Here is a link to my Sunday column about 49ers’ tailback Carlos Hyde. The full text runs below:
Today’s key word is “potentially.”
I’m saying 49ers rookie running back Carlos Hyde is more important to the team than terrific, fantastic, exceptional wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Potentially.
I’m saying Hyde brings more to the Niners than Boldin, even though Boldin was named the team MVP last season. Potentially.
This is nothing against Boldin, absolutely essential to the team. I use him as an example to show Hyde’s enormous impact. Potentially.
Look at it like this. The 49ers traded for Boldin before last season to improve their passing game. And he responded. He is one heck of a receiver and he’s a tough guy. He led the team with 85 catches and 1,179 receiving yards. He was a big deal.
Hyde can be a bigger deal.
For starters, Boldin is part of the passing game, a somewhat vestigial aspect of the 49ers’ offense. The 49ers are a running team. They are not a team that uses the West Coast Offense. They are more University of Michigan under Bo Schembechler.
Which means Boldin, as great as he is, was a little off the point of the 49ers’ primary focus. With Boldin in the starting lineup, the 49ers did not improve. They pretty much stayed the same, although without Boldin they went to the Super Bowl and with him they didn’t. Boldin helped the 49ers maintain. He did not help them advance.
I am not putting down Boldin and the 49ers’ passing game. I am stating facts. The Niners passed less frequently than any team in the NFL last season, ranked dead last in pass attempts. But they ranked third in rushing attempts last season.
What does this tell us?
It tells us they are a run-first team. It tells us running back is really important to them. More important to them than an elite receiver.
Which brings us to Frank Gore. Old man Gore. A man with mileage on his legs. A man beginning to leak oil.
The Niners have gotten the most out of Gore in his twilight years with good blocking and clever run plays. All credit to Gore and the 49ers and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who is smart designing runs. Although the 49ers try not to overwork Gore, go easy on him in preseason, he faded toward the end of last season. Maybe there was slippage in his transmission and his tires lacked some tread and he couldn’t zoom from zero to 60 like he used to.
Gore does not play well in Seattle. In last season’s final game, the 23-17 disappointing loss to the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game, he ran for 14 yards on 11 carries. That “14” is not a misprint. Gore averaged a little more than one yard per carry.
Colin Kaepernick would hand Gore the ball and the Seahawks defenders would flatten him like a pancake at the line of scrimmage. And poor old Gore would stagger to his feet, a look of confusion on his innocent face. Football wasn’t supposed to be this hard. Neither was life. It’s not going to get easier for Gore this season.
Because Gore couldn’t compete in that final game, the offense came down to Kaepernick scrambling — sometimes out of desperation — and throwing passes he did not want to throw.
The Seahawks’ running back Marshawn Lynch, by way of comparison, ran for 109 yards on 22 carries, just took over the game. The 49ers need to match the Seahawks. The 49ers need a back who can contribute late in the season, a back who can get hit at the line of scrimmage and still gain three or four yards, a back who can run like crazy in the loud, mad, ear-fracturing chaos of CenturyLink Field.
Carlos Hyde is that back. Potentially.
He is younger than Gore by eight years. He has less mileage on his engine and no dings on his bumpers. He is 20 pounds heavier than Gore, a flat-out bigger man. He is more powerful than Gore. He is as fast as Gore.
The 49ers offense needs a new workhorse running back, its own version of Seattle’s Lynch. Hyde may be that back. If he is successful, everything else opens up to the offense — that means the passing attack will be better because defenses, especially the Seahawks’ defense, must worry about Hyde.
Hyde is more than running back as battering ram.
In the exhibition game against Baltimore, he dashed around left end for 28 yards, turned that corner. Sweet. He is fast. And big.
And he has good hands. Remember that. Quarterbacks have been throwing the ball to him in training camp. It is an interesting sight. And he catches the ball and runs upfield. With him in the game, the running and passing attacks would benefit. He would be the threat the 49ers need.
He did not appear intimidated by the level of competition against the Ravens. He displayed explosion and good vision into and out of the hole. And he has fresh legs which the Niners need.
Hyde, whom the 49ers took in the second round, is clearly Trent Baalke’s most significant offensive draft pick since he took Colin Kaepernick in the second round in 2011.
Hyde can be a game changer and a team changer.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn.pressdemocrat.com.