Tevin Coleman’s 2020 season was one to forget, but he’s looking to remind everyone that he still can be a very productive running back.
Coleman had just 32 touches for 87 yards and no touchdowns for the 49ers in an injury-plagued season as he dealt with knee and shoulder ailments. He appeared in just eight games, starting once. Now he says he’s "100%" healthy and ready to lead this young Jets running back group.
"I feel like I got a lot left, a lot left in my tank," Coleman said. "I’m a fast guy. I’m a strong guy. I’m big. I definitely got a lot in my tank to prove myself."
The Jets are banking on that.
Coleman, who scored 35 touchdowns from 2016-19, signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Jets.
He spent the past two seasons with the 49ers, so he played in the system new Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur brought with him from San Francisco.
The Jets believe the 28-year-old Coleman can help mentor the young backs and be a security blanket for rookie quarterback Zach Wilson while also being an explosive playmaker in this run-heavy outsize zone blocking scheme.
"He’s pure gas," coach Robert Saleh said. "When he gets the ball in his hand and he makes that one cut, it’s like he’s shot out of a cannon.
"He’s got tremendous speed. He’s got a tremendous mindset when the ball is in his hand in terms of breaking tackles, falling forward, creating positive yardage. His leadership, his on-the-field demeanor, just all of it, his practice habits, he represents what we covet. To have him here, especially since we do have a very young backfield, to have him here is awesome."
Coleman is one of very few former 49ers to reunite with Saleh with the Jets. Coleman called it "big" and during OTAs, which ended last week, he embraced the responsibility of getting "those young dudes" to understand what Saleh expects.
The Jets, who will host a mandatory minicamp beginning Tuesday, don’t have a workhorse running back, so they’re expected to use a by-committee approach. It worked in San Francisco. The 49ers featured multiple backs with different skill sets.
Two years ago, they ranked second in the NFL, rushing for 144.1 yards per game with Coleman sharing carries with Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida. Last year, that dipped to 118.1. But the 49ers backs scored 26 touchdowns, one more than they did in 2019.
The Jets, in those two seasons, had one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL under former coach Adam Gase. They averaged 72.3 rushing yards (31st out of 32 teams) in 2019 and 105.2 (23rd) last year. Their top backs, respectively, were Le’Veon Bell and Frank Gore. Jets running backs scored 12 touchdowns those two years.
"We run the ball to open up the pass," Coleman said. "We got to keep running the ball to win games. That’s how we’ve been doing it."
This will be a welcome change for the Jets, who have put an emphasis on rebuilding the offensive line and acquiring quick, versatile backs.
After drafting left tackle Mekhi Becton, the Jets traded up to grab left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker out of USC in the first round of the 2021 draft. That could be the left side of the Jets’ line for many years.
The Jets’ backfield includes three players 23 and younger in explosive Ty Johnson, power back La’Mical Perine and agile and quick rookie Michael Carter. Coleman, of course, has the most experience overall and in the system.
"All of them have a unique skill set in terms of they’re all a little bit different," LaFleur said. "But I do believe they all can be productive backs in this system. It will be exciting to see how this thing shakes out. I know they’re going for it."