Niners Live hits the hole to give you the lowdown on the running back competition; and lets you know which backs are sure to see multiple carries, which ones will come in on third down, which ones will be change of pace running backs and who is in danger of getting cut.
As we continue into the second week of training camp with pads; it is increasingly clear that the rushing philosophy of the San Francisco 49ers under the direction of Running Backs Coach Bobby Turner; is a stark contrast to what the 49er Faithful are accustomed to seeing. Turner’s style calls for the offensive line to seal an inside lane, allowing the running back to hit the hole, then cut back often facing, in most cases, a sole linebacker or safety, which allows for big gains as evident in this video clip of Devonta Freeman of the Atlanta Falcons, whom Turner coached last year.
Running backs are also asked to catch the ball out of the backfield frequently, which meshes well with Head Coach Mike Shanahan’s attacking style of offense. The beauty of this system is that multiple backs get touches each and every game, leaving them fresh throughout the entire season. Now let’s look at the candidates with the opportunity to take full advantage of this system and how they have looked thus far.
Carlos Hyde entered training camp with a chip on his shoulder and he’s running with reckless abandoned as seen in this video clip. Hyde entered training camp in the best shape of his life, which caught the attention of General Manager John Lynch who discusses Hyde (via the team’s website). Hyde is even catching the ball out of the backfield with regularity, as seen in this (video clip), which hasn’t been his strong suit during his first three seasons as a 49er. Overall, Hyde has found the end zone without fail and has left no doubt which running back will take the number one spot.
Training Camp Battles: The Battle for the Number 2 Position
Tim Hightower is currently listed number 2 on the unofficial 49ers depth chart (per Eric Branch of SFChronicle.Com). He is known as an all-purpose running back that averaged 4.1 yards per carry, and caught 85 percent of his targets, averaging 9.1 yards per catch. Hightower suffered a minor knee injury during practice last Wednesday (per Grant Cohn of The Press Democrat), but he was back on the practice field Tuesday.
Joe Williams, seen by many as the eventual heir apparent to Carlos Hyde, is beginning to adjust to the speed of the game. Perhaps his best day was Saturday, when he saw a lot of open looks and took advantage of them, as seen in this video clip. Currently, he is 3rd on the depth chart.
Training Camp Battles: The Battle for the Change of Pace Back
Kapri Bibbs is currently listed 5th on the depth chart. He was picked up by the 49ers in a trade with the Denver Broncos (via 49ers.com). Seen as a back with blazing speed, he was unable to take advantage of it, and was knocked on his back by Tank Carradine in this video clip from Sunday’s practice. Judging from the decrease in the amount of touches in training camp, one could assume that Bibbs is one player who could be on the bubble.
Matt Breida, nicknamed Mr. #HeGone, continues to turn heads with an all-purpose ability, as shown in this video clip. His blazing speed fits perfectly with Bobby Turner’s system. Once he hits the hole, defenders will have a hard time catching him.
Raheem Mostert is a name most 49er Faithful’s may not remember, despite the fact that he was signed on to the practice squad and then promoted to the roster of the 49ers last season (per 49ers.com). Mostert is getting a look at the running back spot despite being known as a kick return and punt return specialist. It’s worth noting that currently Mostert is listed 4th on the depth chart.
Training Camp Battles: The Fullbacks
Kyle Juszczyk, regarded as one the best fullbacks in the NFL; is really sort of a hybrid. In Kyle Shanahan’s offense, Juszczyk will become a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield, a specialty he has thrived in during his 4-year NFL career. Last season, he caught 75.5 percent of his targets, averaging 7.2 yards per catch. He analyzes his own versatility in this video clip.
Rookie Tyler McCloskey is listed number 2 on the depth chart for the fullback position and is Juszczyk’s lone competition. McCloskey played a similar attacking style at the University of Houston, but was primarily used as a tight end. The question is, will he be able to show enough to make the case for a second fullback on this year’s squad? Conventional wisdom says no.
This attack style backfield will keep defensive coordinators guessing, with their ability to hit the hole as a runner as well as to provide another passing option for Brian Hoyer. Recent article alert: Kyle Shanahan’s Offense will have Defenses Playing on their Heels. Every running back will be held accountable, as each back will see touches throughout the season. It’s not just a case of the run setting up the pass, as Coach Shanahan is trying to hit a home run with every snap and it’s clear he has the hitters in the backfield to do just that.
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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author and new Staff Writer @NinersLive.net, David Edmondson. Co-Author, Content Creator, Editor, Sequoia Sims