SANTA CLARA -- In his introductory press conference, new head coach Jim Tomsula provided a meandering question when asked about what to expect from the 49ers' offensive scheme in 2015.
When Tomsula was finished, general manager Trent Baalke interjected, “I think somewhere in there, he (Tomsula) said, ‘We’re going to run the football.’ ”
It sounded like a reasonable plan. And it looked even better when Carlos Hyde gained 168 yards and two touchdowns in a season-opening victory over the playoff-bound Minnesota Vikings.
However, Baalke has encountered a lot of difficult in simply keeping the 49ers’ roster stocked with running backs.
Hyde sustained a fractured foot in the fifth game of the season and was not available for the final two months. Reggie Bush, signed to be the backup, saw limited action with a calf strain before sustaining season-ending torn cartilage in his knee when he slipped on concrete behind the 49ers’ bench in St. Louis.
Rookie Mike Davis gained 24 yards on 25 rushing attempts before a broken hand sidelined him. Veterans Pierre Thomas and Travaris Cadet were signed, then released. Kendall Gaskins was called up from the practice squad in early November and remained on the active roster as the No. 3 option.
While it’s been a struggle for the 49ers to merely fill spots on their depth chart at running back, they appeared to find some players who are capable of competing for backup spots behind Hyde to open next season.
DuJuan Harris: The 49ers signed Harris off the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad last week. He is signed through the 2016 season. Harris had been with the 49ers for only five days, so he did not have a handle on all of the team’s pass protections.
The easiest plays for a new running back to learn are when he is getting the ball. And that’s exactly how the 49ers utilized Harris against the Detroit Lions in his debut. He was on the field for 15 snaps, which included 11 rushing attempts (for 73 yards) and two passes thrown his way. He had one reception for 11 yards.
At 5 foot 7, Harris is not best-suited to be an every-down back. But his skills would seem to fit the role for which the 49ers envisioned Bush when the season began.
Jarryd Hayne: The 49ers signed him to a three-year contract, through 2017, when they brought him back from the practice squad on Saturday. Hayne is anything but a sure thing to make the 53-man roster next season, but he should be much further along with a full year of American football on his resume.
Hayne must continue to work on playing fast, running low and knowing all the pass protections, for sure. But if he continues to improve, he has a chance.
“You saw some of the inside zone runs that he ran in that game,” Tomsula said. “You can see what we’re talking about with how he’s gotten better at feeling that and seeing that and the way he’s worked at that. So he continues to work his tail off and get better.”
Shaun Draughn: He was in the starting lineup just five days after signing with the 49ers after injuries to Hyde, Bush and Davis. And Draughn did just fine while making six consecutive starts. He is the 49ers’ second-leading rusher with 263 yards (3.5 average), and he caught 25 passes for 175 yards.
Draughn is not signed for next year, but the 49ers could do a lot worse than to re-sign him and have him compete for a roster spot. Draughn also has special-teams skills that would be useful as a reserve running back. He was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday with a knee injury that should be fine in a couple weeks.