Which 49ers RB will back up Carlos Hyde?

Carlos Hyde seems ready for the challenge of being the starting RB for the San Francisco 49ers. In limited action in 2014, he played in 14 games, and rushed 83 times for 333 yards for a 4.0 average. At 6 foot, 235 pounds, he has the size to be a featured running back.

He has the experience in this role – at Ohio State he was the featured back in a very successful college football team. But can he carry the load in 2015? He says so, but time will tell. He missed most of the OTAs with what was deemed “a minor” leg injury.

But what happens if he is not successful, or worse still he gets hurt again?

The 49ers have plenty of RB depth going into the season, with a depth chart behind Hyde boasting Kendall Hunter, Reggie Bush, Mike Davis, the fourth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft out of South Carolina, former Australian rugby league star Jarryd Hayne, and second-year pro Kendall Gaskins.

The final 53 man final roster will have no more than 5 RBs on it – the locks are Hyde, Hunter, Bush and Davis.  The final spot, should the 49ers field a fifth running back, comes down to Hayne versus Gaskins. Gaskins has the experience advantage. However, Hayne, even without having played the sport before, has the advantage of being a punt return man option, and depending on his performance during training camp, may be enough to win a spot on the final roster, even if it just as a punt return backup option to either Reggie Bush or Bruce Ellington.

The player best positioned to be Hyde’s backup in 2015 is Kendall Hunter. He is familiar with the team, as he has been a member since 2011, when he was a fourth-round pick.

Injuries have curtailed Hunter’s career. However, when healthy, he has been a very productive back – 2011: 112 att, 473 yds, 4.2 avg, 2 TDs; 2012: 72 att, 371 yds, 5.2 avg, 2 TDs; 2013: 78 att, 358 yds, 4.6 avg, 3 TDs. He missed all of last year with a torn ACL suffered in training camp. By all reports, he has looked great so far during his rehab. However, once the actual hitting starts, it will be interesting to see how he performs, and more importantly how he recovers from the first big hit.

Reggie Bush provides loads of experience, and he will provide a change of pace option for Jim Tomsula and Geep Chryst, and will undoubtedly be the passing game first hands for the RB position. It will be interesting how the offense utilizes the RB as a pass catcher, as last season the 49ers ranked amongst the worst in the NFL.

I posed this RB pass catching question to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area on his weekly chat yesterday. His response was:

 “With their personnel, I would not expect them to be near the top. I still think they’ll be near the bottom, but I don’t think they’ll be at the bottom. So, in other words, I think the 49ers will make a concerted effort to improve in that area. You’ll notice a shift in philosophy so that defenses will have to begin accounting for backs catching passes.”

So, we should see this wrinkle added to the 49ers offense, but how many times in a game is an interesting question, and how long they stick with it is also another factor to consider. Hunter has been used sparingly as a pass catcher – he has 27 career receptions for 268 yards. Will he get the chance to catch the ball in this new offense? Can he be a difference maker catching the ball out of the backfield?

The great thing is that the 49ers have a wealth of talent behind Carlos Hyde for the 2015 season, and Kendall Hunter has the experience and skill to be the top backup.

Surely the injury bug can’t strike again, right?