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Kyle Shanahan says blocking shows character in 49ers wide receivers

Marc Adams
Dec 16, 2023 at 10:38 AM

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No team's wide receivers block better than the San Francisco 49ers. Head Coach Kyle Shanahan and his staff have created a culture that demands their receivers block. The wide receivers even live by the mantra, "No block. No rock."

Fans often ask why certain 49ers receivers, like Danny Gray and Ronnie Bell, aren't getting as much playtime with the offense. The primary reason for this is that those young receivers haven't yet learned to be effective blockers. And until they do, it will be hard for them to see their time on the field increase.

On Friday, Shanahan sat down with Greg Papa on NBC Sports Bay Area's "49ers Game Plan" and discussed his wide receivers blocking, starting with Brandon Aiyuk, who just went over 1,000 yards receiving for the second consecutive season. Papa mentioned that Aiyuk is the NFL's highest-graded blocker among receivers. Deebo Samuel is ranked second.

"BA [Aiyuk] is a tough dude," Shanahan said. "We demand a lot from it, but he really never takes the play off on that. And I think he enjoys doing it. I think that's really what it's come to. You know, he used to do it because we asked him to do it and he didn't mind the physicality of that part. But the more you do it and the more you get into it and the more you start to learn football and see how much of an effect it has for everybody, guys start to really enjoy it. And I'm so proud of BA, how he's done that because I always feel when he has his mindset and he blocks the best, it usually carries over to his pass game.

"It kind of goes the same way. I always go back to that first game versus Pittsburgh and that's why every time we targeted him, he was automatic that game and he blocked that whole game very well. And we didn't think necessarily he was going to have a huge game just because of the coverages and how they were going, but it ended up coming to him and he was so ready every time it came to him. And I think it rarely goes, yeah, you're ready in the pass game, but not in the run game. I think they go hand in hand. You're ready to play football today and wideouts play football.

"They don't just sit and wait for their four targets, their eight targets, their one target, whatever it is, sometimes that's out of their control. I mean, coverages dictate that. Plays dictate that, where the quarterback goes. What you can dictate is how you play every football play. And I think that starts with blocking and usually when you do that the right way, good things happen. And especially when you're a good player like BA and he's done it in all facets and I just love that he gets the stats so everyone can really appreciate how good he's playing.
But whether he did get those stats or not, I know we do."

All you have to do is watch the opening play of last week's game against the Seattle Seahawks when Christian McCaffrey started things off with a 72-yard run. When you watch it back, you'll see great blocks from Aiyuk and Samuel. Aiyuk was especially good on the play, running down the field and blocking until the end.

Shanahan refused to say who's the best blocker among the 49ers wide receivers. Although Aiyuk and Samuel are ranked highly as blockers, the best of the group may be Jauan Jennings. But you won't hear Shanahan declare who's the best at it.

"Jennings is amazing at it," Shanahan said. "What I love about...blocking shows character, especially when you're a good wide receiver because I'd like to say you don't have a choice, but wide receivers always have a little bit of a choice. O-linemen don't. Wide receivers can fake it a little bit. They can take creative angles and not quite get there and it's tough to just take those guys off the field because they're not great blockers. Especially if they're great receivers.

"Now it's very important to us. You don't stay out there very long if you're not a good blocker. But our guys don't do the minimum. They really try to take it as a part of the game to really not let anyone else down with the ball. And they want to make sure when they have the ball, everyone's blocking hard for them and there becomes a pressure for each other that makes it really easy to coach because it's not like they're just trying to always do now what the coach asked. They don't want to let down Christian because they know how hard Christian is going to block for them when they have the ball. And they know what Juice [Kyle Juszczyk] does. They know what Jauan does, what Kittle does. They all do it."

The 49ers will take their dynamic offense on the road Sunday to play the Arizona Cardinals. And you can expect to see their wide receivers blocking like they always do.

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