Deebo Samuel

How 49ers' unique locker room culture starts at top with Kyle Shanahan

How 49ers' unique locker room culture starts at top with Kyle Shanahan

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers have something special brewing in their locker room, but it really starts at the top with the way coach Kyle Shanahan holds himself accountable. 

When watching 49ers games, you won’t see frustrated players yelling at each other, or throwing helmets on the sidelines after coming off the field following a bad play or drive. The coaches don't chew their players out in front of the crowd and television cameras, either.

Instead, players and coaches alike show plenty of positivity on the 49ers' sideline, pumping each other up after both huge plays and mistakes. 

It’s not that there isn’t tough love, because there is plenty. Just ask wide receiver Kendrick Bourne. Fellow wideout Deebo Samuel noted players are harder on themselves than a coach would ever be, and that's because Shanahan is so hard on himself. 

Shanahan can vividly recall the calls he wanted back from the Atlanta Falcons' Super Bowl LI loss to the New England Patriots. The missteps ate at him in the aftermath of that defeat, and he sees the same mentality from his players. 

“Yeah, I mean you’ve got to diffuse guys,” Shanahan said Monday. “Everyone’s sensitive and everyone’s trying to do their best, but also everyone makes mistakes. I don’t care who you are. Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Hall of Fame coaches, it doesn’t matter. No one has gone perfect in this league, and everyone’s going to make huge mistakes in front of a lot of people.”

The 49ers are one of two teams left standing, and the audience will only get bigger for Super Bowl LIV. The scrutiny has become even more intense, but Shanahan said managing it is all part of the process.  

“That’s what sports is about,” Shanahan said. “I think athletes go through that. Athletes have a great life. They work hard, they get paid very well and they get to play in a cool game, but they’re also going to get judged by everybody in what they do and that’s just part of it.” 

[RELATED: Watch how 49ers have unleashed Deebo with this run play]

Shanahan sets a very high standard for himself and his players alike. He won't hold back from criticism in film sessions, especially if a player misses a block. But, he'll also praise players whose efforts contribute to an explosive play. Those methods have helped offensive stars like Emmanuel Sanders embrace blocking in the running game. 

“You’ve got to have thick skin,” Shanahan said. “You’ve got to mind not being judged because you’re out here, you’re good at what you do and you’re going to have times that are bad. The more you can call yourself out, the more you can call each other out, the more people take their sensitivity away and say ‘Alright, he’s right we all mess up sometimes let’s just sit in here and work on getting better.’”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday).

Watch how 49ers have unleashed Deebo Samuel perfectly with this run play

Watch how 49ers have unleashed Deebo Samuel perfectly with this run play

Now that the 49ers have gone from 12 losses last season to Super Bowl LIV in Miami, it's time for some reflection. This franchise essentially has pulled a complete 180-degree turn in one calendar year. 

One year ago, the 49ers were in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl as San Francisco held the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Kyle Shanahan was coaching the South squad in the Senior Bowl while general manager John Lynch had his eyes all over the talent of the showcase. 

The 49ers embraced the mantra "Mobile to Miami," looking to go from the top of the draft to the top of the league. There in Mobile, they also coached Deebo Samuel all week and played against linebacker Dre Greenlaw. Samuel has turned into a dangerous weapon in Shanahan's offense while Greenlaw's game-saving tackle against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 17 won the 49ers the NFC West and was a huge key to them reaching the Super Bowl. 

Samuel, a receiver out of South Carolina, impressed teams all week in practice, putting himself high on the 49ers' draft big board. 

And while the rookie has been one of the 49ers' top receivers this season, Shanahan has unleashed Samuel with a devastating run play in recent weeks. Since Week 14, San Francisco has given the ball to Samuel with this run play and it has resulted in 31 yards per carry. 

This is Example A of Shanahan's brilliant blocking schemes. He uses a fake counter to running back Raheem Mostert while Samuel comes around for a handoff. The key is the lead blocker, though. In the first case, tight end George Kittle spins back around and clears the way for the rookie. 

Fullback Kyle Juszczyk takes Kittle's place in the next two instances and is a devastating blocker down field. 

The first play shown came in Week 14 against the Saints with 4:22 left in the 49ers' 48-46 win. San Francisco led 42-40 at the time and Samuel ran down the left sideline for 31 yards. Two minutes later, a Robbie Gould field goal put the 49ers up by five points. 

Samuel scored a key 30-yard touchdown on the run against the Seahawks and rushed for 32 yards on the play in the NFC Championship Game, two plays before a Mostert TD. The run call has gone for 93 yards on three carries. 

Samuel finished the regular season with 159 yards rushing and three TDs while averaging 11.4 yards per carry. In two playoff games, he has three carries for 49 yards -- good for 16.3 yards per carry. 

Over his four seasons at South Carolina, the stout 5-foot-11, 215-pound Samuel, ran the ball 25 times and scored seven touchdowns. He reached the end zone every 3.6 carries. 

[RELATED: Sanders offers advice to 49ers playing in first Super Bowl]

Shanahan has optimized Samuel's skill set throughout the receiver's first season as a pro. Including the playoffs, Samuel has totaled 1,098 yards in 17 games -- 890 receiving and 208 rushing. When the 49ers face the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, Samuel certainly will be used in multiple ways to get the ball in the playmaker's hands. 

What started in Mobile could end with the 49ers hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Miami.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday).

How 49ers' running game exemplifies selfless nature of offensive stars

How 49ers' running game exemplifies selfless nature of offensive stars

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers’ 285 rushing yards Sunday exemplified the selfless nature of their offense.

That ground attack, led by Raheem Mostert's 220 yards on his own, set a record for most rushing yards in a conference championship game as the 49ers cruised to a 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers at Levi's Stadium.

The 49ers' offensive skill players might be the most enthusiastic group of run blockers in the league. Every player does his part from tight end George Kittle to receiver Emmanuel Sanders to the offensive line. 

Jimmy Garoppolo had only eight passing attempts for 77 yards over the course of the game that punched the 49ers' ticket to Super Bowl LIV. The 49ers QB completed six of those passes to four different players, who all took turns blocking in the 42 remaining plays that occurred on the ground. 

Deebo Samuel landed at the top of the stat sheet with two receptions for 46 yards. The rookie wideout also was lead blocker on Raheem Mostert’s second touchdown of the game, and understands that each of them doing their part is what makes the 49ers so successful.  

“I mean, I think our mentality is, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” Samuel said. “I ain’t got no problem going out there and being scrappy with the defense and blocking for the running back. They do it for us when we have a pass thrown down.”

Even Sanders has found enjoyment in playing his part in the run-blocking scheme. His lack of receiving numbers has played no importance with his happiness since his arrival in Santa Clara. 

“Yes, I only had one target, and I’m not upset with that,” Sanders said. “I told myself, if I’m not going to get the ball, I might as well go out here and be a bully. I kind of turned into a bully, I started to enjoy blocking. Sometimes I actually like that aspect of it. 

“When they brought me over here, they knew what is in my heart. They know I am going to be an incredible teammate and I am going to do whatever I have to do to help this team win. If it is going in and blocking, and if it is playing special teams, whatever I got to do, I am here to help.”

[RELATED: 49ers to wear white jerseys, gold pants in Super Bowl LIV]

Kittle, who takes pride in his run blocking, admitted his goal for the offense would be to have even more rushing attempts in a single game. The 49ers have made headlines with 47 carries in the divisional round and 42 in the championship game. 

“We had guys everywhere stepping up the entire season,” Kittle said. “And, when we get to finish it on something like that where, I don't know, how many rushes did we have?”

When someone in the auditorium announced that the total was 42 carries, Kittle lit up with an ear-to-ear grin.

“That's awesome. I could have gone for 50.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday)