Kyle Shanahan feels for running back Elijah Mitchell, who will miss the next two months with a knee injury he sustained in the 19-10 Week 1 loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, but the 49ers' coach remains confident in the team's backup options.
Fortunately for the 49ers, Shanahan has a history of success with running backs up and down the depth chart and has shown time and time again that he can squeeze every ounce of production out of the position.
After sustaining a knee injury on San Francisco's one and only touchdown drive in the second quarter of Sunday's game, Mitchell actually stayed in and played an additional few snaps, even throwing a key block on Deebo Samuel's touchdown run that gave the 49ers a 7-0 lead at the time.
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Despite missing time with multiple injuries in his season-plus with San Francisco, Shanahan has taken note of Mitchell's toughness.
"He is, you can see it in how he runs, but it was also emotional for him," Shanahan told Greg Papa on the latest episode of "49ers Gameplan," which debuted Friday night on NBC Sports Bay Area. "He was ready to go and I think everyone could see that early in the game. If he would have stayed in that game and stayed healthy, I wouldn't put 200 yards out of the question for him. He was going to have a day and it was real unfortunate for him, he was just hoping that he didn't get hurt, so he stayed in about five more plays.
"I was sad for him. He's going to bounce back, it could have been worse. We're lucky it wasn't an ACL or anything, but real tough to lose him, everyone knows how good he was last year and I believe he was going to be even better this year, but we gotta make sure when he comes back we've got a reason for him to come back and play good for us."
With Mitchell out for an extended period of time, the 49ers will turn to veteran running back Jeff Wilson Jr. as the primary ball carrier in his absence. After recovering from a torn meniscus, Wilson struggled in nine games last season, recording 294 yards rushing on 79 attempts. His 3.7 yards-per-attempt was significantly down from his very impressive clip of 4.8 from the season prior.
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Shanahan believes the 26-year-old running back has returned to that same dominant 2020 form.
"Yeah, I believe so," Shanahan said of Wilson Jr. "He's looked that way in camp since we started. So Jeff's done a really good job, he struggled last year as everyone knows. Because he got a week of practice in about a year before he got thrown into the heat. This year he had a great offseason, totally healthy, back to being Jeff. But his role picks up and we want to make sure we don't put too much on him, because when that happens he does wear down a little bit.
"Jeff will do everything, fullback, halfback, running the ball, catching the ball. But we've got two young guys behind him that we need their help. I was hoping to give them a little more time to get their feet wet, but losing Elijah, these guys gotta step it up and come in and help Jeff out."
As unfortunate and untimely as Mitchell's injury is, the 49ers have viable backup options, including Wilson Jr. and rookies Ty Davis-Price and Jordan Mason.
Not to mention that Samuel and quarterback Trey Lance also are weapons on the ground.
The running back room again will be tested this Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks at Levi's Stadium in a Week 2 matchup between two longtime division rivals.