The 49ers received a reinforcement to their dwindling running backs corps in the form of Alfonso Smith, who spent the last four seasons with the division rival Arizona Cardinals, typically entering games on third downs.
Smith, 27, carried the ball 18 times for 54 yards last season in Arizona and had a role on coverage units on special teams. He had one touchdown and one lost fumble, which came during a 32-20 loss to the 49ers in San Francisco. He broke the news himself on Instagram on Monday: “I’m a Niner Babeeeeee!” he wrote. Smith, from San Bernardino, went undrafted out of Kentucky in 2010.
His steady play, however, won him a spot on the Cardinals roster for four seasons. While most teams keep four running backs on the roster, Arizona kept five over that span with Smith (6-1, 209) playing a key role on special teams as well. He finished with nine tackles last season.
To make room for Smith, the 49ers waived/injured guard Fouimalo Fonoti, an undrafted rookie. Fonoti suffered an injury Sunday and limped off the field. He had been playing right guard with the second-team offense.
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The 49ers need healthy running backs after two of their most experienced rushers, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James, went down with injuries last week. James will miss about a month with a dislocated left elbow. Hunter is likely to be out the season with an ACL tear to his right knee.
In addition, 2013 draft pick Marcus Lattimore has not been cleared to practice yet due to lingering concerns about his surgically repaired right knee. Lattimore, however, appears close to joining teammates. The only healthy runners behind starter Frank Gore are second-round draft pick Carlos Hyde and seldom-used Jewel Hampton, neither of whom have carried the ball in a regular-season NFL game.
Gore is not expected to get a lot – or any – carries in the preseason, and teams usually have an array of young runners to help spread the workload.