San Francisco 49ers

Jim Tomsula wants 49ers to run the ball – and that includes Kaepernick

San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke, left, and new 49ers coach Jim Tomsula made it clear that a physical ground game  will be the focus in 2015.
San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke, left, and new 49ers coach Jim Tomsula made it clear that a physical ground game will be the focus in 2015. The Associated Press

Jim Tomsula said he wants an offense that can run the ball – and that includes the quarterback.

At his introductory news conference Thursday, the new 49ers coach was asked whether he’d like to see Kaepernick get back to the style that had the Green Bay Packers and other defenses on their heels early in his career.

“I think he can run, I think he can throw. I think he can change the pace of the game, change the speed of the game,” Tomsula said. “…More so than the traditional quarterback, he does it with the lower body. And (we’ll) look at that, corral it and let’s accentuate those things as we continue to strengthen other areas.”

Kaepernick rushed for 639 yards this season, second only to Seattle’s Russell Wilson (849) among quarterbacks and tied for 27th overall. Still, the read-option runs that were a staple of the 49ers’ offense early in Kaepernick’s career were more rare in 2014. Many of his runs – including his 90-yard touchdown in Week 16 – came off of scrambles.

Kaepernick is training in Phoenix this offseason with former quarterback Kurt Warner, who was not a threat to run. Kaepernick’s focus is improving how he operates in the pocket.

Before the 2014 season, the 49ers loaded up on wide receivers and accentuated the passing game like they hadn’t in previous years. Tomsula – and general manager Trent Baalke – made it clear that a physical ground game will be the focus in 2015.

“I firmly believe that’s what the sport is – hit within the rules and safely but with everything you have and as aggressively as you can do it,” said Tomsula, a longtime defensive-line coach.

Assistants axed – The 49ers let go of most of their assistants, including defensive coaches Vic Fangio, Ed Donatell and Jim Leavitt.

Fangio was scheduled to earn a little more than $2 million in 2015. The 49ers are obligated to pay him if he doesn’t land a job or the difference if his next job doesn’t pay him that much.

Fangio is expected to be interviewed for defensive coordinator vacancies, beginning with one in Washington.

One assistant who will return is running backs coach Tom Rathman. Tomsula called Rathman on Wednesday night and told him that he’d like him to remain with the team. Rathman has coached the 49ers’ running backs since 2009, and his presence perhaps will make it easier for the team to re-sign running back Frank Gore, who becomes a free agent in March.

Those close to Gore think he will consider his options on the open market and that he is especially interested in Indianapolis as a possible destination.

Another assistant who will be back is quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst. Chryst has a good relationship with Kaepernick, although his role has yet to be defined. Chryst’s son, Keller, will be a freshman quarterback at Stanford next season.

Two other lower-level assistants likely to remain are Ejiro Evero and Mick Lombardi. Evero, who played safety at UC Davis, joined Harbaugh’s staff in 2011. He’s worked on both sides of the ball as an assistant. Lombardi is the son of Michael Lombardi, who was a general manager candidate with the 49ers in 2011 and who now works for the New England Patriots. Mick Lombardi was hired in 2013 and was an offensive assistant this past season.

Et cetera – Baalke said he will wait a few weeks before contacting defensive lineman Justin Smith about whether Smith wants to return for a 15th season. Smith is contemplating retirement, and Baalke said he will give the veteran plenty of time to decide.

▪ Tomsula made it clear the 49ers will have only one locker room in 2015. Players used both the one in Levi’s Stadium and the older one at their practice facility this season, which some felt caused a divide on the team. The former locker room is being converted into coaches’ offices.

▪ The 49ers spent hours with Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase the day before Tomsula was named coach. Baalke said Gase wasn’t offered the position. “The job was offered to one person and one person only, and that was Jim Tomsula,” Baalke said.

Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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