Terrell Davis, Mike Anderson, Olandis Gary, Alfred Morris and Devontae Freeman.
The common denominators among this group of running backs: They all rushed for more than 1,000 yards – and in Davis’ case, more than 2000 yards – under the tutelage of running backs coach Bobby Turner and none was selected before the fourth round.
Which is to say, draft status isn’t important to the 68-year-old assistant, but foot speed and cutting ability are paramount.
“The bottom line is knowing what you’re looking for,” Turner said.
In the offseason, the 49ers reshaped their running backs corps like no other position, starting with saying goodbye to long-time position coach Tom Rathman and bringing in Turner. While Rathman was known best for coaching a power-running style, Turner is a zone-running specialist who worked under Mike Shanahan in Denver and Washington, and alongside Mike’s son, Kyle, for the last two seasons in Atlanta.
The 49ers also parted ways with 2016 backups like Shaun Draughn, DuJuan Harris and Mike Davis and brought in a mostly new group.
That’s includes two rookies, fourth-round pick Joe Williams and undrafted Matt Breida, both of whom have looked sharp in recent OTA practices, albeit in sessions in which hitting and tackling aren’t allowed.
Breida had one of the few offensive highlights Thursday, when he caught a short pass along the sideline and then clicked into high gear to speed away from the linebacker who was in pursuit. Breida rushed for 1,608 yards in 2015 at Georgia Southern, but last year that total dropped to 646 yards and he went undrafted.
“His speed is obvious to everyone,” Turner said. “The bottom line is that he does break (runs) off and he makes plays when he gets the opportunity. That’s why he’s here. We saw those things (on film).”
On Williams, Turner said: “He has the tools, the qualities of other players who have worked well in the system. He’s hungry, he has the physical tools, he has the foot speed, the quickness, and when it comes down to it, the mental toughness.”
The other newcomers are veteran Tim Hightower, who at 31 is by far the oldest of the group, and Kapri Bibbs, who was acquired in a trade with Denver in April.
One of the holdovers from last season, Carlos Hyde, is the lone runner who entered the league with any fanfare having been a high second-round pick in 2014. At 230 or so pounds, Hyde is the biggest among the group of tailbacks and he’s never run the kind of outside zone plays – running down the line of scrimmage and then cutting up the field with a burst – that are a staple of Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
Still, Hyde has been running with the first-string offense and Turner says he’s like what he’s seen so far.
“The bottom line is that I’m happy with him right now,” Turner said. “I’m not saying I’m ready to cut him totally loose and stop coaching him. I’m going to be coaching him all the way up until game time.”