John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan were plenty active during free agency, and many of the roster additions were players familiar with the coaching staff and the systems they are implementing. The most notable on offense are guys like Brian Hoyer and Pierre Garçon, but Tim Hightower is worth a mention as well.
Hightower played in Washington when Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator. Washington acquired Hightower in a trade shortly before 2011 training camp. In five games, he rushed 84 times for 321 yards, before suffering a torn ACL. The injury was a brutal one and Hightower ended up needing another surgery. He would end up sitting out the 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons, before returning with the New Orleans Saints the past two years.
The 49ers first practice on Friday saw Hightower getting work a the No. 2 running back, which makes sense. He is a solid pass catcher, and generally a good complementary option. He is not a guy who will be a regular starter, but can offer a breather to the starter and provide some useful versatility.
Shanahan talked about him after, calling him as good a pro as he has been around. He described him as a guy who knows it is his job and treats it accordingly. As Shanahan put it, “You know what you’re going to get from Tim every day.”
Hightower slipped off the radar for most NFL fans during his three-year absence, but his brief time in Washington left an impression on Shanahan. He talked about wanting to get him into Cleveland and Atlanta for workouts, but nothing came of it. Over the past two seasons, he got to face Hightower twice a year when the running back joined the Saints.
“I had Tim in Washington for four games and he did a real good job for us in those four games and had a real bad injury tearing his ACL. The next year, the surgery or something didn’t go right. I forget exactly what it was. It didn’t heal the right way. We came back next year and he ended up, you could tell into camp that it just wasn’t right, so I think he got it redone. You’d have to ask him the exact story of it, but he had to do it a couple of times. I remember when I went to Cleveland I tried to get him out there for a workout. I don’t think I could, but I definitely tried. I tried the same in Atlanta too. So, he’s a guy that we’ve been waiting to look at. I want to say we might have gotten him to work out, I think it took a while for his knee to come back. So, he never looked like the guy I had. Obviously, New Orleans worked him out and he made their team. So, I’ve seen him on tape and I’ve been playing against him twice a year for the last two years. So, I’ve seen him look good. His knee healed. Usually when you take a few years off or a couple years, whatever it was, and your knee is like that, it’s very hard to come back. But, if anybody knows Tim he’s a guy you never count out.”
Carlos Hyde is the big name in the backfield, and guys like Joe Williams and Matt Breida will be looked at for long-term potential. Hightower is not going to wow people with a ton of huge plays and big numbers, but he is a very solid option who will help keep the offense on track.
Shanahan’s rushing games have bounced back and forth between bell-cow backs and committee systems. I think we see somewhere in the middle this year, with Hyde serving the biggest role. It will be interesting though to see how Williams and Breida work with Hightower behind Hyde, and who ends up emerging as a prominent behind or even alongside Hyde.