SANTA CLARA -- After a challenging start to his second season with the 49ers, Brandon Aiyuk has started over.
On Thursday, the young receiver spoke candidly about his new lease on the season, and who helped prompt a reboot of sorts following the bye week.
“Definitely a lot of players,” Aiyuk said. “Kyle, Juice [Juszczyk], is my locker mate so I talk to him a lot. But also me and Kyle had some words. We had some words, so definitely Kyle too.”
“Shanahan?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Aiyuk said with a little chuckle.
In 2020, the first-round draft pick was the 49ers' top receiver catching 60 of his 96 targets for 748 yards and five touchdowns. Aiyuk also registered six carries for 77 yards and two rushing touchdowns as a rookie.
The young receiver has been much less productive in his sophomore season, only registering 13 catches on 23 targets for 141 yards and one touchdown through seven games. Aiyuk currently has the fifth most receiving yards on the team behind Juszczyk (146), and Mohamed Sanu (172), George Kittle (227) and Deebo Samuel (819).
Shanahan had also relegated Aiyuk to punt returner, a job that is not usually done by a team’s top receiver.
Then in Week 8, in the 49ers' 33-22 win over the Chicago Bears, Aiyuk seemed to bounce back. He caught four of his seven targets for 45 yards and appeared on the field for more snaps than Deebo Samuel for the first time all season.
“I think it’s more stacking, not taking it personal,” Aiyuk said. “Every rep, every play, every day in practice type of thing. Hard for me to say letting [my foot] off the gas but you can kind of say that, but it’s a kind of where you don’t really keep track and just think, ‘I’ll get to it.’
“I’m taking advantage of every single play. Starting fresh. One play is gone, the next one comes, treating every single play like the first play.”
Offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel has noticed Aiyuk's improvement in practice and appreciates his new mental approach. The coach knows it will be reflected in Aiyuk’s gameday performances whether he has the ball in his hands or not.
“He's looked like the player that we envisioned when we drafted him,” McDaniel said. “In terms of he's got a lot of physical tools, but he also has a mindset and he's a young guy that's finally starting to understand what it means to be a pro and approach every practice like, ‘Hey I'm determining the game on Wednesday. I'm winning the game on Thursday.’ ”
Aiyuk, who admits he has trust issues, is learning that his teammates and coaches are all just attempting to get the best from him both on and off the field. Slowly and maybe reluctantly, the the 23-year-old is letting down his walls.
“Just getting over the fact that everybody in this building wants the best for you, trying to help you out when talking to you, telling you stuff,” Aiyuk said. “Every time somebody has given me good information I have used that information, we’ve gotten what we’ve wanted from it.
“Just trusting everybody, trusting and believing what they are saying but also going out on the field and doing it.”