SANTA CLARA — With only a base salary of $3.75 million guaranteed this year, the San Francisco 49ers could very well part ways with running back Jerick McKinnon, who they signed a year ago to be their starting running back.
After tearing his ACL in a non-contract drill during training camp, McKinnon’s return date is uncertain, and his backups — Raheem Mostert, Alfred Morris and Matt Breida — were more than serviceable last season.
Yet, even with the addition of former Kyle Shanahan weapon Tevin Coleman to the mix — San Francisco all but officially confirmed his signing on Thursday — McKinnon is in no danger, Shanahan said.
“We were very fortunate to have a chance to get Tevin,” Shanahan said. “Didn’t really think that at all that would be a possibility of going through. It ended up working out … I’ve never had where I’d say at least four backs right now who played at a high level last year. But, I don’t consider it a problem. I consider it a very good thing.”
Shanahan has long preached competition as one of his main tenets, and with Coleman — who reportedly signed a two-year, $10 million deal — the crowded room will definitely push all the backs. Shanahan even said that having four running backs (Mostert is more of a special teams ace than anything) suited up on game day could be a possibility.
Breida rushed for 814 yards and three TDs last season while averaging 5.3 yards per carry, Morris for 428 and two, while Mostert rushed for 261 yards and a score, averaging 7.7 yards per carry.
“There’s a lot of guys we have confidence in and a lot of guys with some different skill sets too that we can use differently,” Shanahan said. “You’ve got to make sense of it all. I think we’re in a situation right now, just looking at our roster, that I think it could make a lot of sense this year.”
Newly-introduced inside linebacker Kwon Alexander, while with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, played against Coleman regularly. Though Alexander was injured for much of last year, he still played against Coleman and the Atlanta Falcons once. Coleman ran for 35 yards on 10 carries as Matt Ryan threw for 355.
“Oh, I’ve got a scouting report on him,” Alexander said. “I had to play him twice a year, so, yeah, I know him. He’s a great player. He’s great, and he can catch the ball, run, and make great cuts. He’s got great vision, very fast too. He’s going to be a great addition to this team.”
That early-season game didn’t quite show what Coleman can do. He emerged as the main back for the Falcons after an injury to Devonta Freeman, and rushed for 800 yards on 167 carries (a career-high 4.8 ypc). His five receiving touchdowns would have tied George Kittle for the 49ers’ team lead, and his four rushing touchdowns would have led San Francisco’s running backs.
While his numbers bode well for his production in Santa Clara, Shanahan still said his signing wasn’t motivated by McKinnon’s progress, and that his presence isn’t meant to decrease the urgency the team feels in getting McKinnon to come back sooner.
“When guys are coming off ACLs and stuff, you’re not going to rush them back just because you need them, or you’re going to lose them a lot longer,” Shanahan said. “You’ve got to be patient regardless of the situation, not just having Tevin, but all the guys we played with last year makes us feel that we can be patient and be smart. Regardless, you don’t have a choice. You always have to be patient and smart. The more guys you have, the easier it is.”