49ers RB Hyde could benefit from Kaepernick's promotion


49ers RB Hyde could benefit from Kaepernick's promotion

Although Blaine Gabbert’s running ability was present in the first five games of the season, he was never considered a serious threat to change the game with big chunks of yards on the ground.

Running back Carlos Hyde could see a difference on Sunday in how the Buffalo Bills defend the zone-read game with Colin Kaepernick replacing Gabbert at the controls of the 49ers’ offense.

“They were probably keying on me because they don’t respect Blaine’s speed until he pulls it and he breaks one,” Hyde said. “And they said, ‘All right, never mind, we can’t play it like that.’ Maybe they’ll come at it differently with Kap being back there. Around the league, they know Kap can run the ball, so maybe they’ll play it differently.”

Hyde is the NFL’s eighth-leading rusher with 377 yards and six touchdowns. But with a 4.0-yard average, those yards have not come easily. Kaepernick’s experience and success in running the zone read could prove beneficial for Hyde. After all, it is clear that Hyde has been the central figure of the 49ers' offense.

“You got to watch out for Hyde,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said. “That kid is a heck of a back. It’ll start by us playing good run defense.”

Only four running backs in the league have attempted more than Hyde’s 95 rushing attempts through the first five weeks of the season. He has also taken a few hits on plays in which Gabbert kept the ball on the zone read. Hyde said it is fine if that continues with the Bills’ defensive ends crashing down on him on Sunday.

“Cool, because if Kap pulls it and goes for 60 and scores a touchdown, now they got to be honest and play it right,” Hyde said. “Now we’re having fun back there.”

Gabbert carried 39 times for 172 yards (4.4-yard average) in the first five games. The 49ers have used the zone read more than any team in the league, and that element of the team’s offense only figures to be enhanced with Kaepernick at quarterback.

“It doesn’t change," 49ers coach Chip Kelly said of the team's offense. "They are both similar type athletes in terms of what they can do. They both run. They both throw. So I don’t think you’ll see schematically we’re not going to change our entire offense to do this.

“You’re not dealing with two different types of athletic people. Obviously, Blaine had 70 yards rushing in our last game on 10 attempts. Blaine can run and do what we are doing offensively. Kap can do what we’re doing.”

But the threat of the quarterback-driven run game is more imposing with Kaepernick back in the starting lineup. Kaepernick rushed for 524 and 639 yards in his two full seasons (2013 and ’14) as the 49ers’ starter. In his college career at Nevada, he had three consecutive seasons with 1,100 yards or more gained on the ground.

“I think there are a lot of great things this offense does and allows the quarterback to do,” Kaepernick said. “It’s similar to things I’ve done in college and that makes me feel very comfortable in it.”

The 49ers enter Sunday’s game ranked 31st in the NFL in total yards per game. Hyde said he is encouraged from what he has seen from Kaepernick in practices in the passing game, too.

“Man, I see Kap on the money,” Hyde said. “The way he’s been practicing this week, if he carries that over to Sunday, we’re going to have a really good chance of winning this game.”

49ers increase competition for starting guard positions


49ers increase competition for starting guard positions

The 49ers are the fifth team to give Jonathan Cooper a chance after he arrived in the NFL as the No. 7 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals in the 2013 draft.

Cooper, 28, caught the attention of the 49ers with his career-high 13 starts last season with the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers signed him to a one-year, $4.95 million contract this week.

“We signed him to compete for one of the guard spots as a starter,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday at Stanford's pro day. “He played very well in our minds for Dallas last year and kind of resurrected his career. He’s battled injuries, but we really like the way he played, and we think he’s a very good fit for what we do. So we were pleased to add him.”

The 49ers plan to take it slowly this offseason with Cooper, who underwent surgery after tearing the medial-collateral ligament in his left knee during the final game of the season. The 49ers report for the offseason program in mid-April.

The 49ers are certain to have at least two new starters on the offensive line. Former New York Giants center Weston Richburg was signed to replace Daniel Kilgore, who was subsequently traded to the Miami Dolphins. Brandon Fusco, who started 16 games at right guard, signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an unrestricted free agent.

Laken Tomlinson has a chance to hold onto a starting job. Acquired shortly before the start of the regular season in a trade from the Detroit Lions, Tomlinson quickly moved into the starting lineup at left guard and started the final 15 games. Tomlinson was a first-round draft pick of the Lions in 2015.

“Laken played very well the longer he was there,” Lynch said. “I think people forget with Laken, he came here in Week 1. He was kind of force-fed. We didn’t have many options. But we saw a guy get better throughout the season. He’ll get his opportunity.”

Joshua Garnett, a first-round pick of the 49ers in 2016, spent last season on injured reserve due to an a knee injury sustained in training camp. The 49ers challenged Garnett to get in better physical condition. He has been cleared for football activity.

“Joshua Garnett has been working extremely hard, so he’ll be in that mix,” Lynch said. “He did a great job embracing the time he has last year to improve as a player. He remade his body and we're looking forward to see him get after it in the offseason.

“I think he’s excited about it. He’s feeling sexy, as he says.”

Erik Magnuson, 24, won a spot on the 49ers’ roster after signing as an undrafted rookie from Michigan. Magnuson could enter into the competition at guard. He displayed unique versatility in his first season, starting two games at right tackle before sustaining a season-ending foot injury. He can also serve as a backup center.

And, perhaps, the 49ers are not finished adding to the competition. The team owns the No. 9 overall selection, and Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson could be on the radar in the unlikely event he is not selected within the top eight picks.

When asked if the 49ers could also add another player to the mix with a draft pick, Lynch answered, “We’ll see. We’re always looking to get better there.”

49ers host two free-agent cornerbacks


49ers host two free-agent cornerbacks

The 49ers hosted two veteran cornerbacks on free-agent visits the past two days and could be signing either Jaylen Watkins or LaDarius Gunter as they wind down their activity on the free-agent market.

“We’re really pleased with what we’ve done,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday. “I’ll never say never. We’ve had a couple of guys visit in the last couple of days. Perhaps we’ll do something there. But for the most part, we’re wrapped up and pleased with what we’ve been able to do.”

The 49ers do not have much depth behind presumptive starting cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon. The team is also likely to add to its depth in the draft.

The 49ers met with Gunter (6-foot-2, 201 pounds) on Thursday. Gunter, 25, started 15 games for the Green Bay Packers in 2016. He recorded 54 tackles and broke up 12 passes. He signed with the Packers in 2015 as an undrafted rookie from Miami.

Gunter was waived at the beginning of last season and the Carolina Panthers claimed him. He appeared in just four games with Carolina, which did not tender him as a restricted free agent.

The 49ers on Wednesday met with Watkins, 26, a versatile defensive back who appeared in 36 games with five starts in four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Watkins (5-11, 195) played three snaps on defense and 17 plays on special teams in the Eagles’ 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4. He entered the NFL in 2014 as a fourth-round draft pick from Florida.