49ers on Thursday: Aiyuk awakens after ‘some words’ from coach Shanahan

SANTA CLARA — Brandon Aiyuk finally made the national highlights again, at least in terms of the NFL’s official Instagram account.

Still, a video there highlighted how Aiyuk “was HYPED coming all the way across the field to make a key block.”

Hyped as in his post-play celebration by enthusiastically sprinting toward the end zone.

“The game was sealed and the game was pretty much won right there. That’s where the excitement was from,” Aiyuk said.

The 49ers’ coaches, players and alumni endorsed the play, too. Aiyuk hustled from the right flank to make a block near the left boundary, opening a lane for Mitchell to finish off a 39-yard run with 3 1/2 minutes remaining in a 33-22 win at Chicago.

That play signaled how Aiyuk has rebooted his season, after a slow start and with heavy coaching from Kyle Shanahan.

“After the bye week, talking with coaches, assessing where we’re at, I took that as the start of the season,” Aiyuk said Thursday. “It was Week 1, and to take that approach every week, like the first game and the first practice. Reassert yourself every day and show what you want to do every week.”

Talking with coaches?

“Me and Kyle had some words,” Aiyuk said.

Such as?

“Some words. Some words,” Aiyuk responded.

Shanahan praised Aiuyuk on Monday for “his best game as a blocker, as a runner, as a punt returner and as a receiver.” Aiyuk played a season-high 88 percent of the offensive snaps, carrying more weight as Deebo Samuel battled a calf issue.

“Especially the last couple of weeks, he’s looked like the player we envisioned when we drafted,” offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel said, “in terms of him having a lot of physical tools, but he also has the mindset and is a young guy who’s finally understanding what it means to be a pro and approach every practice as if I’m determining the game.”

Tight end George Kittle relished watching Aiyuk’s blocking, too.

“We’re starting to figure that out as a wide receiver unit again, how important that is to say, ‘Hey, I need to be on the outside shoulder on this play’ or ‘I need to bust my butt to get across the field to be on his inside shoulder’ so that makes a 10-yard run into a 30-yard run,” Kittle said.

“When you make an emphasis of that, and guys make it important to them and they celebrate it,” Kittle said, “you’re going to win games, when everybody cares about every single play.”

Aiyuk mentioned after the game that his blocking highlighted a game that also featured a season-high 45 receiving yards (four catches) and a 21-yard punt return. As for the block that helped Mitchell ice the win, former 49ers Joe Staley commented on the NFL’s Instagram post with a simple: “Love this!!!”

MITCHELL, WILLIAMS PRACTICE

After sitting out Wednesday’s practice, running back Elijah Mitchell (ribs) surfaced in a blue, no-contact jersey for limited work and left tackle Trent Williams (ankle) was moving folks around, as usual.

That duo made for an interesting story from last game, as relayed by McDaniel: “Trent Williams said something to us this week: probably on the third run of the game, an inside zone to right, it wasn’t blocked premierly, so (Mitchell) had to get downhill, and he ran downhill into Trent’s back. Trent said, ‘I haven’t been hit that hard since Adrian Peterson.’ “

McDaniel called him a “special player,” one who is coming off back-to-back, 100-yard games with 18 carries and one touchdown in each of them. The Cardinals are allowing 120.1 rushing yards per game (20th in NFL) but have yielded only four rushing touchdowns.

KITTLE ON TRACK

Kittle said he’s knocking off rust but he’s looked spry running routes, exactly how the 49ers hoped he would look after Wednesday’s return to practice from a four-week hiatus for a calf injury.

“I love football, playing football is really fun, and I’ve missed all of my friends,” Kittle said. “… Not playing for a while, I can be moody, but I try not to be as moody as Joe Staley and have a smile on my face as much as possible.”

SAMUEL ON BIKE

Samuel was limited after starting practice by conditioning on the side, riding a stationary bike and training with ropes for upper body strength.

Samuel injured his right calf Oct. 24 against Indianapolis and he aggravated it with his 171-yard output against the Bears.

ARMSTEAD’S INSIDE STORY

Defensive lineman Arik Armstead will continue to line up on the interior, as excellent as he’s been the past few years as a run-stopper on the edge. Javon Kinlaw’s season-ending knee surgery last week is a factor to that move.

“Not having Kinlaw contributes to that, but Arik has done fantastic,” defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said.

Defensive end Dee Ford (back) was limited and defensive tackle Mo Hurst (calf) was out along with safety Jimmie Ward (quadriceps).

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