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Kyle Shanahan talks Jordan Mason, 49ers RBs, Javon Kinlaw, Drake Jackson

Sep 1, 2022 at 7:41 PM--

Kyle Shanahan is mentally scarred from the 2021 season when the San Francisco 49ers had to dive deep into the running back depth chart due to injuries. The team lost starter Raheem Mostert in Week 1. Then-rookie Elijah Mitchell was injured during Week 2, forcing the 49ers' third-string running back into the game.

That prompted San Francisco to carry five running backs on its initial 53-man roster this week. Undrafted rookie Jordan Mason stood out during training camp and the preseason, leaving the Niners with some tough decisions. JaMycal Hasty didn't make the team and was picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars. San Francisco had to get rid of one more running back to make room for the offensive lineman they claimed off waivers, Blake Hance. That running back was last year's third-round pick, Trey Sermon.

The 49ers wanted to bring Sermon back via the practice squad. However, the Philadelphia Eagles claimed him off waivers. It hurt Shanahan to lose two running backs he liked very much, but it says a lot about what the team thinks about Mason.

The coach didn't want to lose Mason and knew that exposing the rookie to the waiver wire would mean doing so.

"We didn't really expect for [Mason] to be where he is at," Shanahan admitted Thursday on KNBR's Tolbert & Copes show. "We thought we'd be able to keep four backs and keep him on [the] practice squad. But the way he turned it on at the end of camp and practice, and then what he showed in those preseason games, we really felt we were going to lose him. And we actually know we were going to."

That means San Francisco knew other teams were interested in acquiring Mason, forcing them to choose which of their remaining running backs they wanted more.

Still, Shanahan is excited about the group they have now, which consists of Mitchell, Jeff Wilson, and rookies Mason and Ty Davis-Price.

"I look at our group of running backs and, four years in a row, we've used all four of our guys within the first six weeks," Shanahan shared. "Last year, we were down to our third running back in Week 2. Actually, in Week 2, we were putting a running back in the game who I was calling him by [his] number, and so was Jimmy [Garoppolo] because we didn't know his name yet. So we were asking the number of the back if he knew how to run power while he was in the huddle during a timeout.

"I'm a little scarred from that stuff, so it's really hard for us to lose guys that have first- and second-down running ability. Those are the things that you really value because you can have these traits of guys who are good on third down, do a little bit of everything, but when you lose that first- and second-down running back, for what we do offensively, it's a little tough to function.

"And that's what JP Mason showed so much, I thought, in the preseason, that he has the capability, like some of our other guys—like Ty, like Elijah—to be a first- and second-down starting running back. And that's something that we value too much."

Javon Kinlaw

Shanahan was asked about his third-year defensive tackle, Javon Kinlaw, who is returning after undergoing knee surgery last season. The coach acknowledges that Kinlaw has looked so good in the preseason because the massive defender is finally feeling good. That's a big difference compared to last year when Kinlaw was just trying to manage to get through practices and games without suffering too much from the pain.

"He's made of the right stuff as a human," Shanahan said. "He's unbelievably talented. And hopefully, he can string together some games this season where he doesn't have any setbacks because if he does [last], the more that guy plays football, the more he's going to be a huge problem for the person in front of him."

Drake Jackson

The 49ers were surprised to land defensive end Drake Jackson in the second round. They saw the talent and athleticism of a top-10 pick and figured he wouldn't be available by the time San Francisco made a selection.

After watching his college film, Shanahan understood why some teams had concerns over Jackson. There were some inconsistencies.

"But we still didn't believe he was going to fall to us," Shanahan said. "And then when he did, we said, 'Alright, we have a chance to have that talented of a guy.' Since he's been here, I think what you guys can see in the preseason games and what we see at practice every day, he is exactly that talented, and that's really cool to see—someone who can move like that and do that stuff, for where we got him.

"But that's still what it is. He's got to show that he can stay healthy, that he can play, and do it down in and down out because the talent is a fact. I'm really excited because he's rose to the challenge of how we practice here, how our D-line goes, how hard they go, and it's been really encouraging to watch him learn how to do that and not fade from it. Kind of step right up to it.

"That's why I think he's going to correct a lot of problems at this level that he didn't quite do in college. And if he does, I think everybody's going to see that talent pay off."

You can listen to the entire conversation with Shanahan below.


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