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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — San Francisco 49ers coach Chip Kelly raised some eyebrows on Sunday afternoon when he announced that his team isn’t built to throw the ball 60 times per game.

But Kelly wasn’t really saying anything that the rest of the football world didn’t already know or that he hadn’t said before. From the moment Kelly arrived as head coach of the Niners, it was clear that the focal point of the offense was going to be the running game, namely running back Carlos Hyde.

After all, Hyde was the one skill position player on the roster — save for the 2012 or so version of quarterback Colin Kaepernick — who looked like he had breakout ability.

So when Kelly was asked again about the statement on Monday, he reemphasized the point.

“It’s just overall the way our team is built,” Kelly said. “We’re built to run the football. Carlos is the main focus of what we’re doing offensively. We have a running quarterback that complements him and then our play-action pass complements that, and when we’re running the ball successfully and play-action pass off of that, we’re very good as an offensive football team. But to think we’re going to go into a game and throw the ball 60 times and win, that’s not a game plan for success for us.”
Carlos Hyde took a positive step with 86 yards on 19 carries against the Patriots, but the 49ers need more from their running game. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Indeed it isn’t. Really, throwing the ball 40 times in a game isn’t a recipe for success for the 49ers. Going back to Kelly’s three years in Philadelphia, the run game always has been the central piece of the offense, and the Eagles were at their best under Kelly in 2013 when they had one of the best rushing attacks in football. In three seasons in Philadelphia, Kelly’s Eagles were 24-8 when they rushed for 100 or more yards.

At the heart of that running game was LeSean McCoy, and though he had help, the amount of production that came from the quarterback paled in comparison to the yardage ratio between running backs and quarterbacks on Kelly’s 49ers.

Of the 2,566 rushing yards those Eagles had, running backs accounted for 2,019, or 79 percent.

This year, Kelly’s first season in San Francisco, the 49ers have rushed for 100 or more yards in seven games, but they’re just 1-6 in those matchups. In addition to not having a supporting cast that includes the likes of receiver DeSean Jackson, a dominant offensive line and a solid defense, the Niners’ running backs haven’t been able to do enough to keep defenses honest.

While the 49ers are averaging a solid 119.8 rushing yards per game, running backs have mustered just 766 of those 1,198 yards on the ground, which comes out to 64 percent. Last week, we discussed the need for running backs to contribute more to help alleviate some of the pressure on Kaepernick as both a runner and a passer.

To his credit, Hyde took a step in that direction in Sunday’s loss to New England. In a performance that Kelly would call “OK,” Hyde rushed for 86 yards on 19 carries, the third-most productive outing he’s had this season and a vast improvement over the 13-carry, 14-yard performance from the previous week against Arizona.

What was the difference? For one, Hyde looked less concerned with his previously injured shoulder than he did against the Cardinals. But he also pointed to a refreshed approach to running in Kelly’s scheme.

“Last week, I wasn’t attacking the line,” Hyde said. “This whole week, my mindset was to attack. When I’m attacking, I’m extending the drive for us and picking up yards for us.”

“As the game goes on, it gets easier and I know where I need to go with the ball.”

To hear Hyde discuss attacking the line would represent a different take on the popular emphasis that most discuss when talking about running in Kelly’s zone-heavy scheme. Patience is usually the primary factor and coaches praised Hyde’s patience early in the season when he had a couple of his better performances. An aggressive approach would seem to run counter to the patience required to read the line, locate a hole and accelerate through it, but as Kelly explains there’s actually a happy medium to be found.

“I think you need to find the holes,” Kelly said. “That’s the most important thing. And I don’t know, sometimes that is attacking and sometimes that is patience. It’s a combination of the two. So the biggest thing for the running back is having the vision to understand where the hole’s going to be and when the hole breaks that you have the opportunity to get yourself through it.

“So sometimes it’s going to be a quick-hitting play and you’ve got to hit it quickly and other times you’ve got to let the blocks develop. It really just depends on the play call in terms of where you are for that.”
Hyde ranks 20th in the NFL in rushing yards (529), 33rd in yards per carry (3.75) and 13th in yards per carry after contact (1.94) in nine games. Clearly, he could use some help from his blockers as he ranks 37th in the league in yards per carry before contact (1.81).

The inability to consistently run successfully combined with regular deficits has left the Niners averaging 37.4 dropbacks per game, which even though it’s 26th in the league, is still more than the Niners would like to have.

Regardless of how you slice it up, so long as Hyde and the run game remain the primary option for the offense, the Niners need to get more in that area so they don’t find themselves having to air it out as often.

“Every week we want to run the ball,” Hyde said. “Especially when you’re playing quarterbacks like Tom Brady, you want to get your run game going. You want to keep him off the field, minimize the defense on the field and extend our drives. Yeah, you want to run the ball. Eat that clock off and score points.”

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman hasn’t played a snap of football since Oct. 2. That day, he suffered a torn Achilles that cost him the rest of the season.

Bowman has unfortunately grown accustomed to missing large chunks of time, but those absences haven’t killed Bowman’s desire to play. In fact, they’ve only strengthened his resolve to get back better than before.


Such is the case currently as Bowman reported for the start of the team’s offseason conditioning program Monday with his Achilles mostly healed and a return apparently imminent.

“I believe he’s going to be cleared when we get going on the field,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I know that’s something him and [head athletic trainer Jeff Ferguson] are still working out. Right now, he was in the weight room doing the testing and stuff. We can’t go out on the field with him yet, but when that time comes, I think two weeks from now at minicamp, might have a better answer for you.”
NaVorro Bowman is expecting to be back on the field when the Niners hold their first minicamp April 25-27. Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports
Bowman said he participated in the running drills and other tests the players participated in Monday. While he said he still has some kinks to work out, Bowman is also expecting to be back on the field when the Niners hold their first minicamp April 25-27.

Of course, whether Bowman gets fully cleared to participate in that is up to Ferguson but Bowman said Ferguson watched him Monday and thought he moved well.

Getting back to full strength has been another lengthy process for Bowman, who has previously returned from multiple serious knee injuries. Bowman has spent most of his time near the Niners facility so the training staff could keep an eye on his rehabilitation.

“It was good,” Bowman said. “We took it slow. In the last month, started ramping it up, doing a bit more things, jumping around, it’s been great, there’s been no setbacks or anything, just looking forward to getting back out there and showing what I have.”

Upon his return, Bowman will be jumping into a 4-3 defensive scheme under new coordinator Robert Saleh. It will be the first time in Bowman’s eight-year career he hasn’t been in a 3-4 front. Although it’s something new, Bowman expressed excitement to play in a scheme where he’s only responsible for one gap and doesn’t expect the adjustment to be too difficult.

The goal will then be to get back to the elite level of play he’s known for.

“I was telling the guys today, I’m hungry,” Bowman said. “I’ve been out of the game since Week 4 so any accomplishment that I had before, none of that matters. I really want to get back to prove myself and get back to that level and guys were saying ‘What are you on? How are you moving like this so early?’ So I’ll put the work in and I think God will bless me with a great season this year.”

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A major reason former Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster slipped to No. 31 in the first round of last week’s draft is a shoulder condition that worried teams and could jeopardize his rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers, per league sources.


49ers took Tide’s Foster with Saints on line
With the Saints on the phone, poised to draft Reuben Foster with the 32nd pick Thursday, the Alabama linebacker got his wish — when the 49ers called on the other line.
Despite surgery on his right rotator cuff, Foster’s right shoulder was worrisome enough that some teams did not consider drafting him.

“The surgery didn’t take,” said one well-placed source with knowledge of the injury.

Last week, USA Today Sports reported that Foster slipped in the draft because at least one team was concerned he would need additional shoulder surgery.

Another source predicted that Foster would not make it through his rookie season and that the linebacker’s shoulder could give out on any hit. The 49ers’ doctors, however, are comfortable with the condition of Foster’s shoulder and hopeful it will hold up, though they understand there could be a risk, according to sources.
Reuben Foster’s shoulder scared off many teams in the draft, but the 49ers were comfortable enough with it to draft the linebacker with the 31st overall pick. Stan Szeto/USA TODAY Sports
Foster was sent home early from the combine in February after he had an altercation with a hospital worker. Because Foster left the combine early, the NFL did not have its own medical report on him until just days before the draft. By the time teams received it, there were enough concerns with multiple teams that, at the very least, it contributed to Foster sliding down the board, according to league sources.

One team said this week that Foster’s shoulder exam during his medical recheck in Indianapolis was the reason it could not draft the former Alabama standout.

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The San Francisco 49ers have signed RB Tim Hightower to a one-year deal.

Hightower (6-0, 220) was originally drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the fifth round (149th overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft. Throughout his six-year NFL career with the Cardinals (2008-10), Washington Redskins (2011) and New Orleans Saints (2015-16), he has appeared in 77 games (45 starts) and registered 752 carries for 2,977 yards and 32 touchdowns in addition to 162 receptions for 1,208 yards and two touchdowns. Hightower has also appeared in six postseason games (two starts) and recorded 48 carries for 238 yards and three touchdowns as well as 10 receptions for 72 yards and two touchdowns.

Last season, Hightower appeared in 16 games (one start) with the Saints, where he finished with 133 carries for 548 yards and four touchdowns as well as 22 receptions for 200 yards (9.1 average) and one touchdown.

A 30-year-old native of Alexandria, VA, Hightower attended Richmond University, where he appeared in 49 games and established school records for rushing yards (3,617), all-purpose yards (4,448), rushing touchdowns (34) and total touchdowns (39). As a senior in 2007, he ran for 1,924 yards and 20 touchdowns while earning First-Team All-America honors.

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PALO ALTO, CALIF. — While John Lynch is off scouting quarterback prospects – he’s been spotted at North Carolina and Notre Dame’s Pro Days – Kyle Shanahan remains at the San Francisco 49ers training facility. The team’s head coach took a break from his film study on Thursday to take a quick trip up Highway 101 for Stanford’s Pro Day.

On the practice field, Shanahan spent time talking with Stanford head coach David Shaw and 49ers offensive lineman Joshua Garnett. Garnett was back at his alma mater to support his former teammates.

He also met briefly with local beat writers following the workouts. Here are five notes from the conversation.

The coach explained why it was important for him to remain at 49ers HQ rather than travel with Lynch & Co. to various Pro Days around the country. The looming start of San Francisco’s offseason program was a significant factor.

“It’s been better for me to stay in the office with the film,” Shanahan said. “We are getting our whole coaching staff ready for when our team gets here in two weeks. We’ve got a lot to do.”


Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey was one of the major draws on Thursday. The do-it-all playmaker has seen his stock rise since the NFL Scouting Combine as he’s entered the first-round conversation.

McCaffrey spent his Pro Day showcasing his versatility as a pass-catcher and ability to line up all over the field.

“That’s what makes him valuable,” Shanahan said. “He can do a little bit of everything, whether it’s special teams and all the skill positions on offense. He’s very versatile.”


Expect the 49ers to add at least one, if not two more quarterbacks before the start of training camp in late July. That could mean another free-agent addition or a rookie via the draft (or subsequent undrafted free agency).

San Francisco will continue to keep all of its options open.

“You usually want to bring four (quarterbacks) to camp,” Shanahan said. “I’ve done it with three, and I’ve also had five before.”

Shanahan had yet to discuss the addition of wide receiver Aldrick Robinson. The two were together in 2016 with the Atlanta Falcons and also spent two seasons together with the Washington Redskins from 2012-13.

Robinson caught 20 passes for 323 receiving yards and two touchdowns last year.

“Aldrick is just a solid receiver. He’s got a lot of speed,” Shanahan said. “He backed up Julio Jones for us in Atlanta. When he was out, Aldrick came in and did his job. He can run all the routes. He’s a guy who can be valuable for us.”


Shanahan admitted that he still has more tape to watch on Solomon Thomas. Stanford’s other top prospect has been a popular choice in mock drafts as the 49ers selection with the No. 2 overall pick.

The coach explained that he likes what he’s seen of the pass-rusher on film thus far and that he enjoyed seeing him in person on Thursday. Shanahan added that he and Lynch won’t be influenced by the fact that San Francisco has used two consecutive first-round choices on defensive lineman (Arik Armstead in 2015 and DeForest Buckner in 2016).

“It doesn’t concern me what we’ve done in the past,” Shanahan said. “If we think that a player can help us, then that’s what we’ll do. You want to get the best guy possible.”

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John Lynch was quick to inform everyone that the San Francisco 49ers view Kyle Juszczyk as far more than a fullback.

“He’s an ‘OW,’” Lynch said during last week’s press conference to introduce seven of the 49ers free-agent additions. “If you see ‘OW,’ that stands for ‘offensive weapon.’ We see an offensive weapon that (Kyle Shanahan) is thrilled to be able to use in a number of different capacities.”
Juszczyk is no stranger to a Swiss Army Knife-type role. Per Jeff Deeney of Pro Football Focus, the versatile fullback lined up all over the formation for the Baltimore Ravens in 2016. Juszczyk played 51 percent of his snaps at running back, 32 percent at fullback, eight percent at slot receiver, seven percent at wide receiver and three percent at tight end.

And with the NFL becoming more and more averse to specific position designations, Juszczyk may be the new prototype for an offensive playmaker. That’s why the 49ers had no problem making him the highest paid fullback in the league.

“The NFL is a hybrid league,” Juszczyk explained. “You’ve got safeties playing linebacker. You’ve got linebackers playing defensive end. On offense, you’ve got tight ends playing wide receiver. I think being multi-dimensional in today’s league is really an asset. I think it’s something that I can help bring to this team. Hopefully that’s an asset that leads to wins.”

Lynch confirmed that the 49ers had to beat out other NFL teams who were hoping to sign Juszczyk. It was even reported last week that another club was offering more than San Francisco.

But for Juszczyk, the deciding factor came down to believing in what is being built by the 49ers new regime.

“Working with Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch – two first class guys,” he said. “Those are guys you want to work for.”

The fullback is coming off of a productive 2016 season in which Juszczyk made his first career Pro Bowl. He caught 37 passes for 266 yards through the air and added five carries for 22 yards and his first career rushing touchdown on the ground.
In 2015, Juszczyk led all NFL fullbacks with 41 receptions for 321 yards and four scores.

He now thinks that Kyle Shanahan’s highly-touted offensive system can provide another boost to his production. At least, that’s what he’s been told.

Juszczyk consulted a number of his friends from around the league before signing with San Francisco. Players like former NFL tight end Owen Daniels and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Schaub, two guys familiar with Shanahan and his system, both compared the offense to Gary Kubiak’s

Juszczyk spent one season in Kubiak’s system in 2014 with the Ravens while Kubiak was the team’s offensive coordinator. He caught 19 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown that year.

“They told me it was very similar – maybe a little more advanced,” Juszczyk said, feeling like he has a sense of what he’s getting himself into with the 49ers. “They told me how much I would love it. Kyle Shanahan is the absolute best at putting his players in a position to thrive and do their best. They told me this was the place for me and that if I wanted to be utilized correctly, this was where I needed to be.”

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The San Francisco 49ers will have 20 free agents in a couple of months. Seventeen of those free agents are unrestricted, while three are classified as restricted free agents.

A couple of things to know before free agency takes place:

— Unrestricted free agents can negotiate exclusively with the San Francisco until the new league year begins on March 9.

— Restricted free agents could be tendered a contract. If so, the 49ers would have the right of first refusal to match any offers they may receive.

— Teams have until 1 p.m. PT on March 1 to designate franchise or transition tags for their free agents.

— The new league year also begins with the start of NFL free agency, which officially opens on March 9 at 1 p.m. PT. Unrestricted free agents will have a two-day negotiating period on March 7 at 12:59 p.m. PT to enter contract talks. New deals cannot be executed until the start of free agency.

Let’s take a look at the 17 aforementioned unrestricted free agents on San Francisco’s roster in alphabetical order:

LB Nick Bellore

Started 10 games at linebacker in place of NaVorro Bowman, recorded 82 tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery.


K Phil Dawson

Made 30-of-31 extra-point attempts and was 18-of-21 on field goals with a season-long of 53 yards.

NT Glenn Dorsey

Started six games after suffering a torn ACL late in the 2015 season, recorded 36 tackles and one sack.

RB Shaun Draughn

Appeared in 14 games. Rushed 74 times for 196 yards with four touchdowns on the ground. Caught 29 passes for 263 receiving yards with two touchdown receptions.

TE Jim Dray

Signed with the 49ers on Dec. 19, 2016. Appeared in two games.

QB Blaine Gabbert

Started five games in 2016. Completed 91-of-160 pass attempts for 925 yards with five touchdown passes and six interceptions. Rushes 40 times for 173 yards with two touchdowns.

G Andrew Gardner

Signed on Dec. 21, 2016. Started at left guard in the 2017 season finale.


LB Gerald Hodges

Made 11 starts at inside linebacker. Recorded 92 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

DT Tony Jerod-Eddie

Appeared in nine games. Recorded seven tackles.

DT Chris Jones

Claimed off waivers on Nov. 8, 2016. Appeared in five games. Recorded 27 tackles in five starts.


WR Jeremy Kerley

Acquired via trade on Aug. 29, 2016. Started 13 games and led the 49ers with 64 receptions and 667 receiving yards. Added three touchdown catches. Averaged 7.6 yards on 21 punt returns with a long of 26 yards.

QB Thad Lewis

Placed on Injured Reserve on Aug. 16, 2016 after sustaining a knee injury in the preseason.

WR Quinton Patton

Placed on Injured Reserve on Dec. 20, 2016. Produced career highs with 37 catches and 308 receiving yards.

QB Christian Ponder

Signed on Aug. 16, 2016. Did not appear in a regular season contest.


WR Rod Streater

Acquired via trade on Sept. 3, 2016. Recorded 18 catches for 191 receiving yards with two touchdown grabs.

G Andrew Tiller

Appeared in 14 games. Made seven starts at guard.

LB Michael Wilhoite

Appeared in 16 games. Made five starts and recorded 59 tackles and one forced fumble.

San Francisco’s restricted free agents:

CB Marcus Cromartie

Appeared in nine games. Recorded four tackles.

CB Chris Davis

Began the season as the team’s starting slot cornerback, was placed on Injured Reserve on Oct. 10, 2016. Recorded two tackles and a half sack in four appearances.

RB DuJuan Harris

Appeared in nine games, making one start. Rushed 38 times for 138 yards. Caught eight passes for 115 yards and one touchdown.

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Former Browns cornerback K’Waun Williams had four contract offers, and now he’s chosen his next team.

Williams is signing a one-year contract with the 49ers, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports.

The Jets, Lions, Vikings and Dolphins all showed interest in Williams as well.

Williams entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Browns in 2014. Last year the Browns released him after he clashed with the team about his treatment for an ankle injury, and he ended up not playing at all as that injury healed. But the 25-year-old Williams should be good to go this year, and the 49ers will hope they got a talented young player in their secondary.

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At 1-4, the Niners clearly weren’t going anywhere with Gabbert as the starter. And Kaepernick deserves an opportunity to see if he can deliver on the idea that he’s a good fit for Kelly’s offense.

Kaepernick made his first start on Sunday, October 14, 2007. Entering as 26-point underdogs to the Boise State Broncos—a team that had never lost on its home field to a WAC opponent—Kaepernick and the Wolf Pack nearly upset the Broncos in one of the highest-scoring games in NCAA history (69–67 in four overtimes).

San Francisco coach Chip Kelly named Kaepernick the starter for Sunday’s game against the Bills, replacing a struggling Blaine Gabbert in what Kelly termed “a football decision.” This comes after weeks of headlines about Kaepernick’s decision to not stand during the national anthem before games, a protest that began in the preseason.

The game was nationally televised on ESPN and was deemed an Instant Classic and re-aired on the network’s ESPN Classic station in the following days. Compiling 243-yards passing with three touchdowns and rushing for another 177-yards and two scores, Kaepernick led the Wolf Pack into a fourth overtime period when a failed two-point conversion attempt ultimately ended the game. During the contest, Kaepernick earned high praise from ESPN’s Bill Curry (the former Georgia Tech and Green Bay Packer center and University of Alabama and University of Kentucky head football coach) as having perhaps the best game by a redshirt freshman quarterback he had ever witnessed.

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Granted, Zeke is running behind the Holy Grail of offensive lines, unlike Hyde, but the point remains that a rookie leads the league in rushing while his team was in the midst of a quarterback transition of its own. He’s rushing the ball 20 times a game and has actually increased his average yards per carry each week.

“Before the season even started, I was looking at our schedule and knew we were playing these top teams,” Hyde said. “I really look forward to it every Sunday. I’m playing against the best, so I’m ready for their best shot, and they bring out the best in me.”
Hyde enrolled at Ohio State in January 2010. Hyde played primarily as a backup running back in his first two seasons before breaking out in his junior season with 970 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns in less than 10 games after missing two because of an ankle issue. He was named second-team all-Big Ten that year.

Hyde is seventh in the league with 377 rushing yards and his six rushing touchdowns tie him for tops in the NFL. Much of the production has come in the second half. Four of Hyde’s six scores have come in the final two quarters.