Salvon Ahmed and JaMycal Hasty were always going to face an uphill battle to make the 49ers' roster, but the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has made the hill a little steeper.
Under normal circumstances, the 49ers' undrafted free agents would have a chance to make a good first impression on the field at rookie minicamp. That's how Matt Breida won his roster spot in 2017. But instead, Hasty and Ahmed spend four hours on Zoom meetings with their position group and coaches, trying to learn everything about the 49ers' offense. The first two hours are spent with the entire group, while the final two hours are just Ahmed, Hasty and undrafted fullback Josh Hokit with assistant coach Bobby Turner.
While it's been unusual, the rookies think it's been a productive start to their NFL careers.
“You don’t have to worry about practices, you don’t have to worry about anything but that one, four-hour window to meet,” Hasty told The Athletic's Matt Barrows. “So there are a lot of things you can cover. There’s a ton of information to learn and pick up on. I mean, the rookies help each other out, the vets bring us along. It’s been a great experience, man.”
The 49ers have built a strong culture and that plays a big role in helping new blood catch up to the rest of the group.
“I think it’s showing what it’d be like even if we were there,” Ahmed told The Athletic. “And I think the culture is strong enough to show through our Zoom meetings. I think how we’re acting now is definitely how everyone would act if we were at the facility.”
The 49ers are likely to carry five running backs in total between the active roster and practice squad. Pencil in Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman for two of those spots. Jerick McKinnon, Jeff Wilson, Ahmed and Hasty will have to battle for the final three spots, with McKinnon and Wilson likely having a leg up.
The final roster spot likely will come down to a position battle between Ahmed and Hasty.
Ahmed, 5-foot-11, 197-pounds, never became the game-breaking back he was projected to be when he committed to Washington out of high school. He has quick feet and can be explosive, but he needs to work on his vision and decisiveness to stick in the NFL.
As for Hasty, the Baylor product was misused during his time in Waco, Texas. He's an elite athlete who profiles as a third-down back who can uncover out of the backfield and make plays in the passing game. He's a tough, hard-nosed back who has the explosiveness to fit well in the 49ers' zone-rushing scheme. He's an electric, change-of-pace back who has the potential to morph into a dynamic weapon for coach Kyle Shanahan.
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The 49ers might be able to hold a full-squad minicamp in June if Governor Gavin Newsom allows it. That will be the first time Ahmed and Hasty will take the field as 49ers. They must make the most of every opportunity in order to make the roster.
They've already been doing that in the Zoom classroom. The field world comes next.