Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

49ers coaches have been unable to coherently explain why Bruce Ellington hasn't played more

In need of play makers on offense, the 49ers have used receiver Bruce Ellington on just seven plays this season.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The San Francisco 49ers, owners of the league's worst scoring offense, haven't issued a coherent reason for keeping receiver Bruce Ellington on the bench.

The second-year receiver has been limited almost exclusively to the thankless role of kick-off return man, where he spends most of his time catching kicks in the back of the end zone.

The offense, meanwhile, has been far from inspiring, ranking 29th in yards and is in need of a spark.

On the season, Ellington has been on the field for seven offensive snaps.

Ellington played two snaps against the Giants, catching two bubble screens on the opening possession going for 39 yards. But he never saw the field again. The 49ers wound up with two field goals in the first half before finding a rhythm and scoring three second-half touchdowns.

Here's what coach Jim Tomsula had to say about Ellington's lack of playing time Wednesday:

“Well, again coming off the other injury the last time and then getting him into practice we had a couple of select reps for him and some things there. But, then as the game plan went on we just kept moving forward. And, the other guys, just quite simply, practiced those things more and that was just how it went.”

To be sure, Ellington missed Week 2 and 3 with an ankle injury after dealing with hamstring injuries that cut into a bulk of his offseason work. But with running back Reggie Bush likely on the shelf after aggravating his calf injury Sunday, the 49ers could use Ellington in a similar role, but have decided not to, so far, in favor of third-year receiver Quinton Patton, who has a firm grasp on the third receiver job.

Patton has played 118 snaps, with nine catches for 91 yards on the year.

Bush was initially brought into to help the 49ers in the passing game, creating mismatches against linebackers in long-yardage downs. But Bush has been unable to stay on the field, appearing on 23 offensive plays in the three games he's been healthy enough to play. Bush has four carries for seven yards, adding one catch for six.

Ellington has lined up in the back field in the past and spent most of time in the slot at South Carolina. In Week 16 last season, he became the first 49ers rookie since Frank Gore to score a receiving and rushing touchdown. He was hoping to springboard that success into the competition for the third receiver's spot this fall.

Here's offensive coordinator Geep Chryst's line of thinking for not playing Ellington more:

“We actually talked about putting him in for a couple of other plays in the second half. There was actually the series that we went three-and-out, we actually took some shots down the field and, you know, part of anything else in terms of a rotation or really plays. So, we were talking about the nature of the game, being a limited possession game.

"We had four meaningful possessions in the first half and four meaningful possessions in the second half. So, you’d like for him to get a series. That’s always a little easier, that you’re not tipping your hands for a particular play. But, just the nature of the game and really in the second half where things are going smoothly you’re not looking to tweak, adjust or move forward.

"But, Bruce is coming back off of a little bit of a minor injury and I think that he’s done a great job. And you try to get a guy who is coming back off of an injury a toehold on the game plan, some things that he can execute and he did a great job with that.

"And really, we went back to that play at a critical time in the fourth quarter drive. It happened to be [WR] Torrey [Smith] that caught it and Torrey did a nice job with it too. So, we’ve got confidence in the people that are out there. And, with both [WR] Quinton [Patton] and Bruce out there, I think they do a nice job of complimenting and adding depth to the receiver position.”

Ellington appeared on Thursday's injury as a limited participant with a calf injury leading into Sunday's game against the Ravens.


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.

E-mail Niners Digest:

Get updates from Niners Digest by following here and become a subscriber to receive access to premium content and analysis.

Niners Digest Top Stories