When the San Francisco 49ers drafted Alabama Crimson Tide running back Glen Coffee in the middle of the third round of this past April's NFL Draft, they envisioned a player that would complement All-Pro running back Frank Gore (who coincidentally was drafted in the third round as well).
At Alabama, Coffee was very productive for the Crimson Tide. In 35 games (17 starts) for the Crimson Tide, Coffee rushed for 2,107 yards on 410 carries while scoring 14 touchdowns. In his final season at Alabama, Coffee rushed for 1,383 yards and scored 10 touchdowns and was a semi-finalist for the Doak Walker Award which is awarded to college football's top running back.
In a heated Southeastern Conference game against the rival Kentucky Wildcats last year, Coffee turned in one of his best performances, rushing for 218 yards on 25 carries. Coffee's 78-yard touchdown run proved to be the difference maker as the Crimson Tide held on for the 17-14 victory. The 2008 All-SEC selection was a force to be reckoned with.
More and more teams in the NFL are relying heavily on running back tandems.
For example, Carolina Panthers electrifying runner DeAngelo Williams had 273 carries for 1,515 rushing yards with 18 touchdowns. His backup, sledgehammer Jonathan Stewart rushed for 836 yards on 184 carries and 10 touchdowns. Williams and Stewart were major reasons in the Panthers finishing third in the NFL in rushing (152.3) a game and a (12-4) season.
Coffee's addition should help improve a 49ers rushing attack that ranked 27th in yards a game (99.9) in 2008 and give Gore more rest throughout the season. Gore runs so hard that he's susceptible to big hits and missed games.
Since his breakout 2006 season when he rushed for a franchise record 1,695 yards and eight touchdowns in 16 starts, Gore's starts have decreased since. In 2007, he started 15 games, and 14 games last year. Gore still managed to rush for 1,036 yards and six touchdowns on 240 carries in 2008.
The 6'0", 209 lbs. Coffee is built a bit unusual. With thin hips, Coffee lacks the bulk in the core and lower body to be a tremendous power runner. With a running style that's reminiscent of former Crimson Tide, Shaun Alexander, Coffee likes to run over defenders but has been know to go down easy at times. But, the 49ers do believe that the combination of Gore and Coffee will translate into a stronger running game.
Even though Coffee was known more for his running skills at Alabama, he was an underrated receiver out of the back field.
Along with his 1,383 rushing yards in his final season, Coffee also added 42 catches for 351 yards receiving and two touchdowns. When the 49ers have both Gore and Coffee lined up in the back field, opposing defenses are going to have to take notice.