What is the Offensive Backfield Going to Look like?
A week ago every 49ers fan was excited to see Jimmy Garoppolo, Jerick McKinnon, Kyle Juszczyk, and Matt Breida lining up together in different forms during the 49ers 2018 season. Then Matt Breida’s “bum shoulder” against the Cowboys and Jerick McKinnon’s “muscle strain” in practice Sunday left the vision a little hazy. On Monday, the hierarchy of running backs got even more muddled with signing of Alfred Morris. He will meet the team on Wednesday in Houston for their joint practices.
Although Morris spent his first two seasons in the league playing under Kyle Shanahan, the Redskins’ offensive coordinator at the time, it would be a surprise if he was to see many, if any, snaps in the 49ers game against the Texans on Saturday. That leaves Raheem Mostert and Joe Williams getting a ton of carries. Some were starting to say that both Williams and Mostert would make the roster, but with Morris now on the roster it is possible that Williams does not make this team. With both Breida and McKinnon already injured, one would assume it’s a lock that four running backs make the final 53 man roster, but which four will it be? This week’s game will be Williams’s and Mostert’s best chance to show they need to be the other two RBs on the roster.
Expect these two players to each push for twenty touches against the Texans.
What About the Defensive Backfield?
Okay, so we know that Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon have the two outside cornerback spots locked up, and Adrian Colbert and Jaquiski Tartt have the two safety positions on lock down. The nickel position is a race between K’Waun Williams, Jimmie Ward, and D.J. Reed at this point. Don’t look past the rookie Reed possibly winning the competition to be the third cornerback. Ward will be on the field on game days, unless he’s traded.
The intrigue in the 49ers defensive backfield isn’t the competition for the starting positions, but rather the competition they are about to face in games and how they fare against it. DeAndre Hopkins needs no introduction. He is arguably the top, or at least one of the top three wide receivers in the NFL. Sherman will get a true test against a caliber of player he hasn’t seen since signing with the 49ers. Witherspoon will line up against Will Fuller V, another solid athlete who played well last year in the WR2 role. In the slot are rookie fourth-round pick Keke Coutee and second-year WR Braxton Miller. Behind them is the familiar Bruce Ellington, who played better for the Texans last year than he did for the 49ers the couple years before; and Sammie Coates Jr., a third-round draft pick by the Steelers in 2015.
Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman are no slouches out of the backfield either. These are athletes that the 49ers cornerbacks and safeties have not had to play against outside of the practice field yet this season.
The real competition for the DBs pertains to who else is going to make the team. How many cornerbacks and safeties do the 49ers keep? The Texans’ WR group is the strongest the 49ers will play this preseason, so this game will give these young, unproven DBs the opportunity to shine or fall.
How Busy Will The Trainers Be?
On Monday’s practice the following players were dealing with injuries: Sherman (hamstring), Arik Armstead (hamstring), Solomon Thomas (concussion), McKinnon (knee), Breida (shoulder), George Kittle (shoulder), Williams (ankle), Malcolm Smith (hamstring), Fred Warner (chest), Brock Coyle (hip), and Joshua Garnett (knee). That’s a lot of starters and potential starters who are nursing injuries. Will the injury bug keep hitting this 49ers team? What’s going on with the hamstrings? Should the team be doing more yoga or something?
This is a problem that this roster cannot handle. If players start dropping like flies like they did in mid- to late-season last year, then kiss the playoffs goodbye. The current roster is not deep enough to sustain any long term injuries to the starters. How will these injuries affect playing time? Traditionally, starters play a little more in game two than they did in game one. Will we see the starters out there longer, or will the long injury report keep Shanahan’s stars off the field?
Shanahan seems to believe that you improve through playing, and that playing scared is losing. Why else insert Jimmy Garoppolo last season? Letting him sit would have saved millions and maybe would have given then a top-three draft pick this past draft, but inserting Garoppolo gave them a head start to this season, one that wasn’t already lost. Shanahan probably plays his starters for longer than he did against the Cowboys, and the sideline just might hold their breath a few more times.
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