Rathman breaks down the Niners running backs

SANTA CLARA – 49ers running backs coach, Tom Rathman, spoke to a group of reporters after practice this afternoon. I transcribed the interview below.

Here are Rathman’s main points:

  • Brandon Jacobs “is a very physical runner” who “has the ability to pack it up inside and run over guys…If we want somebody to run outside, we’ll put somebody else in.”
  • The Niners want to keep Frank Gore “fresh so he’s an impact player.” That means fewer carries next season for the franchise’s all-time leading rusher.
  • Rookie running back LaMichael James is “already an impact player. That’s who he is. He’s going to be a guy who makes a lot of plays for your offense.”

Q: The critique of Brandon Jacobs in New York was that he didn’t hit the hole like a big back should. Would you agree that that’s something he needs to improve upon?

RATHMAN: I don’t know about that. Evaluating him, I thought he was a very physical runner. He’s got the ability to do what we’re looking for him to do. He has to understand who he is as a player. We need him to pack it up inside and run over guys, be physical as a ball carrier. If we want somebody to run outside, we’ll put somebody else in. We’re looking forward to working with him this year. He’s done an outstanding job this offseason coming into this system and trying to learn it. That’s the biggest factor right now – learning the offense.

Q: Have you guys thought about roles for each of these guys? What Brandon Jacobs’ role vs. Kendall Hunter’s?

RATHMAN: First of all, you’ve got to figure out who’s going to make the team. That’s where it all starts. You can’t plan on who’s going to play what role until you figure out who’s going to make your team. We believe that it’s open competition. We’re going to play the best players because that’s the way it should be. So they all have to understand that they’ve got to play at a high level when they’re out on the football field – that’s the expectation of the San Francisco 49ers. When you do that, good things will happen to you as a player. You’ll get more snaps. We don’t know if everyone’s going to be happy with the time they get because we don’t know what the situation is right now. It’s all going to play itself out. The good thing is we’ve got depth at the position, so we’re going to lay it on the line when we get into training camp and see who fits what role.

Q: What are expecting from all that depth?

RATHMAN: You’re not going to have any shortfalls when somebody gets hurt. Hopefully have somebody who’s able to come in and play at the same level that the guy in front of him played. Those are our expectations of each individual.

Q: How’s Frank Gore looking?

RATHMAN: This is his first offseason out here. I’m very happy about him being here. He’s working hard. I think he’s working out three times a week, probably three times a day – working out early in the morning, then he comes here and then he goes and boxes at night. He’s working hard. He’s out here. He understands what’s at stake. We’ve got a very, very good team. We’re very close to where we want to go. The attendance that we have this offseason exemplifies that, as far as guys want to be here, they want to be in the system, they want to be around their teammates because they know we’re close and we’ve just got to take that next step.

Q: It seems like he’s lost some weight recently.

RATHMAN: He was a little bit overweight because he hadn’t been doing much. He’ll get better as far as the conditioning. Obviously he already knows the offense after being in it a year. I mean Frank’s a very smart player anyway, so he understands the whole concepts that we put in, he understands the game of football and he plays fast. He just needs to continue that. We need to keep him healthy. We need to keep him fresh so he’s an impact player for us.

Q: How’s Will Tukuafu doing with his transition from defensive tackle to fullback?

RATHMAN: He’s still in the transition phase, but he’s getting it. The more reps he gets the better he’s going to be. Until we get pads on I don’t think we’re really going to know. You get contacts, and then you start coaching him up on fits – how to strike a guy, how to move a guy out of the hole, all those things – how to cut a guy. All of that’s a work in progress, but it’s going in a positive direction as far as him working on offense.

Q: Are their different challenges for a guy his size (290 lbs) learning the position versus a guy 240 lbs?

RATHMAN: Not really. It’s still football. You still teach him the same thing you teach Bruce Miller. Techniques don’t change, so it’s all going to be the same. They’ll all be coached the same way. Let’s see if they can handle it.

Q: Does LaMichael James need to put on a lot of weight?

RATHMAN: I don’t think so because he’s already an impact player. That’s what he is. He’s going to be a guy who makes a lot of plays for your offense and does a lot of different things for your football team. I don’t know if you ask a guy to put on weight and ask him to be a guy he’s not. We’ll get him in here and get him coached up when he gets here. Hopefully he responds.

Q: How’s Anthony Dixon looking?

RATHMAN: Actually, all the running backs are looking pretty good. Solid group. We’ve got a lot of depth. All of them have to understand what’s at stake. It’s going to be tough as far as the numbers (making the team), but it’s going to bring out the best in all those guys. Someone once told me that the cream always rises to the top, and that’s our belief. The cream’s going to rise to the top out of that group.

Q: Does Anthony understand the urgency of the situation?

RATHMAN: I think everybody understand the urgency, even Frank. There’s a draft pick from the second round coming at his position. We signed Brandon Jacobs, so it’s not necessarily one guy. I think the whole group has a sense of urgency that we’ve got to play at a high level, we’ve got to play consistent football and that’s what it’s going to take for us to take that next step of getting into the Super Bowl.

Q: Kendall Hunter’s been talking about now that he’s here for the offseason he gets to learn some of the blocking techniques.

RATHMAN: Last year it was coaching on the run, especially with the two young guys. We’ve never been in that experience before. It’s what you make out of it. If the player wants to get better, he’s going to get better. Kendall is the type of guy who’s going to do everything he can to get better. But it is a huge advantage for him to be in the offseason program this year, both him and Bruce, and really all the guys who are trying out for the fullback position, who have taken snaps back there. It’s going to benefit him, no question. He’s going to be a lot further along when the season gets here because he’ll know what he’s doing. And he’s looked very good in the OTAs.

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