San Francisco Chronicle

Shanahan: Aiyuk’s smaller role no surprise

- By Eric Branch Eric Branch covers the 49ers for The San Francisco Chronicle.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Last year, after the 49ers traded up to select Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk with the No. 25 pick, head coach Kyle Shanahan said he’d ranked him alongside Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb as the draft’s best receiver.

That wasn’t all: NBC analyst Chris Simms, Shanahan’s close friend and college teammate, said Shanahan told him during the pre-draft process that Aiyuk reminded him of Isaac Bruce, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Given that, it was surprising that Aiyuk, coming off a 60-reception, 748-yard rookie season, began his second year Sunday by playing fewer snaps than undrafted free agent Trent Sherfield in a season-opening win over the Lions. Sherfield, in his fourth NFL season, took the first snap as the No. 2 wideout ahead of Aiuyk, who did not have a catch or a target. Sherfield played 27 of 55 snaps, Aiyuk had 26 and Mohamed Sanu had 20. Deebo Samuel led the wideouts with 46 snaps.

Shanahan had pointed Sunday to a recent hamstring injury that had sidelined Aiyuk as a reason for his reduced snaps. However, Aiyuk was a full participan­t in the three practices leading up to the season

opener, and his ailment didn’t prevent the 49ers from using him as their punt returner. Shanahan was asked Monday whether there were non-injury reasons, such as Aiyuk’s “approach,” that led to him playing 47% of the snaps. Aiyuk didn’t log less than 71% of the snaps in the 12 games he played as a rookie.

“No, I just think he’s got a better person behind him this year in training camp,” Shanahan said. “And with Aiyuk missing some time and how well Trent Sherfield played … it wasn’t a very tough decision. … I thought he’d get a few more targets, but when guys are rotating that much, 50/50, I don’t really ask much who’s in. I’m good with either one of them getting the ball, whoever is in there at the time. It doesn’t matter to me.”

Shanahan was asked how Aiyuk handled his smaller role.

“I’m not sure, I haven’t got to talk to him yet,” Shanahan said. “I’m sure I’ll talk to him before Wednesday. I think he had an idea of that going into the game. That’s how practice has been the last couple of weeks, so I don’t think it was a surprise to him. But that’s something I’m sure I’ll talk to him about sooner than later.”

Kinlaw update: The 49ers’ run defense struggled Sunday without defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, who was sidelined with an ongoing knee issue. Shanahan wasn’t sure whether Kinlaw would return to practice Wednesday.

“I’m not expecting it,” Shanahan said. “I’m hoping it. I know that he’s got a chance to. He had a really good last four days. He was looking good on Saturday.

We were able to get him a good workout on Sunday. And each day has been an improvemen­t.”

The Lions rushed for 116 yards and averaged 4.8 yards a carry. They did most of their damage on first-half runs up the middle: Jamaal Williams had a 20-yard gain and DeAndre Swift had runs of 15 and 16 yards.

“Just a couple of guys not being in the right gap, and it wasn’t one culprit,” Shanahan said. “It was three different guys on three different plays. I think they had like 110 yards rushing and I think they got 60 something yards on three (plays) which were all very similar. You’ve got to tie 11 guys together to stop the run.”

Injury report: Linebacker Dre Greenlaw is considered day-to-day after he aggravated a groin injury Sunday . ... Shanahan indicated pass rusher Dee Ford, who has a minor ankle sprain, and linebacker Marcell Harris (oblique strain) should be able to practice Wednesday after Tuesday’s day off.

 ?? Harry How / Getty Images ?? Brandon Aiyuk began his second year by playing fewer snaps than former undrafted wideout Trent Sherfield.
Harry How / Getty Images Brandon Aiyuk began his second year by playing fewer snaps than former undrafted wideout Trent Sherfield.

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