SANTA CLARA — Not many running backs can be compared to All-Pro Adrian Peterson, but on one play in Week 8, 49ers left tackle Trent Williams was reminded of his former Oklahoma teammate.
The Pro Bowl left tackle has played a lot of football in his college and 11-year NFL career, and usually is skilled enough to not be in the path of a running back coming up behind him. Only twice, has he been collateral damage of a teammate’s force -- once by Peterson and more recently, by rookie Elijah Mitchell in the 49ers' win over the Chicago Bears.
“I’ve gotten run over, or really hit hard, by a running back once,” Williams said on Saturday. “It was Adrian Peterson of course, my freshman year in college. That was the last time I've really been like — and I got de-cleated by standing in the hole.
“Elijah didn’t de-cleat me but he definitely put one in my back and made me turn around and say, ‘Who the hell was that?’ I was like, ‘Damn, if that’s what they feel when they got to tackle him, I can see what he breaks so many tackles."
Mitchell leads the 49ers in rushing, already boasting three 100-yard games. Through six games, the rookie has registered 89 carries for 469 yards for an average of 5.3 yards per carry and three touchdowns. He has also caught all nine of his targets for 73 yards. “He’s compact, he has great vision,” Williams said. “His pad level is always where it needs to be. Obviously you see his balance - he shows it off by how many tackles he breaks. He’s shifty and he can run. He literally has the full tool box. The more touches we give him I think the more effective he will be.”
Rookies often have slow starts in the NFL but Mitchell's introduction to the league has been anything but slow. Mitchell credits 49ers running backs coach Bobby Turner for his success, preparing the young ball carrier for every situation.
The venerable coach is also responsible for making sure Mitchell keeps his pad level low in order to protect himself from defenders trying to tackle him and punching out the ball. The sixth-round draft pick out of Louisiana said that because of Turner’s thorough coaching, he started feeling more comfortable with the offensive system during training camp.
What drives Mitchell even more is the chip that is squarely on his shoulder, after playing in a smaller college football conference and being drafted in the sixth round.
“Before I got here, I always have that mentality,” Mitchell said. “That’s something I’ll always stick to no matter what. No matter what position I’m in, I’m always going to have that chip on my shoulder. I was Sun Belt so you just got to have that mentality.”
With JaMycal Hasty ruled out for Monday’s game with the Los Angeles Rams, Mitchell will be joined on the field by Jeff Wilson Jr., who missed the first half of the season recovering from a meniscus injury.