49ers HC Kyle Shanahan on recent practice brawls: ‘I want people to be irritants,’ not fighters

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan wants his players going right up to the line, but he doesn’t want them toeing it.

In response to Niners players exchanging punches — most notably linebacker Fred Warner and wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk — at Tuesday’s practice, Shanahan let it be known Friday that he wants his players to be tough, to be physical, to even be “irritants,” but he doesn’t want them throwing hands.

“I want everyone challenging each other,” Shanahan said Friday, via team transcript. “I don’t care how much crap each other talk. I don’t care how close they get to fighting. They can do whatever they want to get themselves going and being as intense as they want and bring the best out of each other, which happens a lot that way. And it’s the same on the field, but once you throw a punch, you get ejected or you get a penalty. And we pride ourselves on, I want people to be irritants. I want people to get as close as they can to all that stuff. I want people to get right on the line where they’re about to black out. But you can’t black out on football or you’ll cost your team, but I love doing that to other people.”

Much of the discourse Tuesday stemmed from Warner admittedly trying to push Aiyuk. With Aiyuk standing up for himself, it eventually led to a brawl.

Shanahan was fine with Aiyuk holding his ground.

“Definitely, I understood what he stood up to, so it didn’t bother me,” Shanahan said.

Essentially, Shanahan wants his players pushing their physicality, themselves and their opponents to the limit, but not exceeding it.

Fights in football result in penalties and busted hands, so best to put down your dukes.

“I love the intensity of it,” Shanahan said. “I don’t think you have to fight to be intense though. Scuffles are scuffles, but then they lead to other stuff. I think that’s why we have a guy in the protocol, because we took an unnecessary shot on someone which led to the big fight. And then we had a bunch of haymakers and stuff thrown in there, which will only break hands. I think our team’s pretty tough. I think we’re pretty physical. I think if most people probably voted on who was the most physical team on tape last year, I think we’d win most of that. And we didn’t get in one fight last year, so I don’t think that totally pertains to toughness.”

While Warner and Aiyuk squared off in a showdown that led to an offensive-versus-defense donnybrook on Tuesday, it came after Warner delivered a questionable hit to wide receiver Marcus Johnson. Johnson is now in concussion protocol, as referenced by Shanahan in regard to scuffles leading “to other stuff.”

So, with the 49ers having garnered headlines and caused some self-inflicted wounds this week, Shanahan has delivered his message: Keep the intensity up and your hands downs.

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