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Why Trey Sermon Will be in a Limited Role for the 49ers all Season

Trey Sermon will be stuck in a limited role all season long with the 49ers. Here is why.

Young, talented player on the 49ers are struggling to see opportunities this season.

It isn’t just Brandon Aiyuk, Deommodore Lenoir or Aaron Banks. Running back Trey Sermon falls into this category as well.

Sermon in training camp, at least in the handful I attended, looked relatively strong. He even got some heavy run in the preseason game that indicated he was No. 2 behind Raheem Mostert. It only made sense that he was the backup after the 49ers traded two fourth-round picks to move up into the third round to draft him.

But once he got injured, Elijah Mitchell stole the show. Mitchell is the better running back as he looks like Mostert 2.0, so it makes sense why he is favored. However, to not allow Sermon some touches in a rotational fashion, which is what the 49ers have generally done, says a lot about his standing on the team. Mitchell had just returned from a shoulder injury and immediately leapfrogged over Sermon as the workhorse. Sermon saw one carry against the Cardinals after running effectively and soundly against the Seahawks the week before.

Sermon is going to be limited all season long.

It is clear that he is not trusted by Shanahan and his coaching staff. Either the 49ers overvalued Sermon, or they’re failing him. Whatever the case may be, this isn’t ideal for an offense that hangs its hat on running the football down the opposition’s throats.

Here is some of what offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel had to say about the playing time for Sermon.

“He hasn't taken a step back since we've been talking about it at the beginning of the season when Mitchell got reps over him. He hasn't taken one step back. He's only gotten better. That was not by design going into that game."

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The "not by design" excuse is what both McDaniel and Shanahan said about Aiyuk's heavy usage against Green Bay. Funny how that too is used on Sermon with his usage.

"It wasn't any sort of regression. It was more because when we got into the game with their different defensive looks, there was some small holes that Elijah made a little bit bigger. And so, we just kept giving him opportunities. And that's the way we've kind of always operated. I always want to give guys opps, but hey, don't kill a hot hand.”

Interesting. Feels like “riding a hot hand” should be a 49ers motto. 

Look, I understand that Mitchell can get hot. He is definitely the better running back right now. But even in 2019 when the 49ers had a stable of solid backs, they would still shuffle their guys. Even if one of them was hot for the game, they would get spelled at some points of the game for a handful carries. Instead, it looks like it’s ride-or-die with Mitchell. JaMycal Hasty is sure to factor in as well for a handful, but it is quite an indicator of how limited a role they have for Sermon. The only way he’s going to see significant time again is if someone goes down to injury again. 

And that is something Shanahan touched on at his presser on Wednesday.

“I think they're getting used to this league. I think Elijah came out pretty strong in his first game and his second game he played and battled through that bad injury at the end there. And he's really just getting back going. I think this Bye week helped him even heal up more. But I was happy with how tough he played coming back from a pretty tough injury and he's taken away from Trey a little bit. He hasn't gotten as many reps, I'm going to say the last week or two weeks, that we've played, but Trey has gotten better in each game he has gotten in.”

Shanahan and McDaniel rave so much about Mitchell. Yet, when it comes to Sermon it is “oh, he’s getting better” and what not. You kind of wonder if the 49ers regret taking Sermon. Third-round picks are supposed to be contributors and they aren’t getting that from him. Maybe Sermon was meant to be paired with Trey Lance in a style of offense meant for him? 

Whatever it is, 2021 is going to be a patient year for Sermon.