SANTA CLARA — Trey Sermon’s first steps to sparking his NFL career are literally those first steps.
“I felt that’s one thing I kind of lost last year, being explosive out of that first cut,” Sermon said. “It’s been a really big emphasis for me in the offseason and now in camp. I’m still working on it and very conscious of it.”
Sermon drifted away from the 49ers’ consciousness as a rookie. He barely played, kind of like another rookie named Trey, who’s now vaulted into their most high-profile role of starting quarterback, that being Trey Lance.
Sermon has pressure on him, too. After all, the 49ers used a third-round draft pick on another running back this year, Ty Davis-Price.
“He knows what’s expected of him this year, because we’ve got a little competition in that backfield,” running backs coach Anthony Lynn said. “I like the way he’s responded.”
Sermon had no carries nor offensive snaps the final two months of last season, despite the 49ers’ running back corps being so injury depleted that they turned heavily to All-Pro wide receiver Deebo Samuel for punishing runs.
Sermon’s rookie year opened with a fumble and a concussion on his first carry, in a Week 2 win at Philadelphia. He started the next two games (losses to Green Bay and Seattle) and totaled 29 of his season-total 41 carries (167 yards, one touchdown).
The 49ers’ rookie who went on to lead them in rushing was Elijah Mitchell.
This camp, the 49ers haven’t eased Mitchell into action, even though he was held out of offseason practices while rehabilitating from a knee procedure.
Through seven practices, Mitchell has 29 carries in full-team drills, Davis-Price 27 and Sermon 22, followed by JaMycal Hasty (13), Jeff Wilson Jr. (11) and rookie Jordan Mason (11), not to mention Lance’s 15 runs.
“I’ve been very pleased with Trey. Trey’s doing his job,” Lynn added. “He has the skillset to run the way he’s running. I want to continue to see that and take it to another level.”
Lynn has shared that with Sermon, who noted: “We know that I’m a good player and that I can play at a high level in this league. He set expectations for me and I have them for myself.”
Power that will be a bigger part of the 49ers’ rushing attack this season
“We definitely want to be more physical,” added Sermon, a third-round pick last year out of Ohio State via Oklahoma. “Just being physical in the run game is a big part of this offense. So that’s really of our mentality.”
There haven’t been any scintillating, breakaway runs for touchdowns by anyone, aside from the occasional Lance burst.
Receiving-wise, Sermon has caught 6-of-7 targets, and that stellar showing could be critical in garnering more action, perhaps as a third-down back in the regular season.
Working out this offseason with Minnesota Vikings’ Dalvin Cook also could pay dividends.
“I picked up a couple of things, just working with him and picking his brain,” Sermon said. “Since we’re in a similar scheme, just being able to trust my eyes is one thing he told me. He said I have great vision and just have to trust what I see. That helps me play a lot faster.”
In two weeks, Sermon and the 49ers will be practicing against Cook and the Vikings in Minnesota, ahead of their second preseason game. The 49ers’ preseason opener comes Aug. 12 at home against Green Bay, the same franchise Sermon made his first start and garnered only 31 yards on 10 carries in last season’s home-opening defeat.
“I definitely learned a lot from last season,” Sermon said. “Even though I wasn’t playing, I was still practicing hard and getting those mental reps. Definitely took a lot of positives for it and it prepared me now.”
Same goes with Lance?
“Yeah, definitely,” Sermon said.
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