San Francisco 49ers fans are witnessing the end of one era and the assured beginning of another.
At 31 years old, five-time Pro Bowler Frank Gore is winding down his storied career in San Francisco. His heir apparent?
The Ohio State running back was a 49ers second-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft and is the perfect candidate for taking the reins from Gore when that time comes.
Considering the expectations of the 49ers in 2014—and the reliance upon the running game—Hyde has the opportunity to become one of the prominent figures for San Francisco's offense this season.
How will he go about doing this?
Let's break down the potential impact of Hyde in the 2014 season. We'll pay close attention to his fit within San Francisco's offensive scheme. We can also speculate how the 49ers will use him this season. All of this should give us a determination of his potential impact.
San Francisco's Offense
It's no secret that the 49ers are a power-run team.
This concept has been the "bread and butter" of San Francisco's offense during the Jim Harbaugh era, and there are few reasons to suspect any major changes in the upcoming season.
While San Francisco's upgraded receiving corps will assist in helping the 49ers' passing game, it is impossible to state the team will undergo a paradigm shift of sorts when it comes to its offense.
Let's take a look at the numbers to set up our context.
In 2013, the 49ers rushed a total of 505 times compared to 417 passing attempts—54 percent rushing plays in total. All combined, San Francisco's ground attack gained 2,201 yards out of the team's total 5,180 yards on offense.
|San Francisco 49ers' 2013 RB Rushing Totals|
|Attempts||Yards||TD||Avg. Yards/Carry||Avg. Yards/Game|
Gore was a large part of this approach, and his downfield, between-the-tackles approach is a throwback to power football. The continuity of San Francisco's offensive line has also provided the means by which Gore's success has continued beyond his 30th birthday.
This approach of running between the tackles is what Gore has become known for. It fits right into the 49ers' offensive scheme. Perhaps it also describes why San Francisco has scantly used LaMichael James—best known for his moves to the outside—as he does not have the same rushing prowess.
David Ochoa of Fansided.com goes into more detail about this. He writes:
With the limited touches that James received, he didn’t seem to impress as his playing time seemingly diminished with each new game. He isn’t the type of running back the 49ers like to employ either and instead like downhill runners that can smash between the tackles not run around them, which James excels at.
Coming into the preseason, Hyde had a crowded crop of competition. Gore, James, Kendall Hunter and Marcus Lattimore were among those vying for a spot on the 49ers' depth chart.
But Hunter is out for the season with an ACL injury and Lattimore has begun the season on the non-football injury (NFI) list. Hyde suddenly becomes the default backup to Gore.
How Hyde Fits
Like Gore, Hyde is a between-the-tackles type runner who uses his downhill abilities to punish opposing defenses' front seven. Take a look below at some of his highlights during his 2013 campaign at Ohio State for a perfect example.
The folks over at InsideTheFilmRoom.com had this to say when evaluating Hyde prior to the draft:
A powerful and punishing North/South runner, Hyde will be a valuable commodity on draft night. More teams are recognizing the value of a power back as defenses begin to shift towards quicker, lighter defenders to handle the spread elements in the NFL. With his ability to punish defenses up the middle and provide a real outlet in the pass game Hyde could be a true three down back in the NFL.
This type of approach sounds exactly like what the 49ers have tried to do with their offense in recent seasons—using a punishing ground game to wear down lighter defenses built for the current trend of pass-happy teams in the NFL.
At the collegiate level, Hyde amassed 1,521 yards his senior year and averaged 7.3 yards per carry.
|Carlos Hyde's Rushing Statistics at Ohio State|
Simply put, Hyde is a workhorse as described in the video below.
But the important part of any running back prospect's transition to the NFL goes far beyond just the ability to move the ball. It encompasses vision, explosiveness, footwork and technique.
Vision is something that Gore has perfected over the years. In order to establish himself as the next-best runner out of the 49ers' backfield, Hyde will have to be able to showcase this skill as well.
Take a look at this tweet as an example of Hyde's exceptional vision from Ohio State.
This additional highlight reel provides an additional indication that Hyde will be able to fit into San Francisco's run-first offense.
Vision is obviously an important factor as a young running back matures at the NFL level. Hyde will be no exception. Using the right combination of vision, patience and explosiveness is paramount to any running back's success.
Hyde will have to prove capable in this area.
Additionally, Hyde will have to showcase his game beyond just being able to run the ball. Blocking is as important as carrying the ball. Frank Gore was one of the best in this category, and Hyde will have to live up to that expectation.
Hyde credits his maturation in this area to Gore and fullback Bruce Miller, per CSN Bay Area.
He showed some of this talent during the preseason, albeit in limited action, which is a good sign as the 49ers prepare for their 2014 campaign. But doing this against makeshift, preseason defenses is vastly different than going up against some of the elite and full-strength defenses the 49ers will encounter during the regular season.
Keep an eye on how Hyde works into this part of the equation.
On top of that, Hyde will have to rely heavily on San Francisco's offensive line. The O-line continuity has changed a bit from 2013. Gone is veteran Jonathan Goodwin at center, and Daniel Kilgore—who has never started a game during his three-year career—will take over at the position.
The rest of the O-line starters carry over from last season, which is a good sign from the 49ers' vantage point.
Still, being able to cohesively work behind the O-line, recognize and then exploit the holes created will remain a crucial aspect to how Hyde will impact San Francisco's offense.
We obviously don't know how Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Greg Roman and the remainder of San Francisco's coaching staff plans to utilize its running backs in the upcoming season. Perhaps those decisions will be made in real time.
On top of that, Hyde has seen a limited number of snaps this preseason, which makes us believe the 49ers' coaching staff is protecting him, especially considering the injuries sustained to players like Hunter and Lattimore.
But speculation leads us to a number of plausible conclusions.
Gore enters the season as the 49ers' No. 1 back. There shouldn't be any reason to expect anything else at the start of the season. Yet it is feasible that San Francisco will rest Gore to a large extent during the middle of the year, giving the bulk of work to Hyde in his stead.
Resting Gore will be a primary goal for the 49ers as they pursue their goal of a deep postseason run en route to a Super Bowl crown.
Of course, Hyde may see an increase in carries as San Francisco faces off with some of the elite defenses within the NFC West this season.
If this is what transpires, Hyde's carries may decrease at points during the regular season—perhaps not much if he is wowing the masses, but to a slightly less degree based on experience alone in comparison to Gore.
Still, opposing teams will have to recognize and respect Hyde's potential and abilities. This combination of Gore and Hyde may be the key factor to San Francisco's offensive success in 2014.
Hyde is the exact type of back the 49ers need, not just in this season, but also in the era of San Francisco football beyond Gore.
2014 will reveal much about what type of back San Francisco has and if it is truly set after Gore wraps up his impressive career.
As stated, we are witnessing the changing of eras with this team. It should be an exciting transition. The scenario and opportunity are both there, and Hyde has the accolades and abilities to live up to the billing.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Be sure to check out his entire archive on 49ers news, insight and analysis.
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