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Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

What the return of Jeff Wilson means for a young 49ers backfield

Chris Beno
Nov 4, 2021 at 8:40 AM--

Veteran running back Jeff Wilson returned to practice on Wednesday after suffering a torn meniscus back in May. He looks to join a very young backfield, including rookies Elijah Mitchell and Trey Sermon, second-year runner JaMycal Hasty, Trenton Cannon, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

In Week 1, the 49ers lost their starting running back, Raheem Mostert, to a knee injury. Mostert opted for season-ending surgery to repair the damage before entering free agency this off-season. Since losing their first- and second-string backs, the 49ers began plugging in and playing their younger talent. They also experimented with available free agents.

Rookie Trey Sermon was splitting starting reps with Mostert this off-season and training camp and was widely expected to step in and be the starting running back of the future. The 49ers traded two fourth-round picks to move up and draft him in the third round of the 2021 draft. But aside from his game against the Seahawks, where he carried the ball 19 times for 89 yards, Sermon's touches have been limited.

Since then, the team's other rookie running back has stolen the show. Mitchell, a sixth-round pick, recently won the FedEx Ground NFL Player of the Week award for his Week 8 performance against the Chicago Bears and is in the conversation for Rookie of the Year. Since returning from his own injury, JaMycal Hasty has stepped in as the 49ers' third-down back. With Trenton Cannon returning kick-offs and playing special teams and Juszczyk a lock at fullback, what does the team do with Sermon once Wilson returns?

49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel addressed media questions a few weeks ago regarding the lack of snaps for Sermon.

"He hasn't taken a step back since we've been talking about it at the beginning of the season when Mitchell got reps over him," McDaniel said. "He hasn't taken one step back. He's only gotten better. That was not by design going into that game."

This begs the question, what is the deal with Trey Sermon? Head coach Kyle Shanahan has typically gone with the faster, shiftier backs to run his outside zone scheme. That doesn't bode well for a stronger, more physical back like Sermon. Sitting him also doesn't bode well for the 49ers' front office, which has caught a lot of heat from fans regarding their personnel decisions and recent misses with early-round draft picks.

With Mitchell almost a lock as the 49ers' starter, Wilson should step back into his role as the team's third-down back. Until we get the new depth chart for the Week 9 matchup against the division-rival Arizona Cardinals, the only thing we know for sure is that one of the other backs will be a healthy scratch in the game. If that back is Sermon, the front office can expect a big pushback from the fans.
  • Chris Beno
  • Written by:
    Coming from Elk Grove, California I grew up a Bay Area sports fan. I've been cheering for the 49ers for as long as I can remember. In 2005 I joined the Army when I was 18 and got stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. I just kind of hung around here. I've always enjoyed writing and have typically focused on writing music. I am truly blessed to get to cover the 49ers, and have my articles published on the 49ers Webzone. I didn't realize it was something I wanted to pursue as a career, but am now focused on doing just that. I appreciate all of the Faithful that take the time to read the articles people put out there.
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