With running back Jerick McKinnon going on season-ending injured reserve once again before the season even began, smart money was on the San Francisco 49ers leaning heavily on Tevin Coleman to be the starter.
At the start of training camp, head coach Kyle Shanahan maintained that he’d rotate carries between the remaining backs, but in the preseason, Coleman — who signed a two-year deal with the 49ers this offseason — had the second-most carries.
After rushing six times for 23 yards and catching two balls for 33 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1, though, Coleman went down with a high ankle sprain. While Shanahan said he won’t need to go on injured reserve, the injury typically takes four to eight weeks to heal, and what was once a crowded running back room is now sparse, indeed.
“I think we’ll ride it out,” Shanahan said during his Monday teleconference. “We’ve got to see how the week goes, how many of them we are going to need on Sunday.”
Coleman suffered the injury on the first play of the game, and tried to play on the ankle, but, Shanahan said, it got worse as the game went on.
Shanahan went on to say that it was likely San Francisco will call up a running back from the practice squad.
Being shorthanded in the backfield is nothing new for Shanahan, or for the 49ers. While the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, Shanahan dressed two or three backs multiple times. Last season, San Francisco dealt with McKinnon’s ACL tear and then Raheem Mostert’s broken arm.
It’s likely that the 49ers rotate between Matt Breida — who stepped in as starter last year and rushed 153 times for 814 yards — and Mostert — who had 261 yards on 34 carries before going down on Nov. 2. Breida carried the ball 15 times for 37 yards against the Buccaneers, and Mostert averaged 4.4 yards per carry on nine attempts.
“[Mostert is] going to have to step it up for us if that is the case, and really just like he did last night,” Shanahan said. “I know Raheem wants to get on the field as an offensive player and he’s had his opportunities here and there.
“It’s been a little harder for him this year with Tevin coming in and it’s always hard when you’re mixing guys like Tevin and [RB Matt] Breida, but when Tevin went down … Raheem stepped in and was really a pivotal part of us winning that game.”
San Francisco could go one of two ways in bolstering the once-overstuffed running back corps. Jeff Wilson rushed for 266 yards on 66 carries last season, and is currently on the practice squad.
Alfred Morris — a late sign last season who wound up as the second back with 111 carries for 428 yards — could also be an option. He was cut by the Dallas Cowboys two days ago, but was a favorite of Shanahan due to his versatility and familiarity with the offense.