It wasn’t uncommon for the 49ers to rely heavily on running back Elijah Mitchell as a rookie in 2021.
But now, with Christian McCaffrey on the team, Mitchell is having a hard time getting on the field.
Mitchell was one of four active, healthy and uniformed 49ers players who did not see action Sunday in the 49ers’ 30-23 win over the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium.
McCaffrey played all 57 offensive snaps for the 49ers, and coach Kyle Shanahan admitted Monday that the team made a mistake by not having a running back rotation.
“Yes, we definitely have to get Elijah out there more and do better with our rotation than we did yesterday,” Shanahan said. “This wasn’t the plan. It ended this 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 got on the field for just 10 plays.
Shanahan said the responsibility for making substitutions generally falls on position coaches. Most of Shanahan’s focus is calling plays.
Bobby Turner is the 49ers’ running backs coach, while Anthony Lynn is the assistant head coach/running backs coach.
“You can ask about players specifically on certain plays as a play caller,” Shanahan said. “You don’t keep players fresh and rotate and things like that. Position coaches do that. But also, for (Mitchell) to not be able to come in, I definitely had to notice him and ask for him.”
Mitchell struggled with injuries during his rookie season but carried 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 carries in the 49ers’ opener win over the Dallas Cowboys.
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Mitchell’s playing time took a dramatic downward turn after the trade that brought McCaffrey to the 49ers from the Carolina Panthers midway through last season.
McCaffrey may be the best player in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean Mitchell doesn’t have a role in the 49ers’ offense.
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