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49ers Camp: Jerick McKinnon makes long-awaited return to practice

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As the 49ers prepare for their first preseason game at home against the Dallas Cowboys Saturday, Jimmy Garoppolo and the offense got one of their weapons back Tuesday.

Running back Jerick McKinnon, who has been recovering from a torn ACL for a year now, was officially activated prior to Tuesday’s practice.

McKinnon participated in practice but was held out of 11-on-11 team drills. Post-practice, 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan was asked about McKinnon’s availability for Saturday’s game, and if there is enough time between now and then to determine if McKinnon could play:

“I mean, I think there’s enough time, but that depends on, that’s why you want to be so smart, how things go. That’s why you always try to avoid setbacks. That’s why we’re easing him in slowly. That’s what we’ve done here these last two weeks and even though he’s off PUP now we’ll continue to do the same thing.”

Results from 11-on-11 drills

Jimmy Garoppolo: 25 snaps

Nick Mullens: 17 snaps

  • 6-for-9 passing (66%)
  • Dropped touchdown pass by Deebo Samuel in the end zone
  • Completed passes to Taylor (x1), Austin Walter (x1), Richie James (x1), Jalen Hurd (x2), Samuel (x1)
  • Ran the ball with Mostert (x3), Breida (x1), Walter (x4)

C.J. Beathard: 16 snaps

  • 6-for-9 passing (66%)
  • Stripped-interception from Greg Mabin, out of Dante Pettis‘ hands
  • Completed passes to Jordan Matthews (x1), Breida (x2), Hurd (x2), Samuel (x1)
  • Ran the ball with Walter (x4), Mostert (x3)

Will McKinnon complete the 49ers three-headed monster at running back?

It’s no secret that the 49ers have one of the deepest running back groups in the league. Last season, Matt Breida broke out for 814 yards rushing after McKinnon went down with a torn ACL. Battling injuries all season, Breida was unable to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark but managed 5.3 yards per attempt. This season, the 49ers not only have a healthy Breida, but they now have three backs capable of starting, in Breida, McKinnon, and Coleman. It remains unclear how the carries will be divvied up between the three, but we can expect to see a pretty equal share amongst them.

McKinnon met with the media post-practice to discuss his return to the field, and the recovery process he faced while sidelined all of last season.

Comparing the three backs

A backfield-by-committee is inevitable for the 49ers this season. All three backs are more than capable of catching passes out of the backfield, and in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, that’s a must.

McKinnon (2017 season)

  • 150 rushes for 570 yards and three touchdowns
  • Averaged 3.8 yards per attempt
  • Caught 51 passes for 421 yards and two touchdowns
  • Averaged 8.3 yards per reception
  • Total yards: 991
  • Total touchdowns: 5

Breida (2018 season)

  • 153 rushes for 814 yards and three touchdowns
  • Averaged 5.3 yards per attempt
  • Caught 27 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns
  • Averaged 9.7 yards per reception
  • Total yards: 1,075
  • Total touchdowns: 5

Tevin Coleman (2018 season)

  • 167 rushes for 800 yards and four touchdowns
  • Averaged 4.8 yards per attempt
  • Caught 32 passes for 276 yards and five touchdowns
  • Averaged 8.6 yards per reception
  • Total yards: 1,076
  • Total touchdowns: 9

All three backs are similar in their ability to act as a dual-threat out of the backfield. How Shanahan decides to use all three has yet to be determined. Having yet to play a single game, there is speculation the 49ers may lean more on Breida and Coleman in the run game, over McKinnon, and the stats back that up.

Both Breida and Coleman finished in the Top 15 in yards per attempt last season, which could indicate they may see more runs than McKinnon, who has rushed for 4.0 yards per attempt throughout his career. A lot can change in the final weeks of the pre-season, but don’t be surprised if Breida and Coleman split time as the featured backs out of the gate, with McKinnon used as a third-down, change-of-pace style back.

Notes

Kyle Shanahan was asked about Garoppolo’s availability for the pre-season, and confirmed that the team is planning on playing him in games two and three of the pre-season, but not in games one and four. Shanahan also gave an update on injured-safety, Jimmie Ward:

I mean, he’s getting closer, because each day’s going. The goal is Denver, though. We’d like to get him back for the Denver week. I know he’s able to run and do stuff like that, but anytime you’re dealing with a clavicle, you’ve got to make sure it’s strong enough to take a hit. That’s what we’ll be patient with.”

Rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw met with the media post-practice. He’s had a great camp thus far, intercepting a pass, breaking up plays and laying big hits on receivers and running backs. Greenlaw is on the smaller side in terms of prototypical linebackers, but that’s not stopping him. In fact, he was able to talk to a former under-sized, 49er linebacker recently:

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