SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Carlos Hyde ran for 333 yards as a rookie in 2014, when he struggled to find his rhythm along with the rest of the offense.
A year later, with former mentor Frank Gore playing with Colts, Hyde is now the 49ers' top running back. In his first game in his new role, Hyde ran for 168 yards on 26 carries, and scored two touchdowns in the 20-3 win over the Vikings.
"I just think my approach to the game is totally different," Hyde said afterwards. "Just knowing that I’m that guy now, so I really took it upon myself to really study, really get into that film, really go to practice and practice hard. Not take any reps off of practice. I go hard, so when I go to Sunday, it’s easy for me. I’ll do this all day."
The 49ers spent much of 2014 dealing with an offensive identity crisis. They were looking for ways to incorporate Hyde, a much different runner from Gore, while not trying to mess with their power-scheme that became a staple with Gore as the centerpiece. With new offensive line coach Chris Foerster specializing in a zone-blocking scheme, Hyde is back doing what he's comfortable with.
"I love (the scheme). I felt like I was back at Ohio State tonight," Hyde said.
Left guard Alex Boone, also a former Buckeye, said, "Somebody owe’s me a steak. Seriously."
It was no secret this offseason the 49ers wanted to re-establish a consistent running game they lacked at times in 2014 to help out quarterback Colin Kaepernick. They did that with their first opportunity Monday night, with Hyde out-rushing former All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson, who had a just 31 yards rushing on 10 carries.
Hyde said during the week he thought about what it would mean to be on the same field as Peterson, a running back who he's been watching for years.
"I beat a guy who’s been leading the NFL in rushing. That’s tremendous," he said. "To out-do a guy like that, Adrian Peterson’s a great running back. Can’t take anything away from him."
San Francisco ran for 230 yards on the night, en route to out gaining Minnesota 395-248. They averaged 5.9 yards per carry as a team, and were able to keep the Vikings offense in check, rekindling the formula they had success with under former head coach Jim Harbaugh. The team's new head coach, Jim Tomsula, liked what he saw from his new featured running back.
"Carlos did an awesome, awesome job running the football. But, again, I'm into the team aspect of it," Tomsula said. "The offensive line, the wide receviers...the blocking. Colin getting us in the right plays. So, it's a team effort."
Hyde's first touchdown came with :47 left in the first half, when ran a read-option play to the right, and spun back the other way to the open field on the left side, diving into the end zone. The spin was reminiscent of his former teammate Braxton Miller, who did a similar highlight-reel spin in the open field in Ohio State's season-opening win over Virginia Tech.
"I actually was just walking past the TV and he tweeted, "B-button," Hyde said of Miller.
The 49ers got off to an uneven start to the game. After their first drive stalled deep in Minnesota's territory, they settled for a 28-yard field goal that was blocked by safety Andrew Sendejo, recovered by defensive back Marcus Sherels and returned 44 yards. It was a scoreless game until Hyde's 10-yard touchdown off the spin move.
Hyde's second touchdown came on a cutback run to the right side, when he walked in untouched, giving the 49ers a commanding 17-3 lead.
"He ran great," Kaepernick said. "Ran aggressive and that's what we need out of him. He came out and performed well. Our offensive line, our tight ends did a great job. Our receivers got in and blocked people for him too and opened up some holes."
After one game, it appears the transition from a power-based scheme to zone blocking is working out with the 49ers, despite losing two former first-round picks this offseason. Right tackle Anthony Davis retired and left guard Mike Iupati signed with the Cardinals in March. But their running back's play transcended the scheme, Boone said.
"A lot of it was Carlos, making great cuts. He runs so hard. A lot of people, I think, toward the end of that game, I think started to realize, he wasn’t going to back down either. So, at the end of the day, it’s a great scheme for him and our backs. The offensive line is doing well with it," said Boone.
Chris Biderman is the Editor-in-Chief of Niners Digest and covers the 49ers from their headquarters in Santa Clara. Chris has been writing about the team since the spring of 2013. The Ohio State alum received his Journalism degree in 2011 and has been working in sports media since 2008. Chris, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, is also a contributor to the Associated Press covering sports throughout the Bay Area. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.
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