49ers stars celebrate selfless wide receiver blocking in film session originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area
SANTA CLARA – Brock Purdy perfectly set the stage Thursday for what it was like the first time the entire 49ers team watched Christian McCaffrey’s 65-yard touchdown run against the Pittsburgh Steelers in San Francisco’s 30-7 Week 1 win.
Except the 49ers quarterback wasn’t describing McCaffrey’s spin move into the open field. He wasn’t praising the running back’s acceleration down the left sideline or how he was weaving in and out of the defense and into the end zone. Purdy was speaking to blocks by wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Ray-Ray McCloud during McCaffrey’s highlight-reel touchdown.
“Yeah, yeah, it was awesome,” Purdy said. “The first time we watched it, everybody’s … you know the sounds that they make. B.A.’s block first, everyone was going crazy about that.”
Aiyuk, after being pushed at the line of scrimmage, sprinted alongside McCaffrey, found Steelers safety Damontae Kazee and leveled him to the ground. Aiyuk stayed in stride the whole time and kept sprinting down the field with the 49ers running back.
That’s when McCloud’s smarts came into play. The veteran receiver didn’t need to be as physical as Aiyuk, yet was equally effective.
“And then Ray-Ray coming, running around the corner, you could see Ray-Ray starting to run and then everyone’s like hyping him up and when he made his block, everyone was going crazy,” Purdy said.
McCloud somehow caught up to veteran Steelers cornerback Patrick Peterson, stayed in front of him the whole time and brought the three-time All-Pro down to the ground as McCaffrey ran in for six points.
McCaffrey carried the ball 22 times for 152 yards, his most in a 49ers uniform. The 49ers totaled 188 rushing yards on the day, which was 147 more than the Steelers. Aiyuk already had caught two touchdowns before propelling McCaffrey and decleating a Steelers defender. McCloud didn’t have a single reception on the day, but returned three punts for 47 yards.
Both were completely selfless to help one of San Francisco’s many stars.
“That’s what we’re talking about – not having ego, being selfless, being able to make blocks like that even though those are guys that catch balls, score touchdowns, all that kind of stuff,” Purdy said. “But being willing to block in the run game down the field, we all feed off it and so we got to maintain it and continue that.”
Aiyuk is listed at 6-foot, 200 pounds and McCloud comes in at 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds. Neither are block-first receivers and don’t have the ideal frame for skill on paper. Receivers like Deebo Samuel, who is a powerful 215 pounds, or Jauan Jennings (6-foot-3 and 212 pounds), look more the part at the position. Samuel was drafted in 2019 and the 49ers added Jennings through the draft the next year in 2020.
But it’s a different receiver the 49ers brought in during 2019 who George Kittle, one of the best blocking tight ends in football, believes really set the tone for the receivers. And it’s someone who was 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds in his playing days.
“Emmanuel Sanders when he came in and he listened to Kyle [Shanahan] and he blocked the way he wanted him to,” Kittle said. “Emmanuel’s a big guy, but he’s not the biggest guy in the room. You saw his effort on every single play – running routes when he wasn’t getting the ball to get other guys open, the backside of run plays digging out safeties – it kind of showed our young guys that’s what it’s supposed to look like.”
Blocking as a receiver is a must for Shanahan’s system, as well as a mindset that general manager John Lynch expects as a Hall of Fame safety himself. It sets the tone, and that’s exactly what Aiyuk and McCloud did the first game of the season.
RELATED: Five 49ers to watch vs. Rams
On a team full of offensive stars who can reach the end zone at any point, blocks by two receivers still were creating the biggest buzz in the 49ers’ locker room days after a 23-point blowout victory.
“There is such a lack of ego in the locker room and I think that starts with the leaders on this team,” McCaffrey said Thursday. “That’s why when I came in it was such an eye-opening experience and such a cool locker room to be a part of.
“You have so many guys on this team who are unbelievable at what they do, but are also willing to block downfield like B.A., like Ray-Ray. You see Jauan Jennings, he’s a guy who’s a star receiver on other teams, a big-name guy who can play the position really well. But you watch the intent that he blocks with and that’s something that you can’t really coach. It’s the intent of how you go about your business.
“It’s fun to be part of a selfless team like that.”