When second-year running back Glen Coffee shockingly announced his retirement from the San Francisco 49ers and the NFL in August, former special teams captain Michael Robinson immediately assumed the role of Frank Gore’s back up, because rookie RB Anthony Dixon’s pass protection skills were thought to be too raw.
Michael Robinson did not exactly flourish in his preseason opportunities to expand his offensive role with the team, fumbling on the first drive in the 49ers’ preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts and hardly putting together impressive rushing statistics. The team soon signed free agent RB and former Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowler Brian Westbrook, and Michael Robinson became a casualty of the final round of roster cuts.
The knock against Robinson was his limited versatility, as he rarely saw any offensive action. Despite providing few statistical contributions on special teams, he played a key role there, but his overall contributions were ultimately not enough to justify keeping him on the team.
However, the 49ers have not exactly gotten more use out of Brian Westbrook. In fact, he has played less than Robinson used to.
Despite expressing a desire to distribute touches more evenly at the RB position in 2010, the 49ers have relied on Gore almost exclusively in their first four games. Dixon has seen very limited action (but has made major contributions when he did), and Westbrook has touched the ball just three times for a total of six yards.
Why is one of the most versatile offensive weapons in NFL history being so under-utilized?
Months ago, I published an article describing the ways the 49ers could vary their personnel packages on offense and achieve the balanced and dangerous attack they were seeking.
This involved rotation of Frank Gore, Glen Coffee, and Anthony Dixon in the running game, mixed with passing plays to the many receiving weapons on the team. The viability of this approach only expands with Westbrook in the picture, but despite a change at offensive coordinator, the 49ers still insist on virtually excluding Westbrook and Dixon from their offensive attack.
The offense has largely struggled so far this season. Some of that is due to the play of Alex Smith, some of that is due to struggles by a young offensive line, some of that is due to the overall game plan. But there is simply no explanation for the refusal to employ more balance utilization of the three very talented RBs the 49ers possess.
Going to a more balanced approach could bring major benefits for an offense that dearly needs to find its stride. There are a plethora of ways the 49ers can use Westbrook and Dixon, and keeping them largely on the sidelines so far has done the team few favors.
The 49ers should start to use a more balanced approach with their stable of RBs. Not only could it provide the jolt the running game needs and open up the passing game, but if they continue on their current path, they are paying Brian Westbrook an awful lot of money to provide even fewer contributions than his predecessor, who was cut for lack of use.
Keep the Faith!