Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

49ers’ Mike McDaniel says WR Brandon Aiyuk is ‘not in the doghouse’

Sep 16, 2021 at 12:14 PM--

San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel gave an encouraging update on wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk Thursday, saying the second-year wide receiver has been responding well to the lack of opportunities he was given against the Detroit Lions in Week 1 while suggesting that Aiyuk's diminished presence on offense has nothing to do with disciplinary issues.

Aiyuk has been the subject of much discussion among 49ers fans recently after he was given zero targets in 26 snaps on offense in the 49ers' 41-33 season-opening win in Detroit last Sunday. Aiyuk, who was selected by the 49ers in Round 1 of the 2020 NFL Draft out of Arizona State, came into the 2021 season with high expectations after catching 60 passes for 748 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie but has seemingly been passed in the pecking order at wide receiver (at least for now) in favor of 2021 free-agent addition Trent Sherfield, who caught two passes for 23 yards and one touchdown in 27 snaps against the Lions.

Part of the reason for Aiyuk's lack of opportunities has been a hamstring injury that slowed him down towards the end of the preseason. But at the same time, Sherfield has emerged as a receiver the 49ers have felt the need to reward with playing time after an excellent showing in the preseason and in training camp. There's even been some speculation about whether or not Aiyuk may have had any transgressions that have led to him falling behind the 25-year-old Sherfield, who before joining the 49ers in March caught 28 passes in three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals while also establishing himself as a presence on special teams.

McDaniel told reporters after Thursday's 49ers practice at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia that Aiyuk hasn't done anything to get himself in trouble and has also been making the types of strides at practice he needs to make in order to get back into the thick of things on offense.

"B.A. has done an outstanding job this week answering the bell," McDaniel said. "I know since he had his little setback with his hamstring Trent's gotten more opportunities. (Sherfield has) done an outstanding job and deserves to get the opportunities he gets. What's been cool is watching a young guy who's always been so talented at every level -- who's probably always been the default starter regardless because he's better than everyone -- handle a small obstacle in his career.

"Now, he had the same amount of reps the way the game went. In-house with the 49ers, it's not like he's in the doghouse at all or anything. But responding this week, he has been running his routes hard, crisp, and has gotten better with practice. It's very encouraging."

Time will tell if Sherfield maintains an edge over the talented Aiyuk, but it doesn't sound like the 49ers will stop looking in his direction anytime soon.

"I'm not going to sit here and say (Aiyuk's) got to do A, B, and C to get back out there," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday. "It's more we've been practicing the last month, and one guy's been there every day (Sherfield), 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."

Fortunately, Aiyuk's hamstring issues seem to be a thing of the past. McDaniel was asked Thursday if Aiyuk's hamstring has caused him to be limited at all in practice recently despite being listed as a full participant on the team's practice reports, or if he is indeed running at full capacity without any lingering issues.

"Now he is," McDaniel said. "We try to progressively take our time with that. You're right about that -- you make sure you don't overload him right when he gets back. But he's been full participation as normal, as all the other receivers who are on the active roster where we're splitting reps and trying to give guys looks for the game as best we can."

The 49ers will be back in game action this Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia against the Eagles (1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT, FOX). Aiyuk's level of participation will undoubtedly be a storyline that many observers will be keeping tabs on.

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