SAN FRANCISCO A 49ers running back has led the exhibition season in rushing in four out of the last five years, and the team is well on its way to defending that title after gaining 260 yards on the ground Friday.
The only question is, who will take the crown?
The 49ers used an array of personnel packages in their 17-6 win over the Minnesota Vikings, and six different runners finished the game with at least 15 rushing yards. The biggest run came courtesy of a quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who must have made University of Nevada fans nostalgic after sprinting 78 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Kaepernick said afterward he felt like he had a flashback.
With the offense in no-huddle mode, Kaepernick faked an inside handoff to rookie running back LaMichael James on second and 8, kept the ball and sprinted to his right. The scamper included a nice stiff-arm on cornerback Chris Cook before Kaepernick crossed the goal line.
Both Kaepernick and James played in wide-open offenses in college, and the two became fast friends this offseason.
"I think it's just something we're used to because we've done it for so long," said Kaepernick, the only player in NCAA history to throw for more than 10,000 yards and rush for more than 4,000 yards. "Both of us won't forget what it feels like back there. The chemistry was just good."
That two-play, 28-second scoring drive was in stark contrast to the 49ers' opening series, which lasted 12 plays and ate up 7:21 of the opening quarter.
Everything appeared to go as planned on the drive.
Brandon Jacobs, brought in during the offseason to be a short-yardage specialist, gained two, gritty first downs, including one on fourth and one. The 260-pound tailback also took a run outside for 23 yards.
"Brandon Jacobs looked light on his feet," coach Jim Harbaugh said after the game. "He got the big run and was able to bounce it outside."
Kendall Hunter, who started the game for Frank Gore, had five carries for 24 yards while another newcomer, Rock Cartwright, ran for 44 yards.
The drive ended when quarterback Alex Smith found receiver Brett Swain on the left side of the end zone for a four-yard touchdown. Smith left the game after completing all three pass attempts for 16 yards and a 128.5 passer rating. It was a much better start than last year's exhibition opener in New Orleans, which saw him sacked and battered by the Saints' blitzing defense.
"The (first-team) offensive line, in two series, had 130 yards rushing, so the stats speak for themselves," Smith said. "We just dominated tonight. Anytime you can play like that, it just makes all of our jobs easy."
All four 49ers quarterbacks played. Scott Tolzien went in for the third quarter, throwing for 84 yards and an interception when he was hit mid-delivery. Josh Johnson was given mop-up duty. He was 2 of 4 for 30 yards.
When training camp began, Harbaugh insisted that five of his receivers were tied for the No. 1 role on the team.
Michael Crabtree, playing his first-ever preseason game, started opposite Ted Ginn Jr. But the 49ers rotated in different receivers and personnel throughout the first half.
Randy Moss entered on the third play of the opening series and was in for four snaps total. He did not have a pass thrown his way.
Mario Manningham was the only receiver in that group of five who did not take part in the opening drive. Swain appeared to fill in for him.
Harbaugh said that ever-changing lineup will continue for the near future and perhaps into the regular season.
"That's the way we were looking at it from the start of training camp that those guys would be doing that," Harbaugh said.