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Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Christian McCaffrey draws praise after solid 49ers debut

Oct 23, 2022 at 6:56 PM--

There weren't many silver linings for the 49ers in their 44-23 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, but one of them was running back Christian McCaffrey, who stood out in his 49ers debut despite his limited time with the team.

McCaffrey arrived in the Bay Area on Friday after being traded to the 49ers from the Carolina Panthers for a package of draft picks on Thursday. That's not a lot of time to get acclimated with head coach Kyle Shanahan's complicated offense, but McCaffrey was able to contribute nonetheless, running for 38 yards on eight carries while catching two passes for 24 yards. McCaffrey made a good first impression on Shanahan, who said after the game he planned on working his new running back in on about 20 plays.

"I thought he did a good job," Shanahan said of McCaffrey. "It was just impressive that he understood everything we were asking him to do. I don't think he made any mistakes in the game and was able to make some pretty good plays too."

The 49ers turned away from McCaffrey later in the game when their deficit fell into double digits. Shanahan said it would have been difficult to put McCaffrey into the game at that point considering he hasn't been able to learn what would have been expected of him in that situation.

"Especially there in the fourth quarter when we were in two-minute and stuff a lot, some of the protection stuff he hasn't been through, I just thought it was unfair to him," Shanahan said.

Shanahan wasn't the only one impressed with McCaffrey on Sunday. Also praising McCaffrey was 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who has been working with McCaffrey since his arrival on Friday.

"I thought he did a really good job today," Garoppolo said. "Some of those plays he had never even heard before when he was in the huddle, so there was some explaining to do. But I thought he did really well. He's definitely a little spark for us, that's for sure."

Everything since Friday has been a learning experience for McCaffrey, who will be doing a lot of work in the days ahead to grasp more of his new offense. But his debut with the 49ers was a positive one, despite how the game turned out.

"I felt good," McCaffrey said. "Obviously it's a lot getting here Friday, but I just tried to do the best I could to learn the most I can in two days and get rolling."

McCaffrey's learning process continued on the sidelines when he wasn't part of the action on Sunday, but in the future there's no question he'll play a bigger role when the team needs a spark like they did in the second half. In the meantime, McCaffrey will do what he can with the plays he's been given.

"Football's football. Like I said, no one cares if I got here two days ago or if I'd been here since April," McCaffrey said. "If I'm out there with a uniform on, I expect to be prepared and I'm sure my teammates and coaches expect me to be prepared too. So you can't sit there and make excuses and say that I haven't had a lot of time. I've got to be ready to go. That was the mindset that I had and just try to keep learning."

Even though the outcome of Sunday's game was a downer, it's clear the 49ers are excited about what McCaffrey can bring to the table. As one of the most electric and versatile running backs in the league, McCaffrey is expected to make a significant impact once he gets more comfortable with the offense.

"I'm pretty sure in his second or third year he was All-Pro in two different positions," tight end George Kittle said of McCaffrey Sunday. "That kind of speaks for itself. He's an amazing football player. I know that Kyle and our offensive coordinators are going to come together and figure out a way for him to get the ball in space. He creates space too. It's just fun to see him out there dicing dudes up. I'd love for Christian to get 15-20 carries in our offense and run some outside zone, but when we got down in the second half, we had to get away from that."

Garoppolo showed his excitement over the addition of McCaffrey, who gives him another dangerous target and adds to an already potent group of running backs.

"I was fired up, bringing in a player like that," Garoppolo said. "Not to take anything away from our running backs either. We've got a stable of backs back there, and they all are capable of doing great things. Just adding another weapon like Christian I think can only make us better. Competition's always a good thing."

McCaffrey's work load will most likely rise during the 49ers' upcoming game against the Los Angeles Rams ("He'll learn the whole game plan for next week," Shanahan said), then he'll have a bye week to spend more time learning the system. The schedule should put him in a good position to be at his best over the second half of the season.

"He's not going to be the savior but he's definitely going to help us out," Kittle said. "I'm excited to play with Christian, like I said. We have a game against the Rams next week, then we have a bye, so I think these next two weeks are going to be huge for Christian to understand our offense and be comfortable out there and not to think at all, just go out and run, because that's what he's really good at."

The anticipation for what McCaffrey will be able to do once he learns Shanahan's offense remains high, with McCaffrey looking forward to it himself. He's been getting plenty of help in the short time since he's been with the 49ers and will get a lot more thrown at him in the days ahead.

"I'm excited about it, that's for sure," McCaffrey said. "I think for me, it's just getting all the runs down, all the passes down and the protections as quickly as possible. But my coaches have done a great job. A lot of the other guys have done a great job spending some extra time with me, so I'm thankful for that. Hopefully I can get this thing rolling soon."

How long it will take for McCaffrey to become fully comfortable with his new surroundings remains to be seen, but at the very least, things should be a lot calmer for him heading into next week's game.

"Listen, this was a weird week for me and for them," McCaffrey said. "I didn't know what to expect. I know that I had a certain list of plays that were up. I think for me, mentally, this was just focus on everything I can, control what I can control and get rolling. Obviously losing's frustrating, but I'm still getting to know these guys. I've got to do my job. I've got to make a few more plays here and once again just learn the offense as quick as possible. Some of that stuff, I'm just trying to control what I can control right now and get going."

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