Aiyuk's confidence, growth has helped 49ers' offense level up

Jimmy Garoppolo, Brandon Aiyuk

It wasn't long ago that Brandon Aiyuk was buried in a doghouse with no clear way out.

Through the 49ers' first six games, Aiyuk caught just nine passes for 96 yards and one touchdown. The second-year receiver had become an afterthought in the 49ers' offense. Shanahan seemed to bury Aiyuk each week during his mid-week press conference and the 49ers' offense was forced to rely heavily on Deebo Samuel in the passing game with George Kittle injured and Aiyuk struggling.

But things have been different over the four games. A bye-week conversation with Shanahan allowed the Arizona State product to tunnel out of the dog house and re-emerge as a factor in the 49ers' offense. During the 49ers' recent 3-1 stretch, Aiyuk has caught 20 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns, giving San Francisco another dynamic weapon defenses have to key in on.

Aiyuk's immediate about-face is exactly why Shanahan and the staff were so hard on the 23-year-old, but the 49ers coach has been impressed by the receiver's growth.

"I think it says more about him as a person than anything because we all know B.A. is a talented dude," Shanahan said Sunday after the 49ers' win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, in which Aiyuk caught seven passes for 85 yards and one touchdown. "But it takes a lot of stuff to be able to play in this league week in and week out. He started out behind this year. And I know I rode him hard, and his [receivers] coach did, and a lot of us did.


"And I just thought it was impressive how, being younger, being new to this league, when things aren't going your right way, and people are putting pressure on you, not just outside, but inside, a lot of guys tend to point the finger and feel sorry for themselves, which is what worries you. And you've got to wait until the offseason, almost, to bring them back."

Aiyuk's evolution has been evident to his teammates as well.

"You can just see a different type of B.A., you know?," Samuel said Sunday. "Not afraid of nothing. Got his confidence back and just go out there and ball on Sundays, and it happens day-in and day-out all week long."

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Aiyuk's re-emergence and Kittle's return have given the 49ers three true threats in the passing game, making life easy on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and Shanahan.

"And when you've got Aiyuk out there playing like a true starting player, Deebo, [George] Kittle, I think it's the first time we've had those three, three weeks in a row. I don't know if this is right, but it seems like in two years, almost," Shanahan said. "I don't know if they've ever been out [there together] that many times week after week, so it's been good. And when they're like that, they're out there more consistently, I think we just get better as a whole with the quarterback.

"Everyone can be more consistent."

After being left for dead early on this season, Aiyuk took Shanahan's tough love to heart and found his way back, and the 49ers' offense has a new gear with No. 11 back in the fold.

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