49ers Questions Marks: Running Backs

So who's gonna be our starting back this year.  Quite the conundrum.  Yea, not so much.  Frank Gore busted out in a big way last season and assuming he returns to healthy and stays that way, we've got quite the bad ass for the near future.  The real question revolves around the mess sitting behind Frank Gore.  Realistically, that includes Maurice Hicks, Michael Robinson and Thomas Clayton.  Based on previous arguments, while it would be nice to have Michael Bush, we do not have him on our team so it's not worth worrying about in this context.

I've always been the type of guy that jumps on the new player that brings some excitement.  It's like somebody flashing a shiny penny to get my attention.  Sometimes I can get distracted by that.  Thomas Clayton is my shiny penny this month.  I was intrigued by him after the draft, and seeing him at practice two weeks ago only heightened my interest.  Thomas Clayton is built like nobody's business.  He's listed at 225 lbs and I'm guessing most of that is in his arms and legs.  I think he could be a beast in picking up tough yards.  Of course, on the downside, there are reasons he was a 6th round pick, which automatically puts him at a disadvantage.  I checked out his scouting report at ESPN and aside from his character issues, his primary weaknesses were:

Doesn't always read blocks well and dances in the hole too much. Tries to make too much happen when the hole isn't there and needs to be more efficient. He is not a physical runner and will run out of bounds too frequently instead of taking on defenders for extra yards at the end of runs. He shows good initial quickness and straight-line burst, but he is a bit tight in the hips and does not display good lateral mobility. Has some problems holding onto the football and needs to practice better ball security at times. His pass pro technique and effort are below average.

While Maurice Hicks is obviously an option as the backup running back, he just doesn't excite me enough to discuss.  I'd rather go from Thomas Clayton to Michael Robinson.  In looking at Robinson, he has certainly spawned quite a bit of debate.  Considering he was primarily a quarterback in college, he still has quite the steep learning curve.  Arnaz Battle started as a QB but had a bit more experience as a receiver heading into the pros, so it's not quite the same.  

The battle between Robinson and Clayton will be interesting in part because I think it's a decent possibility that Clayton could pass Robinson on the depth chart.  Clayton was a running back throughout college unlike Robinson.  While I'd love to see Robinson take the leap to the next level, I really don't have any idea what to expect.  And considering we're relying so heavily on Frank Gore, we're certainly going to need SOMEBODY to step forward as a legitimate backup.  I'd love to see Robinson and Clayton both look good and be able to provide Gore with some breathers every so often (yea, that's a pretty shocking request I bet).

While there are plenty of training camp battles, I'm most excited about this fight for the 2nd and 3rd string running back.  While it doesn't matter if we beat the Broncos, I do think it's very valuable to see how our running backs perform on Monday.  It's one thing that is actually very important in these preseason games.

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