SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The 49ers' three available running backs for Sunday's game against the Falcons had been on the roster 21 days combined.
With Atlanta's defense coming into Sunday's game ranked third in opponents' rushing yards, many considered San Francisco's chances at running the ball effectively would be slim, at best.
But that's not how it worked out. The 49ers ran for 133 yards against the Falcons, their second most this season. Without starter Carlos Hyde, who ran for 168 yards by himself in the season opener, newcomer Shaun Draughn took over as San Francisco's primary running back.
Draughn ran for 58 yards on 16 carries, a career high, and added four receptions for 38 yards out of the backfield, making himself available for new starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
"When they signed me, I went right in the room and tried to get to work," Draughn said.
After signing on Monday, and spending roughly 15 hours each day at the facility, Draughn said he didn't know he would be the starter until warmups, when he heard the news from his position coach Tom Rathman.
"Tom walked up to me before the game, said, ‘you starting,’" Draughn said.
"He was comfortable that I knew a majority of things that we were putting in by Wednesday. So, I guess he made that decision. I don’t know exactly why. But I’m glad he did."
Draughn came to the 49ers after losing two running backs to injured reserve. Reggie Bush is done for the season after having surgery on his knee this week following a fall on the concrete lining the field in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on a punt return.
Rookie fourth-round pick Mike Davis went on injured reserve, but was given the return designation after having surgery on his fractured hand. He's eligible to return in five weeks.
In that loss to the Rams, San Francisco's running backs amassed just 10 yards on 15 carries. Sunday, they beat that mark by 80 yards, combining for 90 on 23 carries.
Kendall Gaskins, added from the practice squad eight days ago, finished with 20 yards on seven carries. But his last 11 yards were the most important, when he notched San Francisco's final first down that sealed the win. Pierre Thomas, who signed Tuesday, had four carries for 12 yards.
After scoring 17 points in the first half, the 49ers were shutout in the second Sunday. The Falcons chose to kick a field goal with 2:56 remaining to make it 17-16, instead of trying for the go-ahead touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 2. The 49ers were able to save the win by running for two first downs and getting the ball back.
Rathman, who has coached the 49ers running backs since 2009, had a the difficult job in getting three newbies prepared for Sunday in less than week.
"Tom, along with all the coaching staff this week, what they’ve been doing. These guys are good men," 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said. "They work really hard, but these players, the (it's) combination of the two.”
Draughn on Rathman added, "He’s definitely a hard-nosed guy. Physical mindset-type of guy. Knows what he’s doing. He played the game. He can teach you from that perspective. There’s a lot of coaches that kind of teach it from a different angle. But he’s been seven yards deep."
The 49ers are Draughn's eighth team since coming into the league in 2011 with Washington as an undrafted free agent. He played on Kansas City's practice squad, then went to Baltimore, then to Indianapolis, Chicago, San Diego and Cleveland, who released him Oct. 20 before signing with San Francisco.
While Hyde continues to deal with a stress fracture in his left foot, Draughn might be needed to carry the load going forward, starting with Nov. 22's game in Seattle, following the bye.
That means more work with Rathman.
"I met with him night and day, trying to get everything right," Draughn said. "I’d be in there just studying. He’d turn around in his office and ask me ‘what I got on this.’ Just quizzing me. And me and him would come in and ask me what I would have, different scenarios. What would happen. He definitely did a great job of getting me ready."
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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