Why veterans love to keep playing for 49ers' Kyle Shanahan
Each year, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan brings in veteran free agents from his previous stops, then they profess their love for his offensive mind and scheme.
No surprise there. Who wouldn’t? But they also marvel at Shanahan and his staff’s ingenuity in finding new ways to attack.
“To see how it’s evolved is pretty wild,” guard Tom Compton said on a recent video conference with reporters.
This offseason brought in Compton and fellow offensive lineman Trent Williams from Shanahan’s stint as Washington’s offensive coordinator (2010-13), as well as wide receiver Travis Benjamin from?Shanahan’s one-and-done year in Cleveland (2014).
Since arriving in 2017, Shanahan has tapped into his history of familiar players, but he has not necessarily relied on them to build the 49ers into a Super Bowl contender.
“Kyle knows how to scheme offense up,” quarterback Brian Hoyer said upon his 2017 arrival. “When people talk about offensive gurus, he knows what to do.”
Hoyer did not relive his past Browns glory and went 0-6 before the 49ers benched and jettisoned him. Whether Shanahan switches out quarterbacks, running backs or other personnel, the fundamental principles of his offense stay the same. Then clever twists keep defenses off guard.
It’s what we hear year after year as former players reunite with him. His Washington pipeline brought in Pierre Garçon, Aldrick Robinson, Logan Paulson and Tim Hightower. Shanahan’s Atlanta days delivered him Tevin Coleman, Mike Person, Ben Garland and Levine Toilolo.
What Shanahan must do, what any NFL coach must do, is adapt and innovate.
“The things added with fullbacks, tight ends, the wide receivers in motion, it adds so much to the playbook,” Compton said. “It’s really cool to see how it’s evolved.”
Williams played the first four seasons of his career in Shanahan’s system, and despite this offseason being restricted to Zoom calls and distance learning, Williams has no hesitations about taking over at left tackle, having been traded from Washington to replace the retired Joe Staley.
“Under regular circumstances, it’d be extremely challenging, it’d be next to impossible to be as effective as you want to be without having a proper offseason,” Williams said recently. “In this case, I literally can go line up in that huddle and go run a play today.
“That’s how familiar I am with the offense. The learning curve is a lot shorter.”
Benjamin concurred, even though it’s been six years since he first caught Shanahan’s eye as a Browns speed threat. Benjamin says the 49ers offense is familiar aside from “a couple words” and adjustments such as deeper route depths.
“I know what situations Kyle likes in his offense and the tempo he likes to move the ball, the situation, the receiver sets,” Benjamin said. “Kyle loves speed. Whenever there is a fast guy willing to make a play, Kyle is willing to draw it up for you.”
Shanahan constantly puts players in motion, each with a purpose. Each new offensive player offers new possibilities.
For example, wide receiver Deebo Samuel sees similarities between him and first-round draft pick Brandon Aiyuk, which Shanahan will use to the 49ers’ benefit.
“It’ll give defenses a problem, like, say the ?jet-sweep motions,” Samuel said. “They’re so used to seeing me, and if they see a different guy, it will give them defenses something to think about.”
Think about this: Shanahan knows his personnel better than ever. Jimmy Garoppolo has a full season under his belt (and rebuilt knee). George Kittle has evolved into a ?first-team All-Pro, which helps as a young receiving corps matures. And, of course, familiar linemen and star fullback Kyle Juszcyzk are in place to spring holes for Raheem Mostert or Coleman or Samuel or Aiyuk or whoever Shanahan conjures up to spark an ever-evolving, ever-threatening offense.
Shanahan has help, of course, and he made sure before Super Bowl LIV to acknowledge his ?right-hand men, Mike LaFleur and Mike McDaniel, coordinators of the pass and run games.