• Reggie Cires

Training Camp Preview: Running Backs

Image Credit: Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

In less than two weeks from now, 49ers fans will rejoice and get back to cracking down the latest positional battles and news.

It’s Training Camp Time or as I like to call it, Jimmy G time.

Many fans have been wondering how head coach Kyle Shanahan plans to utilize his running backs in his strategic offensive scheme. This upcoming training camp will be a strong indictor on how the depth chart for the backfield will shake out and how it will be implemented on the field in the 2018 NFL season.

Jerick McKinnon:

After signing a four-year $30 million contract with the 49ers on March 14th earlier this year, running back Jerick McKinnon looks to take the league by storm.

Although McKinnon was used as a rotational player during his time in Minnesota, McKinnon has excelled primarily in the passing game with signs of life in his running game. A player of this caliber can be heavily used in Shanahan’s offense as he did with Tevin Coleman in Atlanta.

Shanahan liked to line up Coleman in the backfield initially before motioning him outside or to the slot. This is an easy way to get a quick back matched up onto a slower linebacker. Shanahan would then run simple route sequences to help Coleman get open.

Barring any injury, McKinnon’s speed and tenacity will be heavily used on the field. The 49ers’ front office strongly trust that he is more than capable of elevating his game and he is locked to make the cut and start for the 2018 NFL Season.

Matt Breida:

After a stellar performance in his rookie NFL season, undrafted free-agent Matt Breida still has plenty of work to prove himself in the 2018 NFL Season.

Breida’s work ethic and training has batted eyes within the 49ers’ facilities and it will be hard to keep a player of his caliber off the field. However, Breida will have to compete alongside newly-acquired free-agent Jerick McKinnon.

After viewing head coach Shanahan’s time in Atlanta and his two-headed monster in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the backfield, McKinnon will be paired with Breida in the backfield come time of the regular season.

However, there are still some other players to be on the lookout in training camp.

The other halfbacks currently on the 90-man roster competing for a spot are Joseph Williams, Jeremy McNichols, and Raheem Mostert.

Raheem Mostert:

After being a part of one of the best special teams units of the 2017 NFL season, special teams ace Raheem Mostert will continue to thrive in his role under special teams coordinator Richard Hightower.

Second-year running back Joe Williams, however, can threaten Mostert’s spot. In addition to this, rookies D.J. Reed, Richie James, and Emmanuel Moseley all have longer returning experience comparable to Mostert’s limited experience since 2015.

It is not likely that Mostert will become a regular ball carrier behind Nos 1 and 2 runners Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida, but it is on special teams that Mostert will look to once again bat eyes in the upcoming training camp.

Joseph Williams

During his first training camp, Joseph “Joe” Williams displayed glimpses of hope but failed to meet expectations due to his . To top it off, Williams suffered an ankle injury that forced the 49ers to place him on the injury reserve before announcing their 53-man roster for the upcoming NFL season.

As he enters his second NFL season, Williams has a lot of catching up to do. He is already behind last year’s undrafted free-agent Matt Breida, who has worked for the No. 2 spot behind the newly-acquired free-agent Jerick McKinnon.

Williams will first have to compete alongside Jeremy McNichols and Raheem Mostert by proving himself both as a runner and on special teams.

After drafting Williams in the fourth round during the 2017 NFL Draft, it is heartbreaking to see a player of his caliber and potential fail to perform. But as of now, Williams will be counting on his performance in training camp and in preseason, to prevent losing his roster spot in the 2018 NFL Season.

Bubble Watch: Jeremy McNichols

Jeremy McNichols joined the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick of the Tampa Buccaneers in the 2017 NFL Draft. He then was part of the Bucs’ roster cuts in September and never made it to their 53-man roster that year.

The 49ers then signed him to their practice squad shortly and eventually promoted him to the active roster in November, where he saw action in two games on special teams.

McKinnon is locked to make the cut and start. Meanwhile, Matt Breida will be pressured by running backs Joseph Williams and Raheem Mostert for the No. 2 spot.

McNichols will have to excel on special teams to earn consideration. Yet the 49ers already have one special teams ace doubling as a running back, Raheem Mostert, who was a big contributor a year ago before being placed on injured reserve.

Without injury, McNichols will have a hard time making the cut for the 49ers backfield. His collegiate awards are not enough to keep him in the bubble, as the 49ers have a much stronger interest in Joe Williams.


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