The 49ers intend to the run the ball in 2015, that much is certain. What isn’t determined yet is who will get the bulk of the carries.
Longtime running back Frank Gore is a free agent, and it’s unknown if he’ll return.
Gore said late in the season that he’d like to return, and indicated that general manager Trent Baalke has told him he wants to re-sign him. Though Gore is old for an NFL running back – he’ll turn 32 in May – he rushed for 1,106 yards in 2014 and his average of 4.3 yards per carry was an improvement over his 4.1 yards per attempt in 2013.
But if Gore doesn’t return, the ball-carrying duties likely will be in good hands with Carlos Hyde, who showed tremendous promise as a rookie.
Hyde had just 83 carries over 14 games, rushing for 333 yards and four touchdowns and an average of 4.0 yards per carry. He also caught 12 passes for 68 yards.
But the main thing Hyde showed as a rookie was that he’s physically capable of succeeding in the NFL. The 6-foot, 235-pounder was strong enough to break tackles and pick up ground in short-yardage situations while also having the speed to break away. He also fumbled just once.
If Gore returns, the 49ers should have a solid 1-2-3 punch with Gore, Hyde and Kendall Hunter, who will return after being sidelined all season. If Gore goes elsewhere, Hyde should be able to take on a larger role.
Hyde, in fact, said recently that he’s eager to work hard this offseason to improve.
“I’m going to try to get in the best shape that I can to try to become a better running back,” he told the team’s website.
If he had his way, though, Gore will return.
“Guys like Frank, you have to keep around,” Hyde said. “To be able to play with a guy like Frank is a blessing itself. He is a guy I looked up to when I was drafted. And being able to be under Frank for a year and watch his success running the ball, with the way he’s patient and the way he hits the hole, it definitely carried over into my game.”
After seeing him perform as a rookie, Hyde’s teammates are confident the former Ohio State standout can be successful.
Said fullback Bruce Miller: “When he gets going downhill, he’s pretty tough to bring down.”
It’s a no-nonsense approach to running the ball.
“Yeah, I don’t do any dancing,” Hyde told the San Francisco Chronicle this past season. “That’s what I call a scatback, the guy who dances around. I’m not a scatback. I just try to get my pads north and south and get to the end zone.”