guy behind him."

Aiyuk will certainly get an opportunity as the punt returner, as he was the No. 1 returner on the depth chart for the first game. Still, he needs to show more consistency with his injury in practice to see more involvement on gamedays.

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