When John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan took over the 49ers, one of their biggest offseason goals was to bring in a multi-talented running back fit for today's game.
They did so in signing Jerick McKinnon to a four-year deal in 2018. There's one problem, though: McKinnon has yet to play a regular-season down for San Francisco. An ACL injury and struggles with regaining comfort on the injured knee have kept the running back out of action for the last two seasons.
The former understudy to Adrian Peterson in Minnesota is turning to his old friend for a true test of where McKinnon stands at this point on his road to returning to football. He's heading to Houston to put himself through Peterson's legendary, marathon-like workouts.
"I feel like it's my last test to really see how it feels," McKinnon said, via The Athletic's Matt Barrows. "There's a lot of hard work going on down there. That's really where I'm going to amp it up as hard as I can and see where it goes."
Peterson's workouts are a significant source of his power, speed and longevity, with the latter prevailing most in recent years. It also set a standard for McKinnon, one he feels he must revisit now in order to fully grasp how prepared he is to return to football action.
"There were a lot of things back then that were tough," he said of his struggles with rehabilitation and a failed attempt to return to action in 2019. "I feel now that I'm getting back to where I was effortlessly."
McKinnon's absence has opened the door for other backs to shine. Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. have all seen significant playing time in the last two seasons because the 49ers have had to find a way to replace what they lost with McKinnon's injury. Tevin Coleman would be the ideal complement to McKinnon (or vice versa) in a 2020 San Francisco backfield, which has been fine without McKinnon but could be even better with him.
The reason: McKinnon's lateral quickness and ability to change direction make him a very difficult target to cover in open space. Add that to an offense that's already masterful at times with Shanahan at the helm, and the reigning NFC champs only get stronger.
First, McKinnon will have to figure out how strong he is -- and he's going to get quite a test with the strong man nicknamed "All Day."