SANTA CLARA -- It has been six seasons since the 49ers featured a running back as a legitimate pass-catching threat.
That figures to change this season.
In Chip Kelly’s three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles and DeMarco Murray each had at least one season with 40 or more receptions. The 49ers, meanwhile, have not had a running back as a regular part of the passing game since Frank Gore caught 46 passes in 2010.
Carlos Hyde, who has 23 receptions for 121 yards in 21 career NFL games, figures to change that this season.
“I definitely think I’ll be involved in the passing game a lot more this year, which I’m excited about,” Hyde said. “I like playing receiver. It’s another opportunity to get out in space and get the ball in your hands.
“To me, it feels like you’re just taking over the game -- the whole game, not just running the ball. The defense isn’t just worried about you running the ball. They got to worry about you coming out of the backfield, lining up at the receiver position, catching the ball and making plays after you catch the ball. I think to me, it puts stress on the defense and then it opens up things for other people on the team.”
Hyde caught a career-high 16 passes for 147 yards and three touchdowns in his final season at Ohio State. As a rookie in the NFL, he had 12 catches for 68 yards. In seven games last season, he had 11 receptions for 53 yards.
Hyde again enters the season as the apparent focal point of the 49ers’ offense. He got off to a strong start last season with 168 yards rushing in a season-opening victory over the Minnesota Vikings. But Hyde sustained a stress fracture in his foot and his production dropped off precipitously before landing on injured reserve and undergoing foot surgery.
Hyde was fully cleared to take part in the 49ers’ offseason program.
“I got the two thumbs-up to participate in everything this offseason,” Hyde said. “I felt good. I haven’t had any setbacks. I’ve just been attacking this offseason.
“I definitely wanted to be a part of it to see how my foot would hold up with all this running and cutting. At the beginning I was sore, but once I got the rust knocked off, I felt great.”
Hyde shrugs off questions about whether he needs to change his hard-charging running style to reduce the risk of injuries. He said the best way for him to remain on the field is to be in top physical condition.
“The biggest thing to me for staying healthy is being in the best shape possible and just taking care of your body, getting in the cold tub, getting massages every day,” Hyde said. “Whatever it is to take care of your body, just do it.
“I don’t need to change my running style at all. I play the way I play. I don’t think I need to change my running style.”
Hyde figures to be the 49ers’ top running back for all downs. There are no proven backups on a 49ers roster that also includes Shaun Draughn, DuJuan Harris, Mike Davis and rookie Kelvin Taylor.
“I think our style and scheme adapts to whoever it is, but I think he certainly has the skillset to be an outstanding running back at this level, because he can do everything,” Kelly said of Hyde.
“He can protect. That’s what you’re looking for. You’re looking for a back that can do it all. You don’t want the, quote-unquote, ‘He’s just a third down back,’ because that kind of diminishes what we can do with him on first and second down. So you’re looking for a guy who can be a three-down back and that’s certainly what Carlos is.”