Matt Breida was the NFL’s leading rusher after two weeks, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to stop splitting carries with 49ers veteran Alfred Morris.
“I think it’s very important for both of those guys to be fresh,” Kyle Shanahan said Friday before taking off for Sunday’s game in Kansas City. “I think they play off each other very well. We’ll go with the hot hand, but whoever the hot hand is eventually tires out.”
That could be why Breida received just one carry after his 66-yard touchdown in last week’s victory over the Lions late in the third quarter. Shanahan opted for Morris, who’s roughly 20 pounds heavier, to salt the game away with physical runs up the middle after San Francisco’s lead ballooned to 17 points. Breida’s known for his speed on runs to the outside.
But Breida has been the far more productive running back despite getting less playing time (he’s been given 55 snaps to Morris’ 65 through two weeks). The undrafted second-year player is averaging 8.4 yards per carry and leads the league with 92 rushing yards per game. Morris is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry and has the advantage in rushes, 26-22.
Breida’s play has been one of the most promising developments for San Francisco in the early stage of the new season. He became an important player once expected starter Jerick McKinnon was lost for the year with a torn ACL suffered during practice a week before the opener.
The 49ers took a chance on Breida in 2017 following the draft despite a dip in his last year at Georgia Southern. He logged just 646 rushing yards in his final college season after averaging 1,547 yards the previous two campaigns. Breida’s drop in production can be attributed to a new coaching staff installing the triple option.
Regardless, Breida enticed the 49ers before the draft at his pro day, reportedly posting an impressive 4.38 in the 40-yard dash and 42-inch vertical. Those marks would have ranked second and first among running backs at 2017 scouting combine, but Breida wasn’t invited.
On top of his athleticism, Breida has also ingratiated himself to the coaching staff with his ability to pick up the playbook. It was apparent early on that Breida was the more reliable option than 2017 fourth-round pick Joe Williams, who failed to make the team and remains unsigned.
“He’s a very smart running back,” Jimmy Garoppolo said. “He knows what he’s looking for in each run, what the read is. If there’s a cutback opportunity pre-snap, he knows it. It’s tying all of that stuff together and I think he’s done a great job of it along with those guys up front giving him room to run.”
Goodwin, Tartt questionable — The 49ers could be without key players on either side of the ball in Kansas City. Goodwin, the team’s primary deep threat, is listed as questionable with the quad bruise that kept him out last week against the Lions. He’ll be a game-time decision following a pregame work out.
Goodwin hasn’t made a catch yet this season and has been replaced primarily by rookie Dante Pettis, who ran the wrong route on Jimmy Garoppolo’s late interception against the Lions that was negated by a defensive holding penalty.
“Pettis has played a little too much here in the last couple weeks,” Shanahan said. “Got a lot of confidence in him, but it’s a lot to throw on him early. It’s just a trickle-down effect.”
Tartt, who would likely be the primary option to cover the Chiefs’ imposing tight Travis Kelce, is dealing with a shoulder injury that caused him to leave Sunday’s victory on the final possession.
Tartt was limited in his return to practice Friday after missing the week’s first two sessions. It’s unclear how the 49ers would replace him if he can’t play. Strong safety is one of the thinnest positions on the roster, which might force the team to go with smaller options.
“We could go a bunch of different directions,” said Shanahan. “You guys all know Jimmie Ward could play that spot, D.J. Reed (Jr.) can play both safeties. We have (Antone) Exum who has backed up Tartt who could come in at any time.”
Sherman’s new normal — Richard Sherman returned to practice Friday and will play Sunday, Shanahan said. The cornerback missed Thursday’s practice with a heel injury that Shanahan indicated was minor.
He expects Sherman to regularly miss practice during the week.
“Once you hit that 30 mark, from a starting point, we don’t always like to practice you all three days. Some guys we do; it depends on how much they go,” Shanahan said. “But, as the year gets going, not just Sherm but anyone really over 30 will probably be having their practice schedule altered.”
Sherman’s absence on Thursday raised eyebrows. He suffered a torn right Achilles in November and had surgery to remove bone spurs from his left heel in the spring. Shanahan wouldn’t say which leg bothered Sherman to the point of missing practice.
Guard Joshua Garnett, who dislocated a toe Week 1, was the only 49er ruled out for Sunday’s game.