DETROIT — Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk barely had a role in the 49ers’ offense Sunday, and running back Trey Sermon had none at all in what would have been his NFL debut.
The reason: coaching decision.
Aiyuk’s limited snaps had more to do with Trent Sherfield’s emergence in training camp and the preseason, hence Sherfield getting the majority of action as the 49ers’ second receiver alongside starter Deebo Samuel, who had 189 yards but also a late fumble.
“Aiyuk’s only been back for a week after he tweaked his hamstring. We wanted to be smart with that,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Also, Trent Sherfield has earned the right to be out there.”
Sherfield scored the 49ers’ first touchdown of a 41-33 win over the Detroit Lions, catching Trey Lance’s first career pass for a 5-yard score on the 49ers’ second possession.
Aiyuk was not targeted among Garoppolo’s 25 passes, of which the quarterback completed 17 for 314 yards with one touchdown (to Samuel) and no interceptions.
Aiyuk did have a 7-yard punt return, but then Mohamed Sanu replaced him and had an 11-yard return.
Rumors of a Sherfield-Aiyuk shift swirled pregame but the bigger stunner at the time was Sermon, who was among the 49ers’ inactive players.
Sermon did not play in the 49ers’ second preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers because of an ankle issue, but he was not on this past week’s injury report and instead was at the bottom of the depth chart.
So once starter Raheem Mostert exited with a knee injury early in Sunday’s win, Elijah Mitchell took over and ran for 104 yards. Mitchell was a sixth-round pick and the final member of this year’s draft class that included Sermon’s arrival as a third-round pick from Ohio State.
The No. 3 back Sunday was JaMycal Hasty, whose only carry was a 3-yard touchdown run, but he had a 15-yard catch in the fourth quarter.
“We always try to (suit up) four, but those were the three in training camp that we felt were the three we going to go with,” Shanahan said. “We rotate everybody – the 1s, 2s and 3s — throughout camp. Nothing is ever firm, to tell you the truth.”
As for how Mitchell fared, Shanahan said it went as well as expected, adding: “It’s always tough in your first game. He went in there and didn’t hesitate and ran the ball well.”
Jimmy Garoppolo was more critical in terms of Mitchell’s pass blocking. Mitchell, however, put the 49ers in the lead for good with a 38-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
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