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49ers camp: RB battle heats up after solid Day 2 from Breida

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San Francisco 49ers' running back Matt Breida (22) runs upfield as the Jacksonville Jaguars face the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, December 24, 2017.

Former Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon looked like the best back in Santa Clara in day one of camp, but Matt Breida may have closed the gap Friday.

Just a few days into the second training camp of his career, Breida is showing the 49ers coaching staff why they need to consider him for the starting job at running back with his field vision and ability to find creases in the defense.

For the most part, the 49ers offense looked sluggish and unfocused Friday. False starts and miscommunications on assignments slowed the flow of practice immensely. But the one bright spot that coach Kyle Shanahan took notice to almost immediately was Breida:

“Matt’s real consistent. He ran like that throughout OTAs, he ran like that yesterday and it seemed like he ran pretty good today.”

Breida split the first-team snaps with McKinnon. But while McKinnion struggled to build on a productive day 1 of camp, Breida took the spotlight by breaking runs up the middle on multiple occasions. He found creases on the interior of the defense, utilizing his elusive nature, the 190-pound back slipped through the cracks produced by his offensive line for gashing 20- to 25-yard gains.

This style of running is exactly what Shanahan wants to see:

Matt hits it hard. He goes full speed whether we have pads on or not. He’s going to find that hole. … I think there were a few runs today that we gave him a little bit of space on. That’s why everyone saw him open up a couple times.”

In his rookie year, Breida served as a reliable backup behind Carlos Hyde, who started all 16 games for San Francisco in 2017. Tallying up 645 all-purpose yards, Breida found the end zone three times in total — twice on the ground, once through the air. He also played in all 16 games, showcasing his durability.

As many are well aware, Shanahan likes to feature more than just one running back in his offensive system to open up the number of looks he can give opposing defenses. Look no further than Shanahan’s time in Atlanta to see an example of this.

In 2016, Shanahan propelled the Falcons through the regular season and to the Super Bowl by utilizing the talents of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. That season, Freeman racked up 1079 yards and 11 touchdowns via 227 carries while Coleman accumulated a modest 520 yards and eight touchdowns on 119 touches. Through the air, each eclipsed 400 yards receiving and combined for five scores.

There’s no doubt that Shannahan likes to use his running backs.

For Breida, training camp looks to be off to a nice start so far. If he can continue to progress at this rate and make more impressions similar to Friday, there is no doubt he will be a sizable contributor to the 49ers offense.

Notes

The 49ers offense (aside from Breida) did not look good Friday. Lots of false starts and mental errors. Even scripted plays were botched which “disappointed” Shanahan. Creating good habits is key in camp but so far, the 49ers may be making bad ones. The good news is that it’s only two days into camp so there should be plenty of time to correct things. … Antone Exum Jr. made the defensive play of the day by picking off C.J. Beathard, tipping an ill-advised pass into the air then relocating to come away with the only interception of the day. This highlighted an overall good day from the 49ers defense. … Jimmy Garoppolo continues to make plays with Marquise Goodwin in 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s. The deep post seems to be the favorite between the two, but they can make things happen on just about any route combination. Look for this chemistry to continue. … San Francisco will hold their first padded practice Saturday. Anticipate sparks to fly as the players look eager to start hitting. Offensive and defensive line battles will likely heat up when the pads come on as well so look to see some competition there.

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