49ers

Why Mecole Hardman believes he's ready to test 49ers' Richard Sherman

Why Mecole Hardman believes he's ready to test 49ers' Richard Sherman

MIAMI -- Kansas City Chiefs receiver Mecole Hardman is looking forward to facing 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman on Sunday in Super Bowl LIV, but he might want to be careful what he wishes for. 

The two players met when Hardman was a teenager at The Opening, a showcase for the top high school football players in the country. Hardman has communicated with Sherman on social media since then, but meeting on the field in the biggest game of the year will obviously take the cake. 

“I met him at The Opening for the first time when I was in 11th grade,” Hardman said. “I met him and kind of like talked to him and everything. It’s crazy actually playing against him in the Super Bowl now. I was playing corner at the time so he was kind of a guy that I looked up to and kind of wanted to be like a little bit.

"And playing against him now is kind of crazy.” 

Hardman has a lot of respect for the veteran, and he knows Sherman has the advantage of experience on his side. 

“His knowledge for the game,” Hardman said. “I think he’s a film junkie from talking to him at The Opening. He always watches film. He tries to get the best of his opponent. He’s trying to be a step up on the field.”  

Hardman, who ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine has speed on his side. He finished his rookie season catching 26 of his 41 targets for 538 yards and six touchdowns. He averages 11.5 yards after catch, partly due to his blazing speed. 

Hardman faced off with Sherman in the preseason, but the rookie shared that it wasn’t a true test of what their matchup could be on Sunday. Even with speed on his side, the Chiefs receiver couldn’t put his finger on what his advantage would be over the veteran. 

“That’s kind of hard,” Hardman said. “I’ve never been against him. I think I went against him one time in the preseason, but he really wasn’t playing like that. But I’m going to try to see what I can get him at, you know?” 

[RELATED: Ward says 49ers can counter Chiefs' speed with big hits]

Sherman is well known to easily be motivated by doubt and slights, real or manufactured, but trash talking certainly moves the barometer. Hardman has plans to poke the proverbial bear on Sunday, which could prove to be lethal. 

“He's a great trash talker I heard,” Hardman said. “So I’m ready to talk a little trash with him out there, try to see if I can get him going, but it’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to the matchup.”  

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.

49ers hopeful receiver Jalen Hurd will be cleared for offseason program

49ers hopeful receiver Jalen Hurd will be cleared for offseason program

INDIANAPOLIS -- Even before the 49ers have the opportunity to select a wide receiver in the draft, the club expects to add the services of a young pass-catcher.

Jalen Hurd, a third-round draft pick from a year ago, appears to be on schedule to receive clearance to rejoin the 49ers when the offseason program begins in April. Hurd spent his rookie season on injured reserve due to a stress fracture in his lower back.

“For it to completely heal, it happens on different timelines,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “We found that his has been stubborn. We think he’s been nearing towards a much better place where he’ll be cleared for all activities.

“(We) don’t want to officially give that word, but there have been some recent scans and things that give us a lot of hope that that’ll be the case, come April 1, he’ll be a full-go.”

Hurd was not around the team too much during his rookie season. He did not travel to Miami for Super Bowl LIV due to concerns about aggravating his back condition.

“I think there’s a little anxiety on his part that the long plane rides had set him off before and he worked so hard to try to get right, and kind of didn’t want that to enter the equation,” Lynch said.

[RELATED49ers roster analysis: More receiver depth needed around Deebo Samuel]

In order for Hurd's back to heal, the 49ers and Hurd felt it was best to keep him off his feet.  

“With his back stuff, he didn’t want to travel, didn’t want to be in the meetings and everything," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "There wasn’t much to do. He had a stress fracture and it’s taking a long time to heal, so we wanted him to be as immobile as possible.”

Hurd (6-foot-4, 227 pounds) caught 69 passes for 946 yards and four touchdowns in his senior season at Baylor in 2018. He played his first three college seasons at Tennessee, where he rushed for 2,635 yards and 20 touchdowns as a running back.

Hurd appeared in the 49ers’ preseason opener last summer and caught two touchdown passes against the Dallas Cowboys before experiencing the back condition that sidelined him for the rest of the season.

49ers have hard decisions to make with running backs in 2020 offseason

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USATSI

49ers have hard decisions to make with running backs in 2020 offseason

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- During the 2019 offseason, the 49ers arguably had the most stacked room of running backs in the league. 

Many football pundits speculated how coach Kyle Shanahan was going to spread out carries and still keep everyone happy. Before the regular season even began, however, that changed drastically as setbacks from an ACL injury forced Jerick McKinnon to sit out a second consecutive season. 

As the season unfolded, both Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida missed multiple games with ankle injuries, forcing the 49ers to promote Jeff Wilson Jr. from the practice squad. 

Raheem Mostert, who has been a standout on special teams throughout his five-year career, finished the season leading the team in rushing yards (772) and touchdowns (10). 

“It’s two years in a row that we’ve gone in with four backs and we’ve needed all four,” Shanahan said Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “It’s something that I used to look at as a luxury, and now I’m almost feeling like it’s a necessity.”

Shanahan and general manager John Lynch now face tough decisions as they look to solidify the backfield for the 2020 season. While they would prefer to keep the group they have together, they know that will nearly be impossible. 

“I would love to keep it going forward,” Shanahan said. “I think the group that we had last year showed where we could get with them, but it’s always hard to do that. I hope that we can. It’s not as simple as just tying all the running backs together, it’s how you compare them to the other positions and everything.”  

Breida has reached the end of his three-year undrafted rookie contract, and is set to become an unrestricted free agent. A higher price tag could make re-signing him a challenge. McKinnon is set to make $6.5 million with a cap hit of over $8.5 million. Lynch is keeping the lines of communication open with both parties, but is realistic about the challenges ahead.

Restructuring McKinnon's contract could help the 49ers cap situation and potentially keep him on the roster for 2020. 

[RELATED: 49ers have solid running backs, but group lacks something]

“I think this week will be important in talking with his representative in trying to find something that works for both sides to try to come back and see Jerick on the field,” Lynch said on Tuesday. “He’s doing well.

“He was cleared at the end of the season, so his hard work has served him well. I think as we’ve learned before, the nature of that position, not an easy position. There’s being cleared and then there’s actually playing football. So we have to kind of hold our breath on that, but we are encouraged with the way it’s gone.” 

Coleman is signed through 2020 and Mostert’s contract runs through 2021. Jeff Wilson is an exclusive rights free agent, which means if the 49ers offer him a one-year contract and the league minimum, he cannot negotiate with other teams.