Why Brandon Aiyuk, Trey Sermon playing time decisions were clear

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Why Aiyuk, Sermon playing time decisions were clear to Shanahan originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Brandon Aiyuk’s limited involvement and Trey Sermon not suiting up in the 49ers' 41-33 win over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday surprised everyone except Kyle Shanahan. 

The head coach spoke to local media via conference call on Monday, and explained why the decisions were obvious to him. In simple terms, along with being limited by injuries in training camp, Trent Sherfield and Elijah Mitchell played better than Aiyuk and Sermon in practice. 

Shanahan has not spoken to either Aiyuk or Sermon yet, but he expects that they handled their limited duties like professionals. Part of Sermon being inactive on game day was simple math with the team only being allowed 48 active players for each game. 

“[Sermon] battled some injuries through training camp, so did Elijah,” Shanahan said. “Elijah came in and looked a little bit ahead of him in the limited plays that he got. And no one was passing up Raheem [Mostert], so when you can only get three guys up, it’s not an easy decision but that’s part of the NFL.”

Sermon will have his chance to prove he is worthy of game reps this week with Mostert headed to injured reserve. The veteran running back will undergo a procedure on the cartilage in his knee, and the rookie from Ohio State is the next man up. 

“It’s only a matter of time,” Shanahan said. “We haven’t gone through a year here where we haven’t started four different backs. We are into Week 2 and he’s up regardless and I expect him to come in and play at a high level and keep getting better because we have a lot of confidence in him.”  

While Aiyuk got nearly as many snaps as Sherfield, the 2020 first-round pick was not targeted at all in Sunday’s contest. The Arizona State product had a notable rookie campaign, finishing the 2020 season with the most receiving yards on the 49ers. 

Shanahan was splitting reps between the two wideouts, and Sherfield ended up catching two of his three targets for 23 yards and a touchdown. The former Arizona Cardinal was on the field for 27 snaps and Aiyuk saw 26 plays. 

“I just think he has a better person behind him this year in training camp,” Shanahan said. “With Aiyuk missing some time and how well Trent Sherfield played, it wasn’t a very tough decision.

“When guys are rotating that much 50-50, I don’t really ask who is in. I’m good with either one of them getting the ball. Whoever is in there at the time, it doesn’t matter to me.”

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While the public might have been surprised at the lack of production from Aiyuk, Shanahan said that the sharing of game reps was what the team saw in practice throughout the past couple of weeks. The head coach doesn’t think any of the players were caught off guard.

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