The San Francisco 49ers were back at practice on Wednesday following a Tuesday off-day. Two days after Tim Hightower got the first snap with the first team offense, Carlos Hyde was back handling the first team work. Hyde got the first two snaps, and Hightower got the third snap. The team is rotating guys in and out, but it seems that for now, Hyde remains the guy.
Hyde made some noise on Wednesday with a huge hit on rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. The 49ers were running a goal line drill, and Hyde got a chance to run the ball into the end zone. Witherspoon met him to make the stop, and Hyde blasted the rookie to score the touchdown. Hyde offered up a flex at the end. ESPN’s Nick Wagoner offered the best description of the play, along with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s take:
As [Hyde] approached the goal line, Witherspoon came up in run support only for Hyde to lower his shoulder and trample Witherspoon on his way into the end zone. After practice, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said he thought Hyde caught Witherspoon off guard and said the play wasn't a big deal. Regardless, it's an early clue to Witherspoon, who had questions about his physicality entering the league, of what life is like in the NFL.
While it is only one play, there is plenty to take away from it. Witherspoon’s draft profile described a guy with a gangly frame who needs to add more functional strength to deal with NFL physicality. It is worth noting there was not tackling to the ground on this drill, so Hyde had a certain advantage. And considering Hyde is a particularly physical runner, the result is not exactly shocking. It will certainly be a learning experience for Witherspoon.
On the positive side, Hyde seems intent on sending a message this year. He came into camp slimmed down to his lightest weight since high school, and has reportedly shown solid speed. There is a learning curve for him in the new outside zone scheme, which will be something to track when the preseason gets going next week. Do we see him finding success in the scheme, or is he left resorting to his significant physicality to get his wins on the field? Ideally we can see both strong play in the new scheme along with him utilizing his physicality, but time will tell.