During the 49ers bye week the team considered elevating Maurice Hicks to the active roster. Hicks was an NFL Europe standout, and had a very active pre-season with the 49ers. During pre-season and training camp Hicks showed decisive running, and blocking. He made the 49ers decision between him and Jamal Robertson extremely difficult. In the end the team chose Robertson, but now, at 1-5 the 49ers appear to be searching for answers. For that they should turn to Hicks.
The 49ers’ running game has suffered this season. The offensive line certainly deserves some of the blame, but so does featured back Kevan Barlow who the 49ers were hoping would carry the team this season. Barlow has had a hard time hitting the holes and following his lead back this season, and while the 49ers are not quite one dimensional; teams certainly are not respecting the run.
The 49ers hope that the bye week, and a change in the ‘relief’ running back, will be enough to change the trend in the 49ers running game this season. Kevan Barlow remains committed to improvement and has welcomed Hicks to the team. Right about now Barlow is looking for anything that might get the running game going. Recent reports have the 49ers elevating a cornerback instead of Hicks, as if the two are mutually exclusive. Why not elevate both? The team already has room for one player for sure and does Robertson really deserve to remain on the roster at this point?
Playing Devil’s Advocate, I can raise the possibility that teams are guarding more against the 49ers run than the pass because Barlow is one of very few veterans on the team. This argument makes sense, but I do not think it is the sole cause. In fact from what I have seen, it doesn’t look like teams are guarding against more in one area than another. In all I think the problems with the 49ers run game are with the 49ers. Barlow has to shoulder a large amount of that responsibility the offensive line must also do so. The coaching staff of course deserves some blame too based on the personnel they put in the game, blocking techniques, play calling and design.
If the 49ers are to improve this season the run game will have to be a part of that process. Kevan Barlow will have to emerge as the running threat the 49ers expected him to be. A viable threat behind Barlow must also emerge – hence the elevation of Hicks to the active roster needs to happen. Of course the blocking from the line and better play selection and design are also necessary components of the path to improvements. Under no circumstances should the 49ers abandon the run game no matter how bad it gets, because no matter how you cut it, that can only lead to disaster.