Rather than deal with things that are out of their control, Jim Harbaugh and company will instead have the team sharp and prepared as always.
First thing on the agenda? Well, let's start in the backfield.
Yes, Frank Gore is still in the red and gold. Most fans would end the conversation at that point, but I believe it's about time we reopen this discussion. Granted, some new developments—i.e. the NFL draft—help keep this conversation going, but what else are we supposed to talk about in late May?
I want to zero in my focus on running back Marcus Lattimore. I love Kendall Hunter and newly added running back Carlos Hyde, but it's Lattimore that brings a unique spin to this conversation.
We all know the harrowing injury he suffered at South Carolina and how the 49ers still gave him a chance to realize his lifelong dream of playing professional football. Blah, blah, blah. I don't mean to be insensitive, but we all know the story.
After redshirting his rookie season, many fans expected Lattimore to play a role in 2014. With Hunter and LaMichael James in the fold, the role would be insignificant. Nevertheless, even if Lattimore didn't play much in the next two years, he at least represented the future at the position.
Is this still true? Let's dig in!
Drafting of Carlos Hyde
After addressing their secondary with the addition of Jimmie Ward in the first round, many believed the 49ers would actively pursue a receiver early in the second day of the draft. However, just hours before the start of the second round, the 49ers acquired veteran receiver Stevie Johnson via trade.
With a veteran receiver now in the fold, the 49ers went about a best-player-available strategy. That led to the 49ers drafting running back Carlos Hyde in the second round.
If you thought the 49ers' backfield was crowded already, you'll get a kick out of this. The 49ers now have Gore, Hunter, James, Lattimore and Hyde fighting for carries.
Gore and Hunter should continue to get majority of the carries, but what about Lattimore? If Hyde becomes the 49ers' goal-line back, Lattimore is essentially in the same position as James was in 2013.
Now, James should be on his way out via trade despite general manager Trent Baalke's insistence on keeping him in the fold. That should free up some space.
Even if the 49ers hadn't drafted Hyde, though, Lattimore still would have seen little playing time in 2014. The drafting of Hyde really just signified that Lattimore's future as a lead back with the 49ers is in question.
Does Lattimore Still Have the Ability to Take Over for Frank Gore?
We shift our focus now to Lattimore's health. Forget carries, will Lattimore truly be healthy enough to see the field in 2015?
From what we hear around the league, Lattimore's knee appears to be healthy. That's good news, but Jim Harbaugh did mention to reporters that something else was bothering the second-year running back.
"It’s not the knee. It’s something else that he’s working through. And we’re going to be going at a speed the doctors allow him and his body allows him to go," he said.
This could be a minor issue. However, we still don't know the full picture. If Lattimore's health proves to hold him back, we could see the 49ers release him in the near future.
When healthy, Lattimore is a truly special talent at the running back position. Nonetheless, if you can't see the field, this discussion is moot.
How Will the 49ers Use Gore in 2014 and Beyond?
We've discussed everyone except the "inconvenient truth" himself. How the 49ers use Gore this season could tell us a lot about the coming seasons.
It's high time the 49ers use a committee approach in the backfield. Now, Gore can still receive the bulk of carries. However, the 49ers must force Gore to take a step back in 2014—especially in the regular season.
The 49ers need a fresh and healthy Gore for the postseason.
If the 49ers utilize a committee approach, this could open up some carries for Hunter and Lattimore. Of course, Lattimore must be healthy.
Gore must be willing to take a backseat. If so, Lattimore should at least have a shot at showcasing himself as a threat on the field.
The status quo must change if Lattimore intends to stick with the 49ers.
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