49ers taking ‘hot hand’ backfield approach in replacing Elijah Mitchell


The 49ers will have a new starting running back heading into Week 2 and Kyle Shanahan has an idea how they will determine who it will be. 

With Elijah Mitchell sidelined for approximately two months, Jeff Wilson Jr., along with rookies Ty Davis-Price and Jordan Mason will be competing for the lead-back role moving forward. The club also signed former Indianapolis Colts ball carrier Marlon Mack to their practice squad. The head coach explained that all backs will compete for the job this week.

“For the most part, that’s what it was last week,” Shanahan said on Wednesday. “We will get a feel for them in these three days and we will go with the hot hand in the game.”

Wilson Jr. is the obvious choice to be tapped as the starter in Sunday’s matchup with the Seattle Seahawks. The veteran has substantially more experience in Shanahan’s system, but the head coach does like what he has seen from his two rookies. 

“Both of them, I think they are very similar,” Shanahan said on Wednesday. “They don’t mess around, they get downhill. Two types of styles that we need and what we like, but there’s a lot more to playing football with us than just running the ball.” 

Shanahan explained that the responsibilities of a running back in his system are layered. Not only must there be no hesitation in hitting the holes that the offensive line creates, but they must remain dialed in from their roles on special teams to pass protection. 

 

What a running back must do when the ball isn’t in his hands is just as important as what he does when it is. For Shanahan’s offense to be successful, all eleven players on the field must do their part. Add the element of a wide receiver who doubles as a running back like Deebo Samuel and you have a heightened potential for mistakes. 

“Everyone works at it, but that stuff isn’t easy,” Shanahan said. “When you’re switching Deebo in and out of positions, and switching backs to receiver, and back to running back, there’s a lot that goes into it. 

“Even people that know it really well mess it up, so it’s not something easy. But the pressure is on those guys to pick [it] up faster than they planned on in the beginning.”

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There’s nothing like being thrown into the fire and that’s what Mason and Davis-Price could be experiencing this Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

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