49ers backup RB: Mission Critical

For a team that has one of the best running backs in the league, you'd think I would not be so worried about the backup situation.  And yet, I continue to think about it as the team's running game struggles in the preseason.  Gore's current injury is clearly not a big deal because it has nothing to do with his past injuries.  I fully expect a healthy and productive Gore leading this team back to glory.

And yet, my thoughts continue to return to our backups.  While the defense is clearly an issue, that Bears game personified the run game issues.  Had Frank Gore been in that game, I think it would have been significantly closer in the first half.  The Bears defense is obviously great.  However, the way Hicks and Robinson played yesterday, I don't think they could have done much against anybody.  If you take away each of their longest runs, they combined for 26 yards on 15 rushes.  That's somewhere between awful and pathetic.

And so we turn to my continued campaign on behalf of Thomas Clayton.  Consider me the lead cheerleader if you want, but he's officially my guy in this situation.  While I don't think much of Maurice Hicks, I do really think that Michael Robinson can be turned into a solid running back option.  However, it's going to take time.  Of all three running back options, Thomas Clayton is the only one with actual big time college experience.  Hicks had a solid career at 1-AA NC A&T, while Robinson as we all know is a converted QB from Penn State.  Clayton had his off the field issues but when he wasn't in trouble, he was a productive running back at Kansas State.  While he is a rookie, he's got a head start compared to Robinson in the running game.

Now, I'm not saying that Thomas Clayton should be the primary backup to Frank Gore.  Rather, I want to see him get more reps in the backup rotation in the last game, and also get his chances once the season starts as the team eases Frank Gore back in.  Clayton's production so far has been against third string and occasional second string opponents.  One would think that after producing against the lowest level, the opportunity should be presented to move up in competition level.  It's like starting Madden at the Rookie level.  At some point you have to move up to Veteran and then Pro Bowl and maybe finally All-Madden.  You can not stick at the same level year in and year out when you've got the talent at hand to do so much more.

Of course, like I said in the beginning, this is the backup running back position we are talking about.  Considering the work horse nature of Frank Gore it's not as big a deal as I sometimes think it is.  However, it's important to realize the necessity of depth at a position where careers end quickly and our own guy has had major injury issues before.

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