How Garçon's 'dark place' rubbed off on 49ers in right way originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
It is no coincidence that the 49ers are one of the best teams at getting yards after the catch while sharing an intense mindset on the field.
Coach Kyle Shanahan calls it the “dark place.” George Kittle plays with it, it makes Deebo Samuel laugh and it causes Jeff Wilson to go quiet. Shanahan believes that mentality is essential to a player’s success in the NFL.
“I think what separates people is what's inside,” Shanahan said Monday. “In order to bring that out on the football field, you’ve got to be in a pretty aggressive mindset. It's a very aggressive sport. I don't care how tough you are. Those hits hurt and they hurt people.
“If you sit there and you think about it, you'll ease up as the game goes. But, if you can go to that dark place and get your mind right, it can take you to a whole other level”
After the 49ers’ 33-6 win over the New England Patriots, Kittle shared how he loves being on a team “with a bunch of psychopaths.” He revealed that one of the biggest influences on his mindset has been Pierre Garçon, who was on the 49ers in 2017 and 2018, Kittle’s first two seasons in the league.
"The first person who I ever saw go to a dark place was Pierre Garçon,” Kittle said. “His mindset when he goes into a game, it was incredible. He’d punch himself in the head after first downs and that was the first look I really got of it. The longer I’ve been here, the more Kyle talks about it.”
That aggressive mentality is one of the primary reasons Shanahan wanted to bring Garçon to Santa Clara back in 2017. Shanahan hoped that the receiver’s toughness would rub off on his young roster.
“Pierre was one of my favorite people I've ever coached in terms of what we’re talking about right now,” Shanahan said. “People didn’t want to mess with him. They could feel it from him, the anger he played with and the energy he played with.
“That's something that is hard to get to rub off on people. That's why Pierre always had a close spot to me and why I wanted him here.”
Kittle and Samuel are very vocal about running with such an aggression, noting that defenders take “interesting angles” when trying to tackle them. Both also run with the belief it will take more than one player to bring them to the ground and that the goal of every play is to get into the end zone.
Through Week 7 the 49ers rank first in the league gaining 5.9 yards after the catch per reception and sixth in total YAC with 1,955. Their violent mentality plays a large role in that statistic.
Though Samuel and Garçon never shared the same locker room, the young receiver plays with the same mentality, not afraid of contact, and instead wanting to deliver it. Samuel often is seen in games lowering his pads hitting defenders with a full head of steam, all with a huge grin across his face.
"You see Deebo do it a lot, just in how he plays,” Shanahan said. “He's usually giggling half the time, but he's still a little off out there if you watch how he plays, just like Kittle is.”
Wilson, before leaving Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, gained more yards than he had in 2019 combined. Shanahan was effusive about the attitude he saw from the running back throughout the game, pointing out a particular moment when he tried to talk to him.
“Every time he gets hit, it looks like the goal line is right in front of him and he's doing everything he can to cross that,” Shanahan said. "You can see it on the field. I went to try to talk to him during the second quarter. He barely could communicate with me because he was in that spot.”
Shanahan explained that there is a fine line between playing with aggression and not taking it too far. Inaccuracy and penalties can be the downfall of a team. Players still need to execute, not becoming a detriment to their team and Garçon had the ability to do just that.
While Shanahan wishes that the veteran wide receiver’s career with the 49ers wasn’t cut short by injury, he is happy to know that Garçon's influence left an impression that still is felt by his star tight end.
“I love that George brought that up because that was my favorite thing about Pierre,” Shanahan said. “I'm glad George remembers that.”