49ers Mailbag: What Hyde pick means for future of RB position

49ers Mailbag: What Hyde pick means for future of RB position
May 23, 2014, 9:30 am
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Carlos Hyde averaged a career-high 7.3 yards per carry over 11 games as a senior at Ohio State. (USATSI)

Since the 49ers invested a fourth-round draft pick in running back Marcus Lattimore nearly 13 months ago, his work on the practice field has been strictly behind the scenes.

That could change Friday in Santa Clara during the 49ers’ rookie camp. Lattimore is eligible to participate in drills. But the 49ers have not disclosed to what degree Lattimore is expected to participate.

[RELATED: Lattimore eligible for 49ers rookie camp]

The 49ers rookies and first-year players are scheduled to hit the practice field at 3:15 p.m. The workout is scheduled to be open to the media. With that, we’ll go to the 49ers Mailbag to answer some questions submitted via Facebook . . .

Was the drafting of (Carlos Hyde) a reflection that Lattimore may not be recovered enough to ever be a featured back? (Rick Chlopicki)
It’s more of a reflection on general manager Trent Baalke’s long-expressed vision of the 49ers getting away from one overused running back. Frank Gore has been the man for all downs since he supplanted Kevan Barlow as the starter in 2006. The 49ers want multiple running backs to share the load.

Lattimore is making good progress from the knee injury that ended his college career in October 2012. The 49ers want to keep their power-running mindset even when Gore is no longer around to pound it between the tackles. Dr. Lattimore and Mr. Hyde give the 49ers that option with a lot less wear and tear on just one person.

Which rookies could get a chance on special teams to compete against LMJ? (Christopher Jones)
Wide receiver Bruce Ellington, a fourth-round draft pick, will be on the 49ers’ 53-man roster this season. And he will spend a lot of time on the return game. Obviously, he has a chance of beating out LaMichael James for that job. James, by the way, joined the 49ers' offseason program this week, sources confirmed. Cornerback Kenneth Acker, a sixth-round pick, has some background returning punts. His return in a high school game in 2009 is worth watching. But he returned only 14 punts (8.1 average) in four years at SMU.

Do you think Bruce Ellington gets specific packages implemented for him in the offense? (Gene Vaysburd )
I think that’s pretty doubtful. Perhaps, the only way Ellington suits up for games as a rookie is if he wins the job as the team’s return specialist. Right now, Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Stevie Johnson rank as the 49ers' top three receivers. Ellington is battling Quinton Patton and Brandon Lloyd and others for the No. 4 job. And, of course, the 49ers rarely use four-receiver sets.

[RELATED: Veteran WRs in battle for 49ers roster spots]

Do you see Borland as a starter next to Willis when the season starts? (Jose Maciel)
The 49ers, obviously, wanted to bring in some competition for Michael Wilhoite and Nick Moody. And they did that with the third-round selection of Chris Borland and the signing of undrafted rookie Shayne Skov.

[RELATED: 49ers' Borland armed for successful NFL career]

Wilhoite has the advantage of being in Vic Fangio’s defense for the past two seasons. That’s a pretty decisive head-start. After all, Fangio is not quick to anoint rookies as starters. Right now, I’m giving the edge to Wilhoite until Borland -- or somebody else -- proves otherwise.