SANTA CLARA — The 49ers’ opening-drive touchdown Sunday defined what their offense is truly about this season: rushing dominance.
That two-quarterback rotation? An intentional sideshow, and also a facilitator.
So it was Sunday that Raheem Mostert reeled off 53 yards on the opening series with speed and wide-open lanes. Jimmy Garoppolo, after shuffling in and out with Trey Lance, capped the drive by perilously darting across the goal line.
All told, the 49ers racked up 242 rushing yards in the preseason-closing rout of the Raiders.
“It’s very important to us to run the ball around here, so, I like the personnel that we have,” coach Kyle Shanahan said.
Mostert had the NFL’s two fastest registered runs last season. His speed remains glorious. But he could be splitting carries, and not only with fellow running backs. The 49ers added Lance with their versatile wide receivers to the rushing mix this season.
Shanahan described his rushers as “a bunch of guys with different skill sets,” and that goes beyond the four speedy running backs they rostered — Mostert, JaMycal Hasty and rookies Trey Sermon and Elijah Mitchell. (Prediction: Mostert gets 60 percent of snaps, Sermon 30 percent, the rest to Hasty or Mitchell.)
Other options are receivers Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and possibly Jalen Hurd, not to mention fullback Kyle Juszczyk and, the newest asset, Lance, whose rushing ability was mostly hidden in the preseason before Sunday’s touchdown run.
“There’s been a few changes, new plays, whole new schemes. It’s awesome,” guard Daniel Brunskill said. “All it’s going to do is make our run game better. … It’s exciting because when Trey comes out there, now teams’ brains are scrambling and they’ve got to think if we’re running a zone-read game or if he’s out there to pass, or are we running our normal offense.”
Also, don’t forget that the 49ers’ offensive line might be their best in a decade, with center Alex Mack joining the fray, left tackle Trent Williams returning on the richest deal for an offensive lineman, and rookie guard Aaron Banks waiting in the wings. Tight end George Kittle is known for gleefully throwing a block or two, too.
Williams isn’t phased by a potential quarterback rotation, saying simply of the blocking assignments: “We do our thing and then they do their thing.”
Back to Mostert. He is in the final year of his contract ($3 million salary). Knee and ankle injuries limited him to eight games last season, the only eight starts of his six-year career.
“Raheem can’t control whether he gets hurt or not, but he can control what he does, and he’s prepared himself so hard for these situations,” Shanahan said when asked if Mostert is an elite rusher. “If he stays healthy, then everyone will know that. And if not, hopefully he gets the credit for what he does when he’s out there, because he’s been a big deal for us.”
Mostert’s opening-drive dominance in Sunday’s preseason finale was reminiscent of his 220-yard, four-touchdown masterpiece against the Green Bay Packers for the 2019 season’s NFC Championship.
“It felt great being out there. I was happy,” Mostert said of Sunday’s action. “I was excited, got some explosive runs and I just need to make sure I carry that on over to the opener against Detroit.”
The 49ers open the regular season Sept. 12 at Detroit. That’s when, if Lance’s injured finger heals, the run game could take on a new dimension with zone-read keepers by him or handoffs to Mostert and other backs.
“We just have to make sure that we don’t grip the ball too hard or just automatically assume that Trey’s going to pull it or anything like that,” Mostert said. “It takes practice and once you get that practice in, it’s going to be great.”
Sanu was with the Atlanta Falcons when Shanahan coordinated that offense to the Super Bowl, with league MVP quarterback Matt Ryan. Is this offense as potent?
“We’ve got different skill sets of receivers, but (Shanahan) wasn’t trying to hand the ball off to Julio (Jones) in the backfield,” Sanu said. “But you’ve got a guy like Deebo who can make plays, a guy like Aiyuk, myself, name it. You’ve got to take full advantage of it.”
— Quarterback Trey Lance, for the second straight day, went through quarterback drills without touching a football because of an injured right index finger.
— Wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk (hamstring) and Jalen Hurd (presumably knee tendinitis) did not participate, nor did defensive linemen D.J. Jones and Kevin Givens, linebacker Dre Greenlaw, and cornerback Dontae Johnson.
— Debuting were practice-squad additions Tanner Hudson, a tight end formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Dee Virgin, a cornerback who was released this week by the New England Patriots.
— Wide receiver Travis Benjamin, re-signed Wednesday to the practice squad, is progressing through the post-concussion protocol. He wore a no-contact jersey, as did linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair (elbow).
The 49ers’ fourth annual Players for a Purpose dinner brought in a record $650,000 toward the 49ers Foundation, which benefits Bay Area youth programs. Honored at the Levi’s Stadium event were Mostert and his wife, Devon, with the 49ers’ Community Impact award.
@JohnLynch49ers & I were honored to present @RMos_8Ball & his wife Devon our #CommunityImpact award this evening. They’ve logged the most hours of community service each of the last 3 years! We’re beyond inspired by your actions and your ability to overcome obstacles #MuchLove
— Jed York (@JedYork) September 2, 2021
Contributed by local news sources