49ers get McKinnon back on the field
SANTA CLARA — It was a subtle yet reassuring sight Tuesday when running back Jerick McKinnon caught a pass out of the backfield and raced up field without incident.
A year ago, his right knee gave out on such a play, ending his season and serving as a harbinger of the 49ers impending doom.
McKinnon did not wear a brace on his surgically repaired right knee Tuesday. Albeit a brief cameo, he showed encouraging signs in this first practice since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last Sept. 1, the weekend before the season opener and his offical 49ers debut.
“We brought McKinnon here because he was gonna be a huge part of the offense,” coach Kyle Shanahan said Tuesday.
McKinnon initally slid into a rotation behind Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida during offensive drills, then retreated to conditioning with trainers in the end zone once the 49ers switched to full-team drills. Shanahan noted the 49ers revamped medical staff is being “patient” with McKinnon.
“We know what he can do,” said Shanahan, praising McKinnon’s ability not only to rush well but also be a key receiving and capable pass blocker.
McKinnon got cleared off the physically-unable-to-perform list ahead of Tuesday’s practice at training camp, and the 49ers are expected to ease him into action with a month until the regular-season opener at Tampa Bay.
McKinnon’s ability to get up to speed adds depth to an already impressive running back corps. Coleman has taken the brunt of first-team reps but third-year veteran Breida also has improved daily at camp, and it was Breida who took the first snap of team drills Tuesday. Raheem Mostert and Austin Walter are handling the other workload while Jeff Wilson (calf) rehabilitates.
If McKinnon fares well enough over the next month, the 49ers may just keep three running backs, plus fullback Kyle Juszczyk.
Could Coleman, who’s had fumbles and incomplete targets in camp, suddenly become expendable in a month? Probably not but it’s worth keeping an eye on, as McKinnon was to be the mainstay running back last year.
Breida, despite lingering ankle issues, rushed for 814 yards last season as McKinnon’s main replacement. His improved receiving ability should make him a roster lock, and Mostert’s special-teams prowess is now complemented by his emergence as a rusher, albeit with ball-security concerns.
A week before last season opened, McKinnon tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a practice closed to the media. He had signed a lucrative contract in free agency and was poised to serve as the 49ers starting running back with potential as a dual-threat rusher and receiver.
McKinnon’s four-year tenure with the Vikings saw him excel in a part-time role, rushing for 1,918 yards and tally 984 receiving yards with a total of 12 touchdowns.
The 49ers thought so highly of McKinnon’s potential as a multi-faceted threat that they signed him in March 2018 to a four-year, $30 million contract with $18 million in guarantees, according to overthecap.com.
McKinnon is the fourth player in camp returning from ACL reconstruction, joining quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, linebacker Kwon Alexander and defensive end Kentavius Street, all of whom have fared well and shown no setbacks in camp.