The Seattle Seahawks knocked the 49ers out of playoff contention late in the 2014 season and knocked their top two running backs at the time, Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde, out of the game with injuries.
Hyde missed the final two contests with a sprained ankle; Gore was back seven days later, rushing for 158 yards in Week 16 and another 144 yards in the season finale, which turned out to be his final game in a red and gold uniform.
The veteran’s resolve left a mark on the younger running back.
“I thought he was going to sit out,” Hyde recalled on Wednesday when asked when he realized there was something special about Gore. “… I think he was trying to get 1,000 yards (on the season) and he went out and got 1,000 yards. And he was banged up. I didn’t think he was going to go out there and play.”
The lesson is especially meaningful this week.
Not only will Hyde get to see his mentor in Indianapolis on Sunday, he is playing through an oblique (above his hip) injury suffered early in the 49ers’ Week 3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Injuries have been Hyde’s biggest hindrance since being drafted in the second round in 2014 as well as one of the main differences between him and the man he was drafted to replace. While Gore, 34, hasn’t missed a start since the 2011 season, Hyde, 27, has missed 14 potential starts in three years due to an array of ankle, knee, foot and shoulder issues.
That injury history also looms large as the 49ers decide whether to re-sign Hyde to a new contract. His current deal expires after the end of the season.
“We know all the guys (whose contracts) are up,” Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday. “We discussed Carlos. We’ve been very happy with Carlos. I think he’s been doing a good job for us. It’s still early in the year and I expect it to continue. I know he battled through an injury last week, but I’ve been very pleased with Carlos.”
Earlier this year the 49ers jumped ahead in the draft so they could grab Joe Williams in the fourth round. Many suspected that a young tailback who was hand-picked by Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner would end up surpassing Hyde, whom the coaching staff inherited from the previous regime.
That didn’t happen. Williams went on injured reserve before the season began with an ankle injury, which means the 49ers will not get to see him in a regular-season game before they have to make a decision on Hyde. Two other runners the 49ers acquired this year, Kapri Bibbs and Tim Hightower, did not make the final roster.
That left undrafted rookie Matt Breida as Hyde’s primary backup. Breida has been fine in that role so far. But he hasn’t eaten into Hyde’s carries, even with Hyde’s current injury. Hyde has handled 65 of the team’s 94 carries so far, 69 percent of the load. The rest have gone to Breida (20), Raheem Mostert (4), Brian Hoyer (3) and Kyle Juszczyk (2).
While Gore had eight 1,000-yard seasons in 10 years with the 49ers and one last year with the Colts, Hyde still is looking for his first. Through four weeks, he ranks sixth in the NFL with 321 yards. Gore is 21st with 191 yards.
“When he’s healthy, he’s one of the top young guys still,” Gore said of Hyde. “I always thought that he had talent. This year he’s doing great. He’s playing very hard. I watched the Seattle game. He’s playing very hard. I think he’s one of the bright spots of that offense. They’re putting a lot on his shoulders.”
Hyde, meanwhile, said his goal is to be like Gore.
“He’s been doing this for a long time and playing at a high level for a long time,” he said. “I’m trying to have a career like him, be in the top of the league in rushing.”
Both players are scheduled to be free agents in March.