SANTA CLARA (AP) — Running back Jerick McKinnon is back on the field for the 49ers nearly a year after a torn right ACL prematurely ended his first season in San Francisco.
McKinnon participated in position drills Tuesday after being removed from the physically unable to perform list. He practiced carrying the ball and running routes but the 49ers didn’t allow him to take part in 11-on-11 drills.
“I told myself to feel it out and make sure everything is smooth,” McKinnon said. “Focus on the details and try not to get ahead of myself.”
The 49ers signed McKinnon to a four-year, $30 million deal last year with the expectation he would be their lead back. But he was injured during practice in September and had to sit out the entire season. He also missed OTAs and minicamp this offseason.
McKinnon expected to return from his injury sooner but he suffered a setback two weeks before camp began. “It was a little frustrating, just because I wanted to be back that first day of camp,” McKinnon said. “But, at the same time, this is a process. Anybody who has been through this process will tell you that everybody’s process is different than the next man’s.”
Coach Kyle Shanahan said the team is easing him in slowly to avoid further setbacks.
“I’m sure health-wise he feels he could have jumped in today or at least a week ago,” Shanahan said. “But there’s a whole process you have to go through. He has been rehabbing for a year now and there’s a lot that goes into that, especially for a running back. You don’t want people rolling on his legs. You’ve got to talk to the player and make sure he feels confident mentally and physically” before he practices fully.
McKinnon began his career in Minnesota, which took him in the third round of the 2014 draft. In four seasons with the Vikings, McKinnon started 14 games and averaged 4.0 yards per carry. San Francisco had high expectations after signing him.
“He was going to be a huge part of our offense,” Shanahan said. “We got a guy who is very good at beating man-to-man coverage when going against linebackers and safeties. And also, he’s a good running back. We’re being patient. We know what he can do, know what he’s capable of.”
To take pressure off McKinnon, the 49ers signed running back Tevin Coleman this offseason. Coleman spent the first four seasons of his career with the Atlanta Falcons, where he averaged 4.4 yards per carry. The 49ers also have Matt Breida, who averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2018, and Raheem Mostert, who averaged 7.7 yards per carry in 2018.
The 49ers haven’t decided which running back will start, or how the depth chart will shake out.
“I think they’re going to complement each other well and spare each other when one guy is a little tired,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “We’re not losing anything by bringing in our second guy, our third guy or our fourth guy. We feel all those guys are at a starting-caliber level, so there’s really not much of a drop off.”