49ers

3 players the 49ers must get involved on offense in 2014

While the San Francisco 49ers have a myriad of big names on their roster, they don’t necessarily have a track record of running the type of offense that gets everyone involved.

Consider that since Jim Harbaugh took over in 2011, Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter have received almost 89 percent of the attempts given to running backs. In the passing game, Colin Kaepernick appears to favor certain receivers, as Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis caught 20 of the quarterback’s 21 touchdowns passes and were on the receiving end of 56 percent of his completions. 

As the 49ers move forward, they may be without significant pieces in 2015 due to free agency and/or roster cuts. While the players in question will still be a big part of the team’s success in 2014, the Niners have to get others the ball in some form to see what they have moving forward.

Here is a look at three players San Francisco must get involved in 2014.

Stevie Johnson

When the 49ers acquired Johnson from the Buffalo Bills, they got a receiver with pedigree. Johnson excelled in Buffalo despite inconsistent quarterback play, gaining over 1,000 yards from 2010-2012. Injuries slowed him down last season, but he’s still someone who can start on most teams in the league.

The 49ers will use him as a third option behind Boldin and Michael Crabtree initially, but Johnson’s real value to the team will be in 2015. With Crabtree in the last year of his contract and Boldin having a significant cap hit next year, it’s likely the 49ers will move one from one of them. Johnson could be the perfect person to transition into one of those top two spots.

As Kaepernick continues to grow as a quarterback, he’ll have to get better at spreading the ball around, and Johnson should be someone he should concentrate on developing a rapport with. Another 1,000-yard season is unlikely, but the 49ers must make it a point to target Johnson in the passing game and include him in various packages.

Carlos Hyde

Considering Marcus Lattimore hasn’t played in a game in quite some time, even if he’s 100 percent the 49ers will still break him in slowly. The same can’t be said for Hyde.

The team’s second round pick in 2014 was as complete a running back as there was in the draft, and looks to be a perfect fit in San Francisco’s system. As the most likely heir apparent to Gore, Hyde needs to see the field with some regularity this season.

Hyde could be a short-yardage back initially, but he should eat into some of Hunter’s carries as well. Four to five touches a game is a realistic amount in his rookie year. If an injury were to occur to Gore, it’s safe to say Hyde would be a major part of some type of time share. 

Vance McDonald

The 49ers were lacking in the weapons department for much of 2013 and needed McDonald to step up as a rookie to give Kaepernick another consistent target. However, the tight end struggled to find any kind of a rhythm and only caught eight passes all season. He also failed to record more than one catch in any single game.

It’s unlikely McDonald will set the world on fire in his second season considering he’s at best a fifth option behind Crabtree, Boldin, Johnson and Davis. He may even be lower on the totem pole depending on how the 49ers view Quinton Patton. Still, Greg Roman runs a tight end-heavy offense and the coaching staff needs to find out if McDonald is a long term answer.

If McDonald doesn’t appear to turn a corner, look for the 49ers to draft a tight end next year as it would benefit them to start thinking about an eventual replacement for Davis.    

Photo: Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports

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Al Sacco

Al Sacco is sports expert who knows football, baseball, basketball and hockey. He has spent his time as a sports journalist covering the San Francisco 49ers as a contributor to 49erswebzone.com and Ninerfans.com. He's been a guest on numerous podcasts and has had his work used on ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY.
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