SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers have compiled the makings of a pretty good team in their backfield.
Sure, it's a deep group of running backs, but they also can form a nice track team.
Tevin Coleman was at the 49ers' facility on Thursday to sign a two-year, $8.5 million contract. He is a speedster who played two seasons in Kyle Shanahan’s offense with the Atlanta Falcons.
He joins a group of running backs that already includes Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert.
Has Coleman ever been teammates with such an explosive group of running backs?
“No, I have not. It’s going to be a 4x1 back there,” Coleman said, referring to a 4x100-meter track relay team. “So there’s a lot speed in the backfield. I’m real excited to play with those guys.”
Coleman was timed at 4.39 in the 40-yard dash before he came out in the 2015 draft. One year earlier, Jerick McKinnon clocked a 4.41 at the combine. Two years ago, Matt Breida ran a 4.39 at his pro day.
Mostert, who signed a three-year extension on Friday, won Big Ten titles at Purdue in the 60 meters and 200 meters during the indoor season, and was the conference champion in the 100 and 200 during the outdoor season. He entered the NFL in 2015.
Shanahan said he has never been with an NFL team that suited up four running backs on game days during the regular season due to the league’s 46-player limit. Because of the team’s increased depth, he could be tempted to re-think some things, he said.
“I think we're in a situation right now, just looking at our roster, that I think it could make a lot of sense this year,” Shanahan said.
It remains unlikely the 49ers will suit up four running backs. But, they can be expected to keep each player on the roster this season. The 49ers know how quickly depth can disappear at running back, so it would be foolish for them to not hold onto all four players.
Last year, McKinnon sustained a season-ending knee injury before the start of the regular season. Breida battled ankle issues; Mostert sustained a fractured forearm; and Jeff Wilson sustained a shoulder injury in the season finale.
Veteran Alfred Morris gained a season-high 111 yards in the final game of the year with Wilson sidelined. Morris, 30, an eight-year pro, remains available on the free-agent market.
If the four running backs remain healthy, the 49ers will be forced to deactivate a proven player for games. Coleman said he is looking forward to bonding with his new running partners as they fight among themselves for playing time.
“Those are my brothers now,” Coleman said. “We’ll go out there and have fun together and play ball and compete together.”
Coleman was a dynamic multi-dimensional player during his four years with the Falcons. He rushed for a career-best 800 yards with a 4.8 average last season. In his first season with Shanahan, he caught 31 passes for career highs with 421 yards and a 13.6 average.
That’s the kind of playmaking Shanahan likes to see from his running backs -- making defenses play a big price for breakdowns in coverage.
“It’s real big because it’s hard to do good in this league with a lot of big guys, a lot of great guys,” Coleman said of the importance of speed. “To get me in space, that’s what my strength is.”