San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan addressed the media Monday and spoke about how the team will miss wideout Deebo Samuel. Some of the language Kyle used stood out:
“Yeah, Deebo is a huge part of our offense, huge part of our team. When you have a threat of someone who can hurt you, whether it’s blocking, whether it’s catching or whether it’s running, that’s always is an issue for defenses. I truly believe the, I’ve always kind of said this with the offenses, the mentality of a receiver group can really add to the mentality of your offense because I always feel running backs, O-Linemen don’t have a choice. They have to be physical all the time and receivers somewhat do have a choice. They can get away with a little bit and the physicality our receivers bring to the game, and starting with Deebo, really helps our offense. We’ll miss him when he’s out. That’s for sure.”
Mentality. Deebo is cut from a different cloth, and that’s been on display each time he touches the ball in New England. Samuel has no interest in running out of bounds. Instead, he’d much rather run you over. The Patriots, as with many defenses, found that out the hard way. That type of mentality wears on you as a tackler, which is why Samuel will continue to get carries and touches once he returns to the lineup. That, and he’s one of the best players on the team.
How do the 49ers replace Samuel? They don’t. Richie James is day-to-day, Trent Taylor played three snaps against New England, and Dante Pettis has been a healthy scratch for three games in a row. Each of those wideouts has return ability, so on paper, it makes sense to use them on underneath routes out of the backfield as the Niners did with Samuel this past Sunday.
You won’t confuse either of those three with Samuel anytime soon. Could we see Kevin White active? He’s played a total of two snaps on offense this season and is best known for his decision, which was far from a good one, to bring a kick out of the end zone. If the 49ers were confident in White as a returner, you’d think he’d be capable of handling Samuel’s role of “jet sweep/screen/slant/gadget player.” Samuel tends to make what he does look a lot easier than it should.
Let’s play the hypothetical game and pretend James is inactive Sunday against the Seahawks. The “mentality” part explains why Pettis has been a healthy scratch. The Niners might not have a choice to play their second-round receiver who they traded up for. That’s a sentence that has to be typed. Seattle cannot stop the pass. They’re 23rd in dropback EPA and 26th in passing success rate. They’ve also given up the fourth-most explosive passing plays in the NFL.
Shanahan said he has a lot of confidence in Taylor but felt like Kendrick Bourne has earned more opportunities. Sunday is an opportunity for the passing offense to continue to excel, but I’m not sure Taylor is the answer. Who would you use?