What a preseason so far for rookie Glen Coffee. The 3rd rounder out of Alabama has surpassed expectations and has carried the ball 30 times for 196 yards. But remember, this is the preseason and that doesn’t always carry over to the regular season. I would love to have a reliable running back behind Frank Gore. Michael Robinson is decent, but a converted college quarterback usually plays receiver. He does not have the vision that a natural halfback wields. Coffee is a tad faster than Gore, completing his 40 yard dash in 4.58 seconds, making him a nice change-of-pace back. Should Coffee continue his success on the ground, and show ability to catch out in the flat, we might have ourselves a running back by committee.
RBBC is bad for fantasy purposes, but good for real life football. We should embrace the fortuitous gift of having two good running backs on the same team. If Coffee is able to take 30-40% of Gore’s punishment, it will help keep him healthy and off the injury list. Gore has only played in all 16 games once, in his break-out year. Imagine the statistical advantage of having Frank Gore healthy and ready to pound the rock 16 games a year. The trend to have two backs share the load is beneficial to both. A power back paired with a speed back can be a lethal one-two punch. A seasoned veteran being helped by a young star will lenghthen both careers. Maurice Jones-Drew did wonders for Fred Taylor in Jacksonville. Taylor, aka Fragile Fred, was able to stay relatively healthy and made his first Pro Bowl. In contrast, Larry Johnson carried the ball a whopping 752 times in his two full years as a starter, including the NFL record 416 times in 2006. He scored 37 touchdowns in that span, but after that, the wear on his body took its toll. It’s no surprise after that season Johnson has only played in 20 games and attempted 351 rushes. The two back system is necessary to survive in the NFL.
Unlike Gore, Coffee has not proven himself to be a workhorse. Like most college teams, Alabama utilized multiple running backs. Coffee had 233 rushing attempts in his Junior year, the only time he ever went over 200 carries. His college days have given him experience in a time share. Who better to split a backfield with than a guy who does not demand to see 20 carries a game?
Mike Singletary and Offensive Coordinator Jimmy Raye covet a strong ground game with solid defense. Add that to the talented but inconsistent wide receivers (I’m talking to you Josh Morgan), and the 49ers look like a team that can compete for the division. Although the NFC West is considered a weak division, the 49ers still have to win it through hard work and superior execution. If Coffee can balance the running attack, and not make it one-dimensional, the offense will improve significantly from its 27th in total rushing last season.