“During training camp, it’s customary for the receivers to go back out to the field in the evening and walk through routes together. Leonard Hankerson, the 49ers wide receivers coach, was behind his starting wideouts, Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, as they headed back to the field.
“BA, by himself,” Hankerson said, “and Deebo just all of a sudden decided they’re gonna switch positions.”
It can vary by offense, but the X receiver is the wideout who is tethered to the line of scrimmage. The Z receiver is on the opposite side, usually the same side as the tight end, and off the line of scrimmage. In Shanahan’s offense, Aiyuk, the best pure receiver on the team, is exclusively an X. You won’t see him go in motion much.
“He’s like, ‘I’ma go to the Z and you go to the X, Deebo.’ And I’m like, ‘OK, let me see how this gon’ work out.’ It’s not easy to be able to do that. When you can go out there and it’s clean? You don’t have many mistakes? Then I understood that it’s coming easier to him.”
Shanahan’s offense is centered on concepts. A tree of options blooms from each formation. Mastering it requires understanding the concepts, what the offense is trying to accomplish, and the variety of pieces. Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, Kyle Juszczyk and George Kittle exemplify their mastery of the offense by their ability to play different roles in multiple formations.
What Hankerson was watching was not only Aiyuk executing another role, he was witnessing a matured understanding of the offense, a new level of mastery.
“Once you get down the formations,” Hankerson said, “you can actually go out and play. It’s him having the grasp of where everybody’s lining up, as well as the concepts. Now, guess what? He can go out there and be himself. He can play fast. He can now focus on the technique part of the game.”
“Young lines up on the defense’s right side. He will go up against Packers left tackle Rasheed Walker, a second-year player who was a seventh-round draft pick from Penn State.
Packers right tackle Zach Tom will get assistance on the other side against Bosa, so Young will have plenty of one-on-one opportunities to get after Jordan Love for game-changing types of plays.”
“Shanahan prefers the possibility of holding the ball and scoring at the end of the first half, then immediately coming back and receiving the kickoff to open the third quarter.
“That’s the advantage,” Shanahan said. “If not, I think it usually plays out even. But you’ve got a chance to get an extra possession.
“Watching it all now and really studying it since I was in Atlanta, I just feel pretty strong about it.”
“Brock has this really cool multiplier of being able to extend plays and make a play out of nothing,” Griese said. “But that’s not what our offense is predicated upon. And so I think that Brock has grown significantly this year in trusting the offense — and our reads and progressions. And being able to stay as a passer for as long as he can.”
“Yeah, I don’t like to trick people into winning the game,” Shanahan said. “You want to have game-plan stuff and try to make it the easiest for the players. That’s why if something’s there (for a fake), and it’s consistent and you feel like it, then no doubt. But it rarely is like that. …
“It’s not about rolling the dice. We’ll have no problem doing that type of stuff. But you do it if you have to. I think, why would you do that stuff if you feel you’ve got a bunch of other ways to win the game? Because to make a risk when those types of things can easily lose you the game, you got to do that stuff if you feel that’s what it takes to win. But I don’t think we’ve been in that situation for a little bit.”
“Still, it’ll be hard to top Swift, who has 279 million Instagram followers and the sway of a queen.
“It’s crazy,” Kyle said. “Crazy how powerful one person is.”