49ers Mailbag: Was Brandon Aiyuk struggling?

The 49ers may be off for summer vacation, but discussions of the team’s prospects for 2022 will continue.

With the team canceling the final day of minicamp, there was time to finally get around to opening the mail. The 49ers Faithful came strong with a number of questions about the state of the offensive line and secondary, along with player-specific questions. Let’s take a look. 

What position group or groups took a big step forward this offseason? – Niners Jess, @JM41484 

The 49ers roster has taken big steps forward in multiple areas, including cornerback, wide receiver, and running back. 

The addition of Charvarius Ward is a significant upgrade for San Francisco’s secondary. If Jason Verrett can get fully healthy, they could have one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL. Don’t forget about Emmanuel Moseley and Ambry Thomas, who moved into the starting lineup late in the regular season. 

The wide receiver room is much improved over last season. Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Jauan Jennings lead the way, but the rest of the room makes this group so much better. Ray-Ray McCloud’s ability to make plays all over the field was impressive during OTAs and minicamp. Rookie Danny Gray will be an improvement over Travis Benjamin as the deep threat. Veterans Malik Turner, Austin Mack, and Marcus Johnson will fight for the final spot on the roster with rookies Tay Martin and Taysir Mack. 

At running back, I think the top three are set with Elijah Mitchell, Trey Sermon, and rookie Tyrion Davis-Price. Veteran Jeff Wilson Jr will battle with JaMycal Hasty and Jordan Mason for the final spot on the roster. 

Who do you think will take the starting slot cornerback role is year? – Gavin Ferguson, @g_fergy 

I think the starting slot cornerback in week one will be Darqueze Dennard. 

Dennard is a former first-round pick who filled in for San Francisco during the second half of their week 18 win over Los Angeles to reach the playoffs. The veteran has taken all the snaps with the starters throughout the offseason program. 

Don’t sleep on Samuel Womack here. The rookie from Toledo has shown the ability in coverage to get the job done inside for the 49ers. My only concern with Womack is if he’s big enough right now to hold up in run support. Womack is not quite as thick as Dennard, and based on his college film it doesn’t look as though he’s aggressive enough at the point of attack. 

If Jordan Mason approaches preseason like he did minicamp, does he make the 53-man roster? – Imagidadnation, @imagidadnation 

I think so. 

As I mentioned earlier, the top three running backs look to be locked in. That group is heavy on guys who are going to pound defenses between the tackles, while Mason brings something different. 

Mason showed explosiveness as a runner and receiver during the OTA and minicamp practices. If he shows the ability to help in special teams, he will knock Jeff Wilson Jr and JaMycal Hasty off the roster.

Is Brandon Aiyuk struggling like some are suggesting and should we expect him to finally take that next step this season? – MrPTown49, @MrPTown49 

Aiyuk’s performances during OTA and minicamp practices weren’t what you’d expect from a former first-round wide receiver entering his third year in the system. 

With Deebo Samuel not participating, Ray-Ray McCloud was making play after play, not Aiyuk. 

Having spent time working with Trey Lance over the offseason in Southern California, the two were expected to be on the same page from the get-go. That wasn’t the case. In fact, one of the two interceptions from Lance came after a perfectly thrown pass bounced off Aiyuk’s hands in the endzone. 

Do you feel the offensive line we have right now is sturdy enough to make another playoff run, and do you think they are mobile enough to protect Trey Lance for 17 plus games? – 490 We Global, @490TankMates 

Yes, I do. I think the concern for the offensive line is based only on the unknown. 

The 49ers selected Aaron Banks last season with an eye toward him moving into the starting lineup in 2022. Banks struggled early in training camp last season with switching from the left to right side and then injured his shoulder in the first preseason game against Kansas City. The time missed set him back, and nobody other than the 49ers had a chance to see him in action during the regular season. 

Having played only 250 offensive snaps in his career makes Jake Brendel a question mark at center. Offensive line coach Christ Foerster knew Brendel from their time together in Miami and pushed for the 49ers to sign the former UCLA Bruin during the 2020 offseason. If he hadn’t opted out due to Covid-19, the 49ers might have been in a better position to go through the season without Weston Richburg. 

Consider this; the 49ers allowed 39 sacks in 2020 while playing musical chairs at center and right guard. 49ers quarterbacks averaged 35.6 pass attempts that season. In 2021, Cincinnati allowed 55 sacks during the regular season and reached the Super Bowl, while Tennessee allowed 47 sacks while posting the best record in the AFC. Both teams averaged fewer pass attempts than the 49ers in 2020. The difference was the play of their quarterbacks.

Who is going to be this year’s surprise pass rushing star? Drake Jackson, Charles Omenihu or Kemoko Turay? – Uncle Salty, @mba_seattle 

I don’t expect much out of Jackson this season. The 49ers have a deep core of edge rushers, and Jackson will see around 15 total snaps per week on average. 

Look for Omenihu to reprise the role Arden Key played for the 49ers defense over the second half of the season. Omenihu was often used as an inside pass rusher during his time in Houston, and that experience will help him in San Francisco. Look for him to receive favorable matchups inside with the attention focused on Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead. 

Kemoko Turay is my pick for the biggest surprise. He shows an explosive first step and the ability to make life miserable for offensive tackles. Turay will compete for snaps with Samson Ebukam; however, I can see him bettering his career-high of 5.5 from last year with Indianapolis. 

This article has 18 Comments

  1. An excellent summary of the 2022 9ers Jack.
    * The defense looks solid and IMO, they’re the best in the NFL! The only question being, who will be the starting NB? If Jason Verrett stays healthy, he could be a factor for playing time…And a question of, will the 9ers resigning Tartt?

    * With the Hire of Brian Schneider as Special Teams Coordinator, ST looks to be much improved and no longer a
    threat to lose games. (Thinking of the 9er loss to Seattle).

    * The offense has multiple questions that must be answered before the regular season begins.
    1) What to do with JG, being at the top of the list, cutting Dee Ford and salary cap saving to extend Bosa and Deebo.
    2) How will the 9ers new QB, Lance, work out? Can he complete passes to his WR’s and TE’s?
    3) The offensive line: Questions for every O-Line position other than TW. A) Can the 9er O-Line protect lance? B) Can the O-Line open lanes for the RB’s?

    The 9ers have not released the training camp schedule yet, but the sessions should begin in late July. (A couple of weeks before the preseason opener). We’ll begin to find out if the O-Line is capable of being successful.
    As a 9er fan, I hope they’re all successful….BUT….The Pre season play of the O-Line, will determine the fate of Center, Jake Brendel, RG Daniel Brunskill and RT Mike McGlinchey…….TBD!

    1. Agree with Jack that if Mason can play special teams and employ that great speed, he may make the team. I wonder who Jack sees as PR and KR this year?

  2. Jack
    I’ve posed this question, but can’t find enough tape to make a final decision on how Moore fits the Inside zone.

    My question is: In your opinion, will Jaylon Moore replace Daniel Brunskill at RG? If so, before or after the bye?
    As of now, I’m leaning yes. Moore will, but when depend on the 9ers / Brunskills success for the first 4-5 games!

  3. Look for Aiyuk to rebound in camp. His lack of performance in OTA’s is odd though. Mainly, we need Deebo signed and ready to go before full camp opens. I am hoping mason is as good as he looks. He does have a chance to be the annual undrafted gem we usually find. Hasty is just ok. He could join the team in the season if he is needed due to injuries. I worry Jeff Wilson, tough as he was, may be missing a step after serious injuries?

    1. Allie
      The 9er QB’s throw timing routes (IE Lance throws to a spot on the field where the WR is supposed to be). So It’s Likely all the receivers will have to adjust to the speed that Lance throws the ball, as the ball will arrive sooner and
      with more velocity than they’re used to with JG. So yes, they’ll need to adjust in OTA’s

  4. Jack
    It’s now June 18 2022. The 9ers drafted EDGE Drake Jackson as their first draft pick. By waiting until after June 1st to cut Ford, the 9ers saved ~ $1.12 Mil. in cap space for the season and yet Dee Ford has still NOT BEEN CUT? Has JL, or the 9e FO explained WHY and do the 9ers receive any benefit(s) by waiting?

        1. Jack
          I understand Ford was scheduled to take his physical during the week of June 5-11. But since he hasn’t been cut yet, isn’t it reasonable to assume there’s an injury settlement negotiation ongoing?

  5. That really sucks to read about Aiyuk. The man is a special athlete. You can see it in his routes. Quick twitch, excellent acceleration, and crazy stop/start moves. To me he has everything you want from a physical trait perspective from a WR. Wonder why he just can’t put it together. Maybe just lacks focus? Or urgency in practice?

  6. I think this season could end up being rough for us. As of now I see us as an 8 win team. That could very well be 6 wins when you look a little closer at the roster.

    -3 new starters in secondary. Our previous starters were not great but they played well together. That Chemistry will no be there.

    -2 and maybe 3 new starters on the offensive line paired with a 2nd year QB who essentially is a rookie and only thrown 389 passes between college and the pros. For reference Mac Jones has 1072 att.

  7. I think we will know much more after training camp. There are lots of questions about OL. I am a real fan of Hufanga but worry he is not yet ready to start at safety. Great on special teams though. I think we fans will have a renewed surge of optimism if Deebo signs and some solution is found for Jimmy G.

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