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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Mike McDaniel, 49ers’ Deebo Samuel helped each other find success

Feb 20, 2022 at 8:17 PM--

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The success of San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel and his former offensive coordinator, now the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Mike McDaniel, are linked together. One would not be where he is today without the other.

Samuel had a breakout season in 2021, accumulating 1,770 all-purpose yards and 14 total touchdowns on his way to NFL stardom. Before that, however, were some discussions with McDaniel. To motivate Samuel, the coach did his best to predict what could happen with some hard work.

According to Peter King of NBC Sports, McDaniel wanted Samuel to emerge as a leader on the team. Samuel was hesitant, feeling that he wasn't the vocal-leadership type. That's not what McDaniel meant, though. He wanted his receiver to lead by example, work hard by pushing himself in practice, and show that he could be a great student of the game.

Said McDaniel, via the latest Football Morning in America feature: "I said, 'If you do that every day and stay healthy and take care of your body and all that extra leg work that the true great ones do, at the end of the season, you'll be first team all-pro and you'll make me a head coach.'"

Now, Samuel is an All-Pro, voted to the honorary roster after his impressive third-year campaign. In addition, McDaniel is a head coach, thanks in part to Samuel's efforts helping the 49ers reach the NFC Championship Game for the second time in three seasons.

McDaniel knew he needed his young receivers to step up this past season. For Samuel, that meant taking on a dual-threat role in Week 10 and improving upon that effort with each passing week. Brandon Aiyuk struggled out of the gate but found his footing as the season progressed.

"This past season, I had a talk with him in the offseason," McDaniel said via King. "I was meeting with Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo at 6 a.m. every day during training camp because we needed them to step up. I asked Deebo, 'Are you the best player on the offense?' He was like, 'Yeah.' I said, 'The time is now. Do you really wanna be great? Greatness is hard. That's why it's great. It's not easy. It's a burden, really.'"

Those meetings weren't limited to the offseason. Every Tuesday, Samuel would come to McDaniel's office and wait for the coach to find time to discuss the upcoming game plan. Keep in mind that Tuesdays were when the coaches were in the midst of installing that game plan, so having a player wait around for you between speaking with other coaches and reviewing film of your opponent is irregular.

"No player in my career has ever bothered me on a Tuesday," McDaniel said.

McDaniel found the time, though, knowing that Samuel was eager to contribute and capable of being a big part of the offensive attack.

The offensive coordinator eased Samuel into the run-game plan, slowly introducing new plays into his repertoire.

"Each week, I'd add like one new type of run so he wouldn't have to learn too much, but the defense hadn't seen it," McDaniel said. "By the end of the season, he could do almost every type of run that running backs could do."

Samuel had amassed 502 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns by the end of the season, including the playoffs. Head coach Kyle Shanahan said the receiver's role in 2022 won't change. Samuel will continue to be a threat both through the air and on the ground.

"Yeah, I'm perfectly fine with it," Samuel told reporters after the season. "Like I stated all year long, I'm down for whatever to help this team win in every aspect."

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