YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — 49ers rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel wasn’t expected to play 88-percent of San Francisco's offensive snaps in 31-17 Week 1 win over the Bucs, but he’s chalked it up as a great learning experience.
“Honestly I really didn’t know how long I was going to play,” Samuel said. "I just know I was out there and was trying to do the best at my job. I think there’s a lot of things I need to work on as far as being consistent, getting in better shape and being locked in.”
Every rookie goes through a learning curve, and Samuel made a few notable mistakes in his debut. Just before the half, Samuel caught a short pass from 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, but fumbled and cost the team at least three points.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Samuel jumped offsides on a play that was likely going to get him the ball. The drive eventually stalled and the 49ers were forced to punt.
Understandably, nerves played a little bit of a role in the rookie's performance.
“Kind of more anxious than anything,” Samuel said. “You know it was kind of first-game rookie jitters. You hear the play call and kind of figure it’s coming to you and you’re ready to make the play, but rather than being locked in, I was jumping offsides.”
While coach Kyle Shanahan wants to minimize mistakes, he's been impressed with how Samuel has responded to criticism.
“He’s really as good as anyone I’ve been around right now,” Shanahan said. “As a rookie, we’ll see how it goes, but you can be hard on him. He doesn’t make excuses, he works at it and he definitely takes accountability and doesn’t mind you calling him out in front of the team. It’s important to him and usually responds when you do it.”
Garoppolo also vouched for Samuel’s mettle after making mistakes, specifically the false start.
“He came back and answered with that two-point conversion,” Garoppolo said. “That’s a tough play, quick catch, get it in there. Yeah, he had a good mindset the whole day in the huddle.
"You know, he’s still got a long way to go and everything, but he has natural talent. He’s powerful, he can run through defenders as you saw on Sunday. It’s nice having a guy like that. Just when he’s in tight spots, he makes the tough catches. It’s incredible, the guy doesn’t sweat even in Tampa. It’s mind-blowing."
Even as a rookie, Samuel is his toughest critic. He's all ears when coaches speak and greatly wants to improve.
“Me personally, I was hard on myself about it because it’s not something that we do as a group and it’s not something we do as a team,” Samuel said. “You have to take yourself and be accountable for that, but as far as how hard they get on you they just want you to become a better player and I take coaching very well.”
Shanahan took responsibility for having Samuel in the game for too long and only playing second-year receiver Dante Pettis for two snaps.
“I think he learned what the NFL is like,” Shanahan said. “I think it was our fault for playing him too much. We should’ve had Dante in for more and taken those reps down a little bit, but that’s the standard in this league and how hard you have to go and how every play matters.
“I think he learned that. There’s some good learning examples in that game. He did some good things for us, but he also played like a rookie at times, too. To be able to do that and still be able to get away with a win where we can be hard on him for certain things, I think it was a good learning moment for him.”