Bob Bicknell On 49ers Rookie Aaron Burbridge Playing Slot Role: “I Think He Could!”


You had one job! And you couldn’t even do that right! Luckily those words are not directed at San Francisco 49ers WR Aaron Burbridge. Instead, the 49ers sixth-round pick (No. 213) has been creating some serious noise since partaking in the team’s off-season program with his sure hands. (Watch video below as OC Curtis Modkins raves about Burbridge’s hands)

Today, 49ers WRC Bob Bicknell echoed Modkins’ assessment of Burbridge when I asked about the one thing that he’s most impressed with when thinking about the former Michigan State product.

“The first thing about Aaron [Burbridge]. Everybody’s said it. His college [Michigan State] coach [Mark Dantonio] and everyone [Modkins] is that he has strong hands.”

In 2015, Burbridge would haul in 85 catches for 1,258 yards and 7 touchdowns while being named the Big 10 Receiver of the Year. You don’t put up that type of gaudy stat line without good hand-eye coordination.

But where does Burbridge fit in when it comes to the 49ers offense? So far, Burbridge has been playing exclusively at flanker (right-side) of the formation. But things could change once training camp rolls around. I asked Coach Bicknell if Burbridge has the skill set to play the slot due to his aggressive nature and willingness to go across the middle like WR Anquan Boldin.

“I think he could,” Bicknell said.

Bicknell cited the simple question he often asks himself when evaluating a player’s heart. “How important is to certain players to be successful?”

“You could tell it’s very important to him [Burbridge] in being successful,” Bicknell said.

For a coach to say that about one of his players means everything. As a player, it signifies that you’re not only winning your battles on the field, but also winning the coach’s trust off the field. By Coach Bicknell endorsing Burbridge’s will power to improve, he is basically telling the media [me], this kid has the potential to become great. Because when you match a player who has heart with on-field production – sky’s the limit.

But what is heart, you ask?

Heart is a player’s passion, dedication, and will to succeed. I’m sure we all have friends or grown up with someone who was far more talented than us in some field, who got by with little work ethic. Whether playing a sport or finishing a project with a hard deadline, some people can just squeeze by while putting forth minimal effort. That’s just the way life is.

But did that person maximize their full potential? That’s where heart comes into play.

Heart is what separates the average players from the good players, and the good players from the great players. As a coach, you can’t coach heart. You either have it or you don’t. As a coach, you can discipline your players, give the best motivational speeches, and have daily pep talks to ensure your players are hungry to get better.

But at the end of the day, it comes down to the player, not the coach. How bad does the player want it? Some NFL players are just content with being Pro Bowlers. Others like WR Jerry Rice are not content with simply being an All-Pro but becoming the best, ever.

Rice had heart, and fortunately for Bicknell, so does Burbridge.

I’m not saying Burbridge is on Rice’s level by any stretch of the imagination. I just want to paint a clear picture that when you match heart with dedication, the full-potential for that particular player will be maximized. Simply put, the player won’t be labeled an under-achiever ala past first-round picks like DT Reggie McGrew back in 1999.

But can Burbridge relish the slot role? While Bicknell alluded that he could, it won’t be easy as Coach Bicknell believes the slot requires more cerebral recognition.

“The slot position is the toughest position to play out of the receiver group. You have to be ready to read inside backers, safeties over the top, guys that are playing you man, being able to double ya! You go on the outside, a lot of times you’re one-on-one,” Bicknell explained.

Last week, I wrote a blog on why I believe Burbridge’s best chance for playing time is under the slot. And Bicknell didn’t disagree.

“I think the slot is a very difficult position to play, especially as a young guy to see everything, to visualize. But he [Burbridge] could do that,” Bicknell said.

As the 49ers continue their second day of mandatory minicamp tomorrow, I will keep you updated on Burbridge’s progress, as the slot could be in the cards sooner rather than later.

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Ryan is the Founder/CEO of, 49ers Beat Writer, Live Game Day Correspondent for Bleacher Report and member of Pro Football Writers of America. Born and raised in San Jose, he also graduated from San Diego State University. His work has been featured on NFL Network, 95.7 The Game, National Football Post, Sports Illustrated, FanSided Network, ESPN Radio, CBS Sports 810, and NBC Bay Area News. For more information, please contact him via email at or call him at (408) 622-0996.