San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan covered a lot of topics at his nearly hour long session at the NFL annual meeting on Tuesday, and that included the development of wide receiver Kendrick Bourne. The rookie was tapped “next man up” when veteran receiver Pierre Garçon’s season was cut short due to injury. Shanahan’s extensive playbook may have originally been a little too much pressure for the young receiver and his coach recognized it so they brought in veteran Louis Murphy to help alleviate some of that stress.
Bourne was a little behind the curve after missing OTAs because of school rules that keep players from reporting if they have not graduated. (Solomon Thomas suffered the same fate.) Shanahan also cites Bourne attending a smaller school where he wasn’t challenged like he was with the 49ers and being an undrafted free agent as reasons why he was a little bit of a late bloomer in his first season. Shanahan details the work he put in:
He took a huge step last year. I don't know if he was totally ready...I know he wasn't totally ready at the beginning of the year but he was a guy that we thought had too much talent to put on the practice squad. We were scared that we’d lose him, we knew some teams might take him off, so we put him on our roster and once we had some had some injuries he got out there a little more than he should have, early. He was a guy who I talk about where I think he was a little overwhelmed at first, but he kept battling through it. Even when we would ride him, he didn't go into a shell, he kept working. He and our receiving coach Mike LaFleur put in a lot of time together in learning the stuff. We had to move him around a bunch.
What is notable about this story is how Bourne responded. Working extensively with LaFleur to really hone his skills helped a great deal. His play towards the end of the season reflects his diligence. He ended the season with 16 receptions for 257 yards giving him an average of 16.1 yards per catch. Those all came in the last eight games of the season although he played in 11 games total.
He responded well to challenges off the field as well, challenges that he made for himself.
He was late to a couple of things and I rode him pretty hard. I didn't think he was quite ready to make an NFL roster, but he was too talented for us to lose. We did believe in him but he needed to grow up a little bit, which we all do, and it was really cool how he responded because some guys will take that personally, sometimes guys realize you’re just trying to help them learn from it and I think he did and it’s a credit to him. I was really happy knowing where he was at the beginning of the year, and where he ended he should be very proud of his first year. He better not be relaxing right now just sitting back and enjoying that though, he’s got to come and prove himself again this year.