Running back Jerick McKinnon joined the 49ers two years ago as a free agent who received a surprisingly rich contract after four years of largely part-time play in Minnesota. A knee injury has kept the 49ers from getting any return on the investment.
That return may be coming as of 2020, based on what the 49ers have seen so far in practice this month.
“I think everyone knows how hard that’s been for him just emotionally and mentally,” coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters on Saturday regarding McKinnon, “but what he’s done too this offseason, I think he spent most of his time in Houston and he spent a lot of time with [offensive lineman] Trent Williams down there. I think [receiver] Deebo [Samuel] was down there a little bit, but those guys grinded. They worked very hard.
“Jet’s always been as hard of a workers as there is, he came in as prepared as anyone could be. My only worry about Jet is sometimes he might overdo it because that’s how hard he works. The good thing for Jet is, we’ve been through this twice with him and when he came back last year with it, trying to get him back and he’d get out there and try to work through it, you could tell it just didn’t heal right and then he had to go through all that stuff again. It’s still the first day, the first step, but you can tell that it healed right and you can tell Jet’s put that work in and you feel all this that he’s gone through in the last two years. I feel he’s finally in a position where he has a chance to have this comeback now and everyone’s pulling for him. He’s as good of a guy there is on our team and he had a real good first day of practice.”
McKinnon’s presence further diversifies a multi-headed running attack that has become part ballet, part barroom brawl. Shanahan has devised plays that, when executed properly, work to perfection. Aiding that process is the fact that the team has a bunch of roughnecks who will execute the Xs and Os in a way that results in the Os knocking the Xs onto their asses.
When that happens, capable ballcarriers break free to gain yards and score touchdowns. McKinnon now adds to that. If healthy, he could end up being the best of the bunch.