It was not uncommon for the 49ers to lean heavily on running back Elijah Mitchell when he was a rookie in 2021.
But, now, with Christian McCaffrey on the team, Mitchell is having a difficult time even getting on the field.
Mitchell was one of four 49ers active, healthy, in-uniform players who did not see any action Sunday in the 49ers’ 30-23 victory over the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium.
McCaffrey played all 57 offensive snaps for the 49ers, and coach Kyle Shanahan admitted Monday the team made a mistake with their lack of a rotation at running back.
“Yeah, we definitely got to get Elijah in there more and do better with our rotation than we did yesterday,” Shanahan said. “That wasn’t the plan going in. It just ended up that way. I got 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 got on the field for just 10 plays.
Shanahan said it is generally the responsibility of the position coaches to make substitutions. Most of Shanahan’s concentration is on calling plays.
Bobby Turner is the 49ers’ running backs coach, while Anthony Lynn is assistant head coach/running backs.
“You can ask for guys 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, for him (Mitchell) not to get in, I definitely should have noticed and asked for him.”
Mitchell battled injuries during his rookie season but 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 carried 27 times in the 49ers’ playoff-opening win over the Dallas Cowboys.
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Mitchell’s playing time took a dramatic downward shift upon the trade that brought McCaffrey to the 49ers from the Carolina Panthers in the middle of last season.
McCaffrey might be the best running back in the NFL, but that should not mean that Mitchell has no role in the 49ers’ offense.