There are certain stretches of the offseason where the beat writers converge on the same topic. There are limited opportunities to speak with players during this stretch of time, so when one player speaks, it makes sense that everyone will have a story on him. A couple weeks back, that story was about Brandon Jacobs losing some weight and doing squats for the first time in six years. Given some of the concerns about Jacobs tip-toeing a bit too much and not using enough of his size and brute strength, these are pertinent stories.
Speaking of power rushing, running backs coach Tom Rathman had some comments about the running backs and Jacobs in particular:
Q: The critique of Brandon Jacobs in New York was that he didn't hit the hole like a big back should. Would you agree that that's something he needs to improve upon?
RATHMAN: I don't know about that. Evaluating him, I thought he was a very physical runner. He's got the ability to do what we're looking for him to do. He has to understand who he is as a player. We need him to pack it up inside and run over guys, be physical as a ball carrier. If we want somebody to run outside, we'll put somebody else in. We're looking forward to working with him this year. He's done an outstanding job this offseason coming into this system and trying to learn it. That's the biggest factor right now - learning the offense.
The most interesting part of the comment was the line, "If we want somebody to run outside, we'll put somebody else in." If there was any question in Jacobs' mind about his role or what the team is expecting of him, it would seem the team has made it clear what they expect from him. Jacobs could bring a lot to the role if he avoids the tap-dancing behind the line, but even still, he faces a tough roster battle.
I think his odds of making the roster are solid, but given the addition of LaMichael James and the lack of too many available roster spots, it is no gimme for Jacobs. Could the 49ers really find themselves rolling out four running backs between Jacobs, James, Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter?
I suppose there is also Anthony Dixon in the battle, but I think he's turning into a bit of a long-shot. He does bring special teams versatility, but does he do enough as a running back to hang around? Special teams versatility could play a decent role. I don't think Jacobs does much in special teams, but the 49ers could get some additional special teams work from James if the team uses him in the return game.
Four running backs is not some shocking revelation, but it made more sense when Dixon was also a major special teams contributor. It just raises questions in my head as to how this whole situation plays out. RB will be one position battle that could come down to the wire in August both in terms of a roster spot between Jacobs and Dixon, and also playing time all along the depth chart.