The Niners gave Hyde the nod to start in the backfield on Thursday against the Baltimore Ravens and rested Frank Gore. They hardly missed him, as the second-round stud rumbled for 39 yards on five impressive carries.
Hyde shot through the line like a cannon on downhill run plays, getting near full speed as he accelerated quickly through creases created by San Francisco blockers.
As most who saw him play in college expected, the Ohio State product's skill set carried over tremendously to the next level. He used breakaway speed to get around linebackers and bust big gains, and his hard-nosed running style allowed him to pick up yardage even while contained.
He reached the second layer of the defense multiple times Thursday against the Ravens, prompting NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah to note the rookie's wheels:
Carlos Hyde has plenty of juice to get to the corner and he’s a load to bring down at the 2nd and 3rd level.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) August 7, 2014
Hyde was a nuisance to bring down at Ohio State, where he averaged over three yards per carry after contact in his final season. In a physical backfield that features workhorse Frank Gore and has traditionally used downhill-style backs similar to Hyde with success, he is fitting right in.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller added that Hyde has been ready for the big stage:
Carlos Hyde will make an impact early as a blocker/receiver. Was pro-ready coming out of Ohio State.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) August 8, 2014
As if drafting him in the second round—as the third overall running back chosen—wasn't enough to prove the Niners expect to use Hyde early and often this year, what has transpired since may thrust him into action.
San Francisco had Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James as solid backup options when Hyde was drafted. Now, Hunter is out for the season with a torn ACL and James is being held out of training camp with a dislocated elbow.
For perspective on how much the 49ers may have to rely on Hyde, the only other backs who played Thursday were Jewel Hampton and Alfonso Smith. If it's just Gore and Hyde healthy, they'll likely be splitting all of the carries between themselves.
With Hyde showing out in the preseason along with injury problems accumulating, the rookie should get the No. 2 job behind Gore from the get-go. The NFL has become a two-back league, but that's truer in San Francisco than anywhere else. That will allow Hyde to make a huge impact whether Gore is healthy or not.
But head coach Jim Harbaugh does have a recent history of going with the hot hand, as Rotoworld's Chet Gresham observed:
The way Harbaugh handled Kaepernick/Smith makes me believe if Hyde were to prove himself, it wouldn't take a Gore injury for him to start.— Chet (@Chet_G) July 24, 2014
Gore has done nothing to lose his starting job, and he has proven able to take care of the wear and tear of the position very well over time. But he's 31 years old, which means it's only a matter of time before the bumps and bruises take their toll.
On the other hand, Hyde is dripping with youth yet battle-tested from his days as a workhorse with the Buckeyes. He's also noticeably bigger than Gore, with similar speed and—this can't be stated enough—many, many less miles on him.
Gore has seven 1,000-yard campaigns in his last eight seasons. He's showing no signs of regression despite more than 250 carries in each of the last three years. But on the wrong side of 30, it won't be long before the Niners need a replacement for him.
Hyde is that guy.