The San Francisco 49ers faced a problem on Sunday: While at the start of camp, there was a battle to see who would be the third tailback, now, they were just looking for bodies.
When Jerick McKinnon went off to have an MRI on his knee following a practice collision (the injury turned out to be a high calf strain), he represented the third running back in the past four days to be scratched.
Matt Breida went down in the preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys with a separated shoulder, and although Joe Williams (who missed practice due to a death in the family) will meet the team on Tuesday once they travel to Houston to face the Texans, San Francisco plans to ink another back on Monday.
“Yeah, we’re actually bringing in Alfred Morris in tomorrow,” said head coach Kyle Shanahan. “We’re going to bring him up to Houston, so he’s got to pass a physical and we’ll be able to look at him there. But, I’m assuming everything will go alright and hopefully we’ll get him in practice for us out in Houston.”
This won’t be Morris’s first time playing under Shanahan. The former sixth-round pick out of FAU played under Shanahan from 2012-13 when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins.
“I just told him I waited so long to invite him because I wouldn’t invite him unless I believed he had the chance to make the team,” Shanahan said. “I do believe he has the chance to make the team here, and that’s all Alf wants. He wants a chance to compete and I think with some of these injuries that we’ve had, now he does have a chance to compete. So, he’s getting in late but we’ll see how he does over these next few weeks. If he’s running the same way he always has, he’ll have a chance.”
Morris had his best two seasons in Shanahan’s system, piling up 1,613 yards (second in the NFL) and 13 touchdowns in 2012, and 1,275 yards and seven scores in 2013.
“Alf did a great job for us the two years I was with him,” Shanahan said. “It’s not flashy, but he runs extremely hard. He’s very reliable. You’re blocking for zero, usually he can get at least one. He’s a hard-nosed runner who you can keep handing the ball off to. He’s very reliable.”
Morris, 29, played for Washington until 2015, and spent the last two seasons backing up Ezekiel Elliot in Dallas. The two-time Pro Bowler (2013, 2014) has rushed for 5,503 yards in his career, with 32 rushing touchdowns and 57 receptions for 421 receiving yards. He did not work out for Shanahan this offseason, but Shanahan already knew what he could do, and Morris already knows the system.
“There’s not big changes [to the system] and it’s not that tough for a back,” Shanahan said. “They’ve got to set their track the right way and you hand it off to them and go run. We have a way that we coach guys and stuff, but everyone, when you’re away from something, it’s going to take some time. He is going to be rusty with that stuff, but he’ll get the hang of it, get his tracks consistent and run hard.”
As for McKinnon, he’ll be unavailable for the second preseason game, but the team feared he could be out far longer.
“I think everyone gets a little worried when it’s by your knee, but yesterday he said it didn’t hurt that bad so he wasn’t that worried,” Shanahan said. “Anything that’s a high calf deal, no one realizes your calf goes that high. So, I think he was worried about it just where it was and then once he got the assurance that it was his calf, it made sense that he didn’t have that much pain. I think he felt much better today. I think he’s frustrated that he can’t get that work and stuff that he needs and we all need until Week 1, but at least he feels good that he’ll be ready for Week 1.”
– Monday was a light day for the 49ers as they were out of full pads for the first time in 11 practices. Shanahan noted that the move to go padless was made in preparation of the team’s flight to Houston later in the afternoon.
– Jimmy Garoppolo had another strong day of practice. Throwing a total of two touchdown passes and zero interceptions, Garoppolo looked comfortable in the pocket. His best pass of the day came on a back shoulder throw to Aldrick Robinson on the right sideline that went for 45 yards. Garoppolo also showed off his improvisation skills by completing a shovel-pass to running back Jeremy McNichols in the red zone for a touchdown.
– Richard Sherman is slowly but surely working his way back into action as he made an appearance in 11-on-11 drills Monday. The highlight of his day came while he was covering Kendrick Bourne in the right corner of the end zone. Leaping while the ball was in the air, Sherman got his left hand on the pass to send it out of bounds.
– Backup quarterback Nick Mullens finished practice strong by hitting Aaron Burbridge in stride down the right sideline for a walk-off touchdown to end the day. Mullen led the game-winning drive Thursday night against Dallas and has looked to build on that success this week. Last season, during his rookie year, Mullens was relegated to the 49ers practice squad. If he continues to show signs of potential, its not out of the realm of possibility that another NFL team could pick him up as a backup before the season begins.
C.J. Peterson contributed to this report.