Niners fans will be seeing a lot more of Matt Breida than they expected. Alfred Morris and Raheem Mostert, too.
With the season-ending injury to No. 1 running back Jerick McKinnon, Breida – in just his second year – becomes the team’s featured running back and the veteran Morris, who didn’t even have a job two weeks ago, will also get plenty of opportunities, along with Mostert.
Losing McKinnon is a big blow for Kyle Shanahan’s offense. The reason the 49ers pursued McKinnon was because he is such a versatile, productive player, able to be as effective running the ball as catching it.
Now, the 49ers will go with more of a by-committee approach. They’ll have to get more creative, matching up strengths with situations.
“We’ve got a lot of good football players here,” said general manager John Lynch to reporters this past weekend, following McKinnon’s knee injury. “We’re proud of our 53-man roster and next week we’re going to be really excited looking to take on the Vikings.”
San Francisco will begin the regular season Sunday against the Vikings in Minnesota. Kickoff is set for 10 a.m. in the Bay Area.
Breida injured his shoulder early in the preseason and didn’t return to practice until this weekend. He’s expected to be ready to play this Sunday, along with Morris and Mostert.
Breida, a 5-foot-10, 190-pounder from Georgia Southern, had a solid rookie season in 2017 when he played in all 16 games. In a backup role, he carried 105 times for 465 yards and two touchdowns and had 21 receptions for 180 yards and a score. Mostert – also 5-foot-10 at 197 pounds – played a lot of special teams in 2017 as a rookie from Purdue. He also had five carries for 8 yards and two catches for 13 yards. Morris, a veteran and a more physical runner than the other two (5-foot-10, 224 pounds) rushed for 547 yards in a backup role for the Cowboys last season. At 29, Morris has had three 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He looked fresh in two preseason games, rushing 19 times for 89 yards (a 4.7-yard average).
Shanahan noted this weekend when McKinnon’s injury was announced that “we’re nervous about it for sure.” McKinnon’s loss is big, and his addition in the offseason was one of the team’s biggest free-agent moves. It’s possible, too, that the 49ers could add another running back over the next couple of days to help beef up the backfield. Three running backs isn't enough.
No doubt, Lynch and Shanahan aren’t done yet.