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Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Shanahan expects Jeff Wilson, 49ers’ rookie RBs to step up with Elijah Mitchell sidelined

Sep 17, 2022 at 4:03 PM--

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It was a tough break for San Francisco 49ers running back Elijah Mitchell. After dealing with an injury-plagued rookie campaign in 2021, the second-year player suffered an MCL sprain against the Chicago Bears last weekend.

Mitchell was lucky that was all the injury was. The way he got hurt, some feared the worst. It wasn't season-ending, but Mitchell will still miss about two months.

As one might expect, the injury was emotional for Mitchell. He was eager to put his injuries behind him and prove his worth in 2022.

"He was ready to go," head coach Kyle Shanahan shared with NBC Sports Bay Area this week. "Everyone could see that early in the game. I mean, if he would have stayed in that game and stayed healthy, I wouldn't have put 200 yards out of the question for him. He was going to have a day.

"It was real unfortunate for him. He was just hoping that he didn't get hurt, so he stayed in about five more plays, but it was sad for him. He's going to bounce back. It could have been worse. We're lucky it wasn't an ACL thing, but real tough to lose him.

"Everyone knows how good he was last year, and I believe he was going to be even better this year. But we've got to make sure when he comes back, we've got a reason for him to come back and play good for us."

In Mitchell's absence, Jeff Wilson Jr. filled in as the featured back against the Bears. He finished the game with just 22 yards on nine carries, albeit in some challenging conditions. The contest was played in monsoon-like conditions that seemed to worsen as the game progressed. The footing was an issue for players.

Shanahan has a lot of confidence in his fifth-year running back, the seasoned veteran of the group.

"Jeff's done a really good job," the coach said. "He struggled last year, as everyone knows, because he got about a week of practice in about a year (Wilson started the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list) before he got thrown into the heat. This year, he had a great offseason, totally healthy, back to being Jeff.

"But his role picks up, and we want to make sure not to put too much on him because when that happens, he does wear down a little bit. Jeff will do everything. Fullback, halfback, running the ball, catching the ball."

Wilson won't have to carry the load alone, though. The 49ers have two capable rookie running backs in third-round draft pick Tyrion Davis-Price and Jordan Mason, who was signed as an undrafted free agent. Mitchell's injury will thrust them into bigger roles earlier than anticipated.

"We've got two young guys behind [Wilson] that we need their help," Shanahan shared. "I was hoping to give them a little bit more time to kind of get their feet wet. Losing Elijah, these guys got to step it up, and come in, and help Jeff out."

The 49ers host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at Levi's Stadium.

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