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49ers’ Brandon Aiyuk is putting in the work to be a difference maker as a rookie

The receiver talked to the media after practice and touched on working with QB Jimmy Garoppolo, learning Kyle Shanahan’s playbook and the difference between college and pro corners.

Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

When the San Francisco 49ers lost veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders to free agency, it was no secret that they would be looking to add another wideout at the 2020 NFL Draft. The Niners originally had the No. 13 selection, and several experts linked them to players like Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, and CeeDee Lamb.

Ruggs was off the board when the 49ers were slated to pick. General manager John Lynch traded back one spot, and with Jeudy and Lamb available, it looked like San Francisco would select Sanders’ replacement.

Instead, Lynch and co. picked massive defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw. The 49ers still had the 31st pick, and with the draft being deep at the receiver position, it looked like the Niners would take one with their second first-round selection.

When news broke that San Francisco made a deal with the Minnesota Vikings to get the 25th pick, everyone waited to see which receiver would be making his way to the Bay Area. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the 49ers selected Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk, who was head coach Kyle Shanahan’s top-rated receiver.

Aiyuk had 65 receptions for 1,192 yards and eight touchdowns with the Sun Devils in 2019. He led all college football receivers averaging 19.4 yards per touch last season.

With No. 1 receiver Deebo Samuel sidelined, and Jalen Hurd out for the year with a torn ACL, Aiyuk will be pivotal to the Niners’ success in 2020. He talked to the media after practice and touched on several topics, including how he is developing a rapport with starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo, learning Shanahan’s extensive playbook, and the challenges of not having a regular offseason due to the pandemic.

On if he is building a rapport with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo?

I think a little bit of time that we had before we got to come out here working out in San Jose, going to Tennessee, just the reps that we were able to get before getting out here, I think kind of helped us a lot. So just continue to try to build on those and just try to maximize every rep that we get together.

On what receivers coach Wes Welker wants him to focus on leading up to the season opener:

I just think for me, even without injuries, as a football player, as a receiver, that’s just something that I want to do on my own. It’s just come in and have that sense of urgency and just be urgent in everything that I do. And for Wes, that’s something that he talks about. Just being urgent on the football field, from the snap, and just having that urgency in everything that I do. Despite the injuries, just myself something that I wanted to do.

On what is the biggest difference between NFL and college corners?

I think just, every single guy you go up against they’re just gonna be they’re gonna be smart, they’re gonna be fast, they’re gonna be physical. I just think to drop off there’s not really much drop off from ones, twos, to threes, whatever the case may be. Each corner and each DB it is, they’re all sound technically. I would say that’s the biggest thing that I’ve noticed so far.

On if he has gotten tips from veteran Richard Sherman, and what it has been like learning head coach Kyle Shanahan’s playbook:

Sherm is somebody that I’ve talked to a lot. Him being a corner and being a successful corner in this league. I’m just trying to get information from him and talk to him. And then I think just the playbook. I’m just attacking it the same way I take anything else. There’s obviously a lot to it. A lot of details that we’re still trying to clean up but I think just every day, every single day, we just chip away at that and just clean those things up and just get better and better and more in tune with this playbook as the days go by.

On how much of an emphasis is being placed on his YAC by coaches?

Just when you catch the ball, whether it be catching it and breaking a route and sticking that foot in the ground and getting vertical, or catching the ball where your back is to the defense and you drop step and getting vertical right away. Those are the kind of things that you don’t normally hear a lot in college, it was just kind of something that you did. So it’s just something that we try to work on as well.

On Jimmy Garoppolo saying he sees the field like a quarterback, and potentially being used as a punt returner:

In terms of seeing the field as a quarterback, I don’t know if I see the field as well as he does, but just try to get just be quarterback friendly. Just try to see zones and just try to run my routes the way that I think that he expects me to run it. So just being where I should be in certain coverages. And then, in terms of being a punt returner, I think that’s something that I could do, but I’m back there practicing that, working at it daily, and if they need me to return punts, then that’s something that I can and will do.

On what its like catching balls from a quarterback with a quick release:

Yeah, think that there are plays where you’re running, whether it be a curl route or a route that’s coming back towards the quarterback, and it’s a timing route, you just see that as soon as you turn around that ball is right on you. So it’s been a little bit of adjustment just getting used to that. But definitely helps you don’t really think about it too much, except for the times like that come up where there’s tight coverage, or there’s a tight zone, and he’s getting that ball in there.

On what it has been like getting ready during an atypical offseason?

I think anybody coming in, they’re on a mission of their own, despite what anybody has to say about what rookies can do in their first year. So for me, I was just like trying to get as much information about the playbook as I can just to make it easier for me when I got here. I think that the zoom meetings and not having those practices, it was our first time going through this as rookies, so we just try to look at it as normal for us and just try to take as much as we can out of those zoom meetings so that when the time came to finally come out in practice, we still had the knowledge of the playbook and we’re able to just continue to build off of what we’ve learned in those zoom meetings.

On what it has been like working with Garoppolo, and how their relationship is building?

I think like the biggest thing was just the relationship that we were starting to build before we were able to come out here. I think we’re just building on the stuff that We’ve already done previously to camp starting and finally going to practice out here. I think just every single day, we’re just working. We talk about some things that we could have done differently, something that we like, some things that we could do better. So, every day, it’s just a continuous grind and just trying to build up and be ready to go Week 1.

What are your expectations for Aiyuk this season?