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Niners Likely to Use Multiple Running Backs

Hyde will be No. 1, but Kelly and Modkins have a history of shuttling multiple backs into their lineups

The 49ers Wednesday announced they had re-signed running back Shaun Draughn to a one-year deal, meaning he’ll be in the mix along with Carlos Hyde, Mike Davis and Kendall Gaskins for playing time in 2016.

In addition, the Niners are likely to add more ballcarriers through the draft and free agency this offseason to compete for jobs in Chip Kelly’s spread offense.

While Hyde likely will be the 49ers’ lead back, it’s also likely that the fast-paced attack will utilize a deep corps of running backs in 2016.

Kelly’s offenses at the University of Oregon and with the Philadelphia Eagles used multiple running backs, and his new offensive coordinator, Curtis Modkins, has a similar history.

Modkins was running backs coach for the Detroit Lions the past three seasons and offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills from 2010-2012. In both those stops he wasn’t shy about using multiple backs and playing to their strengths in different situations.

At Buffalo, Modkins utilized Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller and Marshawn Lynch (though Lynch’s season was cut short by injury). In Detroit last season he used Joique Bell, Theo Riddick and rookie Ameer Abdullah, with Bell providing the power, Riddick being a third-down receiver and Abdullah the change-of-pace youngster. In previous seasons in Detroit he found ways to get the ball into the hands of Reggie Bush, Riddick and Bell,

Modkins recently told a writer with the 49ers website that he believes it’s important for an offense to utilize a group of running backs. Playing to certain strengths they may have can make for a successful and diversified attack, he said.

“You learn that you have to put guys in positions to be successful,” said Modkins. “If guys have ability, it’s up to us as coaches to put them in positions to be successful.”

Hyde, of course, is a hard-running back with the potential to take over a game. He was on his way to a big season in 2015 before he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot. Then Draughn was signed and was a pleasant surprise. The 28-year-old journeyman rushed for 263 yards in six games while also catching 25 passes. The Niners also like the potential of Davis, who had an injury-shortened rookie season.

It will be interesting to see how Modkins and Kelly utilize all of the running backs – plus fullback Bruce Miller – in the spread attack.

Draughn certainly earned another opportunity, said 49ers general manager Trent Baalke.

“Shaun did a heck of a job for us last year despite joining the team in the middle of the season,” Baalke said in a release Wednesday. “He certainly earned the respect of everyone in our organization for the way he handled himself, both on and off the field, and we’re excited to have him back.”

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