SANTA CLARA — Four practices into camp, with four quarterbacks eagerly targeting him, Brandon Aiyuk is undeniably the 49ers’ go-to man.
He might be the only person alive not fretting over who will throw the 49ers’ football this season, even though all signs point to that quarterback being Brock Purdy, who idled Sunday before rejoining Monday’s first full-pads practice.
Aiyuk is unfazed by this camp’s carousel of quarterbacks, and, yes, reporters are grilling coach Kyle Shanahan why No. 4 option Brandon Allen is getting so many snaps when Trey Lance and Sam Darnold sure could use the reps.
Aiyuk’s job, as he sees it in Shanahan’s offense: Be in the right place, at the right time, then make the catch every time.
“We’re steps. We’re timing,” Aiyuk said. “So if I’m getting to my spots, quarterbacks are supposed to put the ball in the exact same spot, whether it’s Brock, whether it’s B.A., it doesn’t really matter. Get to your spot and find the ball.”
Day 1: Aiyuk acrobatically adjusts in mid-air to snare for a Lance pass over Deommodore Lenoir on the sideline.
Day 2: Aiyuk welcomes Purdy and his surgically repaired eblow to practice by catching three balls, including one in a tight squeeze over the middle.
Day 3: He catches two more throws from Purdy, then daringly dives for a potential toe-tap catch on a Purdy pass that clearly is sailing far out of bounds.
Day 4: He acts as Sam Darnold’s muse with four receptions, leading off red-zone drills with a 16-yard grab for camp’s first touchdown catch. That same combination yields the same result three snaps later. Even when Brandon Allen enters shortly thereafter, Aiyuk made a touchdown grab in red-zone action.
All that set the stage for the best receiving showcase of camp, in 11-on-11 action from midfield. Darnold followed Lance in the rotation and, amid a collapsing pocket, immediately sought and found Aiyuk over the middle. Two snaps later, Aiyuk delivered a 50-yard catch-and-run touchdown, by breaking past cornerback A.J. Parker, gracefully hurdling across the goal line, then merrily chucking the football into the fence.
The next play was almost a duplicate, only it was Deebo Samuel making that catch about 5 yards deeper and also racing to the same front, right corner of the end zone.
So, Aiyuk vs. Samuel for WR1 honors? It’s really a misnomer. Aiyuk broke out last season into a 1,000-yard receiver. Samuel is more of a physical beast whose run-after-the-catch ability is unmatched in the NFL. Whatever financial showdown the 49ers face in 2024 to retain both, it’s not a sibling rivalry.
“I watch the way he goes about his business and that motivates me to be better. I’m sure he says the same,” Aiyuk said. “We have each other. … It’s like having a big brother you get to watch do big things and you see where you can take it to, if you do stuff the right way.”
When camp opened, Shanahan raved how “obsessed” Aiyuk had become with football and become a pro, some two years removed from being in the coach’s doghouse. Shanahan expanded on that Sunday, saying how Aiyuk’s offseason included “randomly calling and talking about football” with his coach.
“You could just tell he was excited, with the questions he asked. He was really into it,” Shanahan said.
Darnold’s most impressive practice in a 49ers uniform saw him complete eight passes (as many as the first three practices combined). He didn’t flinch as the pocket caved, and he found the receivers in space created by the defense’s increased blitzes under new coordinator Steve Wilks.
“He’s a very talented guy. Everyone’s really liked working with him The team’s loved him,” Shahanan said. “He’s doing good things out there and he’s getting more and more comfortable each day.”
Lance was 5-of-8, plus he ran for a touchdown in a red-zone drill. After throwing a touchdown pass to Chris Conley in red-zone action, Lance missed Deebo Samuel on his next throw, then his final was batted down at the line by Kerry Hyder Jr.
THE OTHER ‘B.A.’
Why is Allen is getting an ample amount of reps while Lance and Darnold have rotated so much in camp? Shanahan replied that Allen “earned them in OTAs, did a good job.” That said, things could change once four quarterbacks are on the floor, so to speak. “It’ll bump down when we get four out there,” Shanahan said. “It’s exciting to put pads on (Monday) and play more football. It’s about 30 days away (from roster decisions). We’ll see how it unfolds.”
Allen went 3-of-5 on Sunday, including a touchdown strike to Aiyuk — the original “B.A.” who’s having a tough time invoking that nickname on someone else. “I was just talking in the locker room, ‘B.A. B.A.!’ because he threw me a great ball in the red zone today. It was weird, for sure,” Aiyuk said.
NO BOSA MOVEMENT
Defensive end Nick Bosa remained a no-show six days into camp, to which Shanahan said: “Haven’t heard anything. So no updates there.” Bosa, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is in line for a contract extension that figures to soar over $30 million annually, rather than report, practice or play under his fifth-year option at $18 million.
JACKSON’S PASS COVERAGE
Defensive end’s Drake Jackson second-year jump is being measured by his improved strength and stamina. Utlimately, it will be based on his ability to impact quarterbacks with his pass rush. Sunday, however, it was judged by his impressive pass coverage to break up a 15-yard Lance pass intended for running back Elijah Mitchell. “I’m just happy I stayed with,” Jackson said. “I just want to make a play. (Pass coverage) is not something I really pride myself on. Just want to make a play, and I was just stopping the offense from getting yards.”
Sunday’s other top defensive play: Curtis Robinson forced and recovered a Jordan Mason fumble, between Darnold completions to Aiyuk.
Rookie Jake Moody has been seemingly perfect in camp, and so was fellow kicker Zane Gonzalez on Sunday with all five of his kicks.
VIPs IN ATTENDANCE
It was a Class of 2005 reunion: Retired quarterback Alex Smith observed practice and did so at the start with Frank Gore, the 49ers’ all-time rushing king who Saturday officially signed on as an analyst for the 49ers’ personnel department.
— Cam Inman (@CamInman) July 30, 2023
Also watching were two members of the 49ers’ last Super Bowl-winning team: Ed McCaffrey, father of the 49ers’ star running back Christian McCaffrey; and, Mike Shanahan, father of the 49ers’ coach. Levi’s Stadium’s electronic billboards congratulated the elder Shanahan for advancing in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s semifinalist stage in the coach/contributor category.
GOLDSON AMONG INTERNS
Dashon Goldson, a Pro Bowl safety with the 49ers a decade ago, is among the six interns at camp via the Bill Walsh NFL Coaching Fellowship program. Goldson is working with the 49ers’ defensive backs. He began his 10-year playing career with the 49ers (2007-12) before moving on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2013-14), Washington Commanders (2015) and Atlanta Falcons (2016). Other coaching interns are Dwain Bradshaw (strength/conditioning), Ilyas Hamidzada (tight end), Jordan Hogan (wide receivers), DeOn’tae Pannell (offensive line) and Charles Williams III (defensive line).
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