Carlos Hyde is angry. And happy. And that’s good news for the 49ers.
If you were to rank the most encouraging signs during San Francisco’s first eight training-camp practices, the top two might look like this:
1. With Kyle Shanahan calling his plays, quarterback Brian Hoyer has been consistently sharp, showing a bigger-than-expected arm on deep throws to Marquise Goodwin and excellent touch on timing routes to Pierre Garcon. In training camp, quarterbacks typically have a good practice followed by a bad one. Hoyer’s all have been impressive so far.
2. Hyde has gone from looking out of place early in the spring to looking like a man possessed in the summer.
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During one of last week’s practices, he caught a short pass, ran down the sideline and gave cornerback Dontae Johnson a wallop before going out of bounds. In the same session, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon made the mistake of standing flat-footed on the goal line with Hyde building steam from five yards out.
It was like a setting up a tee for Albert Pujols: WHACK! Witherspoon ended up on his back in the middle of the end zone.
During a blitz-pickup drill the next day Hyde did his best Frank Gore impersonation to date by stepping forward and blasting rookie safety Chanceller James so hard in the chest that James, too, landed supine, which is no small matter considering James is 215 pounds.
That Hyde likes to hit is no revelation. Everyone has seen him do so in the regular season, sometimes to his detriment. The difference is that he is showing that energy and enthusiasm in training camp.
This year there’s pressure on him like never before. Three seasons ago, after he was drafted early in the second round, he was the unquestioned and unchallenged heir to Gore’s throne. Now he is in his contract season.
If ousted general manager Trent Baalke were still here, you’d have to assume a new deal already would be complete. With a new regime in town? Crickets.
“We’re going to let this play out a little bit and see how they fit with what we want to do,” general manager John Lynch said when asked about prominent players, like Hyde, whose contracts expire in March.
Lynch and Shanahan also brought in a host of new runners, all of whom are custom fits for Shanahan’s one-cut-and-go rushing attack. Over the last two years, Hyde’s competition consisted of NFL vagabonds Shaun Draughn and DuJuan Harris, as well as mid-round draft pick Mike Davis, who during his rookie season flirted with becoming the first tailback in the modern era to average fewer than a yard per carry. (He avoided that ignominy with a decent game in the 2015 finale and ended the season averaging 1.7 yards.)
All three are gone this season, replaced by: veteran Tim Hightower, who has 162 career receptions and is playing in an offense that values pass-catching tailbacks; Joe Williams, who was hand-picked by Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner in the fourth round in April; and Matt Breida, the fastest rookie on the squad and the most consistently impressive runner since spring drills.
The 49ers also traded for Kapri Bibbs and retained speedy Raheem Mostert from last season. Both also have looked like good fits in Shanahan’s system.
All of which has caught Hyde’s attention.
After the offseason ended in mid-June, he stuck around the team facility for the next six weeks instead of heading to South Florida or Ohio State, which he had done in previous years. He dropped weight and carved his body-fat percentage from 16 percent to nearly single digits.
“He’s actually a really hard worker,” strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright said of Hyde. “I heard a lot of stuff when I got here that he’s a lazy guy. And quite honestly, I haven’t seen that. He was a guy who maybe didn’t have as much competition.”
The result is a hungrier Hyde, which not only is reflected in improved quickness but a level of intensity that didn’t exist the previous three summers. Hyde is happy with his new weight and runs angrily when he’s on the field.
The one emotion he must avoid is being content.