It wasn’t unusual for the 49ers to lean heavily on running back Elijah Mitchell as a rookie in 2021.
But now that Christian McCaffrey is on the team, Mitchell is having trouble even getting on the field.
Mitchell was one of four active, healthy and in uniform 49ers players who did not see action in the 49ers’ 30-23 victory over the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.
McCaffrey played all 57 offensive snaps for the 49ers, and coach Kyle Shanahan admitted Monday that the team made a mistake with the lack of rotation at running back.
“Yeah, we definitely have to get Elijah out there more and make a better rotation than we did yesterday,” Shanahan said. “That wasn’t the plan. It just ended up that way.” I have to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Through two weeks, McCaffrey leads the NFL in rushing attempts (42) and yards (268).
In the 49ers’ Week 1 win at the Pittsburgh Steelers, McCaffrey rushed for 152 yards while playing 58 snaps. Mitchell only got on the field for 10 games.
Shanahan said rotations are generally the position coaches’ responsibility. Most of Shanahan’s focus is on making plays.
Bobby Turner is the 49ers’ running backs coach, while Anthony Lynn is the assistant head coach/defensive backs.
“You can ask for people specifically on certain plays as a play-caller,” Shanahan said. “You’re not keeping guys fresh and rotating and things like that. Position coaches do that. But also to keep him (Mitchell) from getting in, I definitely should have noticed and asked him.”
Mitchell battled injuries during his rookie season, but he took on a heavy workload when he was on the field. In his final five regular season games, he had two games with 27 rushing attempts and three more with at least 21 carries. He also had 27 tackles in the 49ers’ opening playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys.
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Mitchell’s playing time has taken a dramatic downward turn following the trade that brought McCaffrey to the 49ers from the Carolina Panthers midway through last season.
McCaffrey may be the best running back in the NFL, but that shouldn’t mean Mitchell doesn’t play a role in the 49ers’ offense.