After being signed last week as insurance following a barrage of injuries at the RB position, Alfred Morris has all but solidified his place on the 49ers’ final 53-man roster. Having spent two seasons with then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in Washington, Morris is still familiar with the zone run scheme the 49ers employ, and it showed in this past week’s exhibition game against the Colts.
Beginning in the very first drive, Morris consistently displayed the skills and production necessary to obtain a spot on the 53-man roster. Let’s take a look…
In this clip from the 49ers’ first drive, Morris turned a potential negative play into an 11-yard gain. By keeping his eyes upfield, he made the first defender miss with a cut inside, followed it up with a great read off a Kyle Juszczyk block and kept the play going.
He capped off the run by keeping his feet moving during contact and eventually falling forward. Runs like this are what fuels a Shanahan offense. A talented tailback keeps the offense rolling and helps open up plays in the passing game by keeping the defense guessing.
At the start of the next drive, Jimmy Garoppolo connected with Pierre Garçon on a 14-yard pass, but pay attention to Morris. His efficiency in the running game allowed him to sell the play action and caused Colts LB Darius Leonard (#53) to take a few steps up to play the run. Those few steps left enough of a window for Garoppolo to connect with Garçon and extend the drive.
Here’s another example of great vision by Morris.
On this inside handoff, he made a quick cut at the line of scrimmage, reacted to another great block by Juszczyk and followed Joshua Garnett for an 11-yard gain.
This play very well could've ended with Morris being tripped up at the line of scrimmage, but keep an eye on how he’s constantly moving his feet and looking upfield to find any crease that opens. When he finally hit the end of open space, Morris put his head down and ran behind Garnett for an additional three yards after contact, showing off his power at the end of the play.
Let’s look at a play that requires more finesse.
Stretch plays allow running backs the option to cut upfield at different points during the play based on how it's blocked. In this play, Garçon and Garrett Celek seal the edge while Juszczyk blocks the CB.
Since these plays take slightly longer to develop, RBs are required to exhibit great vision, patience, and agility. In this clip, Morris does just that. Once the running lane opens, the Colts’ CB moves into the gap and breaks down to create what looks like a 1-on-1 tackle opportunity, but Morris slightly hesitates until Juszczyk could make his block. He then cuts upfield for another big gain on first down.
Later in the game, the 49ers find themselves in a 2nd-and-long situation. Rather than pass the ball to make third down manageable, the 49ers call a draw play and catch the Colts’ defense on their heels. This is what a draw play should look like if it is executed correctly. Morris hesitates before he takes the handoff inside and reads Laken Tomlinson’s block to pick up a 10-yard gain.
The slight hesitation before the handoff allows Morris to read the gaps in front of him and decide where to go. In this case, his good decision allowed the 49ers to have a better chance at converting a first down.
The 49ers came away with a loss to the Colts, but might have finally solved their dilemma at the third running back spot. By flashing many of the skills that led him to 1,613 rushing yards and 13 TDs in his rookie season with Shanahan, the 29-year-old running back has proved that he can still make enough of an impact to justify a spot on the final roster.
Media courtesy USA Today Sports Images, NFL