SANTA CLARA -- Commentators and fans alike have said Deebo Samuel runs angry with the ball in his hands, but for the 49ers rookie wide receiver, it’s the only way he knows how to play.
When Samuel played football in his youth, his father was his coach. His instructions to his son?
“Every time you have the ball in your hands, try to get it into the end zone.”
That mantra has never changed.
“I wouldn’t say angry,” Samuel told NBC Sports Bay Area. “It’s just the mentality that I have that one guy isn’t going to bring me down. And that’s always been my mentality since I’ve been playing the game.”
Samuel’s style of play appears to be similar to that of teammate George Kittle. Neither is afraid to catch the ball across the middle and both will run over a defender once they have the ball in their hands. Samuel has an average of 7.5 yards after the catch while Kittle is not far behind at 6.5 yards.
“I watch George,” Samuel said. “He kind of has the same mindset. I’ve never seen one guy bring him down so it’s kind of like the mentality I play with."
Some of Samuel’s bruising ways come from his days as a running back, a position he played until he was a freshman at South Carolina. His versatility has already been utilized several times by coach Kyle Shanahan, with five rushing attempts for 27 yards and a touchdown.
“I know what it is and know what it takes to be back there and the hits that they take,” Samuel said. “DBs out there, they’re not guys that like the physical stuff. So if they see a receiver trying to bring it to them, you know they want to hit low. Not too many people want that contact.”
Both Samuel and Kittle have been very productive for the 49ers' offense and reliable targets for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Kittle leads the team with 541 receiving yards while Samuel is second with 339.
With Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders' availability in doubt for Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, Samuel knows that he will be asked to step up if necessary. Facing the Seahawks, the rookie caught eight of his 11 targets for 112 yards, making him the most productive receiver on the field.
Of those three missed targets, there’s one in particular that Samuel would like back. Early in the fourth quarter, Garoppolo targeted Samuel on a slant route across the middle. The ball hit Samuel in the hands, but he wasn't able to hold on as it dangerously deflected up into the air.
By the time Samuel made a second attempt to grab the ball, the safety already was on him and broke up the pass. It would have netted a first down at a minimum, but the drive stalled and San Francisco was forced to punt.
“I was so worried about just turning it up more,” Samuel said. “I was more focused on that than catching the ball first. You could see the safety coming down and he was not a worry of mine. Just got to make those plays. I just don’t only want to make that catch. I want to catch the ball and do something with it after I catch it. It’s just my mentality.”
Samuel likely will have a chance to redeem himself Sunday when the 49ers face division rival Arizona.