Who’s In the Backfield Now? --10/12/01
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Ask any running back in the league what the most important part of their game is, and the answer across the board will be, finding a rhythm. It is commonplace to hear running backs begging for more carries, blaming a lack of production on having to share the load. Running back by committee they claim, just doesn’t work. That was of course until the 2001 49ers made it work.

Heading into the season the 49ers knew that they had lots of potential in the offensive backfield, but they also weren’t sure how they would split the carries, and who they could rely on. The team was forced to enter the season with Garrison Hearst as the starting running back. Back in 1997 this wouldn’t have been a problem, but Hearst hadn’t played in two seasons and his counter-part Kevan Barlow,had beaten out Paul Smith and Jonas Lewis in pre-season but was only a rookie.

The season began and Hearst began to look like his old self. Barlow started to emerge as a great change of pace to Hearst, offering the 49ers a great substitute and offering Hearst some time to rest his legs on the sidelines. The team threw Terry Jackson into the mix as he was most suited to play both the full back and half back positions. Beasley became the designated blocking back.

No one complained. Each of the 49ers running backs knows their role this season, and despite what would seem to be overcrowding at the position, the team is ranked second in running offense. Each back is getting significant playtime, and suddenly, running back by committee is working. The backfield is taking advantage of having fresh legs against defensive players who have played all game. The result is the 49ers can control the clock and have been able to run the ball very effectively.

Early in the season the team was hoping one running back would emerge from the bunch. It seems that all four primary backs have emerged and are contributing greatly. Now the 49ers have to wonder if they really want just one running back.

Running back by committee, it works. We no longer have the need to shudder at the word. As the 49ers head into the Georgia Dome this week, expect no different. The team will run, and they will do so by committee.

Talk about it in the 49ers Paradise Forum

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