The San Francisco 49ers’ group of running backs suffered through a myriad of injuries in 2018, so forgive Kyle Shanahan if he can’t contain his excitement at the possibility of fielding multiple starting-caliber backs this season.
“You can never have too much,” Shanahan said of the group while general manager John Lynch nodded in approval. “Now we have four starting-caliber guys, and we used four last year. The fact we have four on our roster now is an excellent thing to have.”
Running back Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL during one of the final reps of practice before the start of the 2018 season. It was a significant blow to Shanahan’s offense after signing the former Minnesota Vikings back to a four-year, $30 million deal that offseason.
“We made a commitment to ‘Jet’ two years ago,” Shanahan said. “We were excited about that. He had such an unfortunate injury, and we had to go the year without him.”
Second-year running back Matt Breida was the immediate replacement for McKinnon. The former undrafted free agent totaled 153 carries for 814 yards, averaging an impressive 5.3 yards per carry. It was an encouraging season for Breida despite battling a nagging ankle injury.
“We were very excited with Brieda as a backup going into that year, and he filled in great as a starter,” Shanahan said. “But he got banged up all year, and we ended up having to go to our practice squad guys.”
Also lightening the load as the season wore on was Raheem Mostert. The special teams standout put together an impressive performance against Green Bay in Week 6, totaling 12 carries for 87 yards. In Week 8 against the Oakland Raiders, Mostert had rattled off seven carries for 86 yards and a touchdown before suffering a broken forearm.
“Raheem got some playing time last year before he got hurt,” said Shanahan.” He’s always been good at special teams but the way he played in Green Bay, he showed that he could be an effective running back in this league.”
It was the second season-ending injury for a 49ers backfield that limped toward the end of the season after promoting both Jeff Wilson and Matt Dayes from the practice squad.
The team signed Tevin Coleman in the offseason. The former Atlanta Falcons running back was a crucial part of the team’s 2016 Super Bowl run under Shanahan as offensive coordinator. Coleman totaled 941 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns that year.
The team now enters into 2019 with a healthy group led by McKinnon, Breida, Coleman, and Mostert. McKinnon will begin training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list as part of his recovery, but he’s expected to be cleared for practice early on.
The 49ers only kept three running backs on the team’s final 53-man roster in 2018. Shanahan sounds comfortable with keeping four this season but expects the competition to be heated throughout training camp nonetheless.
“it’s a very fun thing to have,” Shanahan said of the depth. “It’ll be tough on those guys, but it’ll work itself out.”