The San Francisco 49ers couldn't have asked for much more from Carlos Hyde in his preseason debut.
The second-round pick out of Ohio State started for a resting Frank Gore and proved worthy of the role.
With Kendall Hunter out for the year and LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore currently sidelined, Hyde figures to get plenty more opportunities in the preseason to convince San Francisco coaches that he should be the No. 2 running back to start the regular season.
Let's take a closer look at how he fared against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday.
Week 1 Performance Against the Ravens
Hyde rushed for 39 yards on five carries against Baltimore. He showed good vision and speed to bounce runs to the outside for big gains.
His longest run, a 19-yard gain (shown from the four-second mark of the video below), came off a simple off-tackle sprint:
The blocking on this play was so good that any NFL running back could have picked up 10-plus yards. What's impressive is that the 230-yard running back—a known bruiser—got to the edge and turned the corner before Baltimore defensive back Jimmy Smith could even touch him.
He beat Smith to the corner for a second time on the same drive on a draw play (next run in above video).
That run was all about vision. Hyde had the option to cut the play back inside. Instead he read his blocks well and picked up eight yards.
The run that impressed me most was his first of the game (first in video).
Two things stood out about it. First, he hit the hole with no hesitation. Had he hesitated at all, he would've been stopped much sooner.
Secondly, he battled through contact. Ravens linebacker Josh Bynes made contact with him at the 29-yard line. He shed that tackle and fell forward to the 34-yard line.
Frankly, 49ers backup running backs haven't had these types of runs in the last few years. We've seen Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James find the edge like Hyde did on his 19-yard run, but what they haven't done very often is break arm tackles up the middle for seven yards.
In three runs on the opening drive, Hyde proved he could effectively run inside and outside. Colin Kaepernick took notice.
"Carlos Hyde looked really good," Kap said during a postgame press conference. "He ran explosively, made good decisions, had the speed to hit the edge and create some things inside."
He has to be the leading candidate for the backup running back role.
What's Next for Hyde
The Broncos had one of the best run defenses in the NFL last year. In their first preseason game, they held Seahawks running backs to 59 yards on 21 carries.
It will be tougher for Hyde to get to the edge against Denver.
So, he may have to take a page out of Frank Gore's book on Sunday.
On this 2013 preseason 52-yard run, Gore had the instinct to cut back to the middle of the field instead of trying to beat Chiefs defenders to the edge.
During Week 14 of the 2013 regular season, he once again cut back to the middle of the field, beating several overpursuing Seahawks defenders for a 51-yard gain.
To be fair, Hyde made the right choice on all five his runs against the Ravens. Baltimore's defense lost contain twice, and he took advantage of it.
To counter that in future games, he'll need to set defenders up for outside runs and cut it back inside like Gore has done so many times in his NFL career.
Hyde, who ran a 4.66-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, might have surprised Ravens defenders with his quickness. But the tape is out now.
If teams didn't know it before, they know now that Hyde has the speed to beat NFL defenses to the corner.
The Next Frank Gore?
If you look at Hyde's collegiate running style, it's hard not to be reminded of Gore.
They aren't carbon copies, mind you. Gore was faster in his prime than Hyde is now. And Hyde (6'0") is three inches taller.
But they both have a patient running style. They follow their blocks before quickly bursting through holes.
And that's why Hyde is such a good fit in San Francisco's offense. Offensive linemen Joe Staley, Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati—all former first-round picks—are better run-blockers than pass-blockers.
|PFF Cumulative Ratings Since 2011|
|Run-Blocking Grade||Pass-Blocking Grade|
|Joe Staley||+ 50.1||+ 1.5|
|Mike Iupati||+ 45.7||- 6.7|
|Anthony Davis||+ 25.5||- 6.8|
|Pro Football Focus|
To best utilize their strengths, the 49ers need a running back who follows his blocks and tires out defenses with his punishing style.
In the Jim Harbaugh era, Gore has always been the "power" back. Hunter and James aren't built like Gore or Hyde. They don't tire out defenses.
With Hyde, the Niners can realistically rest Gore without losing their power running game. It was as if the 49ers brass said, "Instead of trying to complement Gore with another speedy back, let's just find Gore 2.0."
Not only does Hyde run like Gore, but he also catches and blocks like him.
"Is solid in pass protection and can stonewall blitzers in their tracks," NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki wrote prior to the 2014 NFL draft. "Good awareness and anticipation to react to stunts and adjust to movement. Soft hands-catcher. Plucked the ball very naturally at his pro-day workout."
If Gore needs a rest, Hyde is a natural choice for any down and distance.
Hyde will inevitably make some rookie mistakes. It would be reckless to guarantee that he'll be as good as Gore after just five preseason carries.
But the early signs point to Hyde being San Francisco's bell cow when the Gore era comes to an end.
The best way to prepare for that role is to learn from Gore himself. And that's what Hyde will be tasked with in the weeks leading up to the start of the regular season.
Joseph Akeley is a 49ers featured columnist. Follow him on Twitter.
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