The 49ers have two young running backs who received a lot of attention during the offseason workouts.
One of the participants in Tuesday’s live 49ers chat asked about the team’s second-round draft pick. But we’re going to use that question about Carlos Hyde to spin it in a different direction.
We’re going to spotlight a running back who remained under the radar during the offseason program.
Sounds like a lot of people are excited about RB Carlos Hyde. How much playing time can we expect from him early on? (Fish)
Certainly, the works of Hyde and Marcus Lattimore were noticed and chronicled during the offseason program. The media saw Lattimore practice for the first time since the 49ers selected him in the fourth round of the 2013 draft.
Both players demonstrated reliable hands out of the backfield. Lattimore, who sat out his rookie season while rehabbing from a serious knee injury that cut short his college career, appeared very tentative during the early stages of the offseason program when he was coming back from a hamstring strain.
Lattimore still appears to have a ways to go to get back to his pre-injury form, but he made significant progress during the nine weeks of workouts. He stated last week to USA Today: "I'm trying to take [Gore's] job, but I know that's going to be the hardest thing in the world.”
It’s fine to think that, but it probably wasn’t a great idea for Lattimore to say it publicly. It’s better for him to concentrate on improving himself as a player rather for him to start talking about sending one of the most-respected players in 49ers history to the unemployment line.
Regardless, Hyde and Lattimore could be the future for the 49ers. Certainly, the team’s decision to select Hyde in the second round of the draft suggests the organization has high hopes for him.
So, back to the original question, how much will Hyde play this season?
It all depends on how well he does in pass protection. The 49ers have not seen Hyde or Lattimore in pads. If they are slow to pick up the nuances of the 49ers’ blitz pickup packages – or are not physically able to carry out their assignments – then, there’s no way either is going to get onto the field for significant playing time this season.
Kendall Hunter, the 49ers’ backup running back in each of his three seasons with the club, is very underrated in all aspects. But the 49ers rate him highly. And that's all that matters. Until Hyde or Lattimore prove themselves, the 49ers’ coaching staff is going to stick with Hunter because they know he can be trusted.
Hunter has a 4.6-yard rushing average in his three seasons as Gore’s primary backup. That's not too shabby. He also has a firm grasp of the team’s protections. And despite his smallish stature, he does a fine job of executing his duties.
The 49ers feel like he showed a lot more burst and acceleration this offseason than at any point a year ago when he was coming off a torn Achilles from November 2012.
Hunter enters the final year of his contract with the 49ers. His future remains uncertain. But he’s one player who should not be dismissed with talking about the team’s crowded backfield.