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Kurtenbach: Deebo Time 2.0 — With Garoppolo back at quarterback, the 49ers will again lean on their do-it-all star

Kurtenbach: Deebo Time 2.0 — With Garoppolo back at quarterback, the 49ers will again lean on their do-it-all star

SANTA CLARA — When the going got tough for the 49ers’ offense last season, the team turned to wide receiver Deebo Samuel.

He nearly took them to the Super Bowl with his do-it-all efforts as both a pass catcher and a running back.

Well, the Niners are in a tough spot again with the season-ending injury to quarterback Trey Lance in Week 2. An offseason’s work of offensive adaptations for the first-year starter will have to be scrapped or reconfigured for the remainder of the year.

Jimmy Garoppolo should not be running the read option.

But don’t be surprised if the Niners once again turn to Samuel — their offensive dynamo — to carry both the ball and this team.

After the 49ers started last season 3-5 and with Garoppolo struggling and injured, the edict from head coach and offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan was clear — get the ball to Deebo as early and often as possible.

It didn’t matter if Samuel was lined up as a wide receiver, running back, fullback, or if he was returning kicks or punts — the faster the ball could get to him, the better. Deebo was the offense, and the offense was good.

Of course, that offense wasn’t sustainable. One man can only keep an entire team on his shoulders for so long — even a player with a near-mystic combination of size and speed and toughness like Samuel.

Lance’s move to the starting quarterback spot was supposed to change the Niners’ offense to the point where Samuel didn’t have to carry such a heavy burden. The Niners were going to diversify their attack with a different kind of quarterback under center.

But now that Garoppolo is back in the starting gig following Lance’s broken ankle, the Niners will be pivoting from their preseason plans.

“He’s been here,” Samuel said of Garoppolo. “He knows what it takes to win.”

And what it takes is Deebo getting the ball 20 times a game.

Lance’s abilities as a quarterback are still unknown — he only played five quarters as the team’s unquestioned (at least in-house) starter — but his running ability and big arm provided the Niners a schematic advantage, conceptually, at least.

Shanahan’s offense is predicated on those schematic — no matter how small — advantages and attempts to repeatedly exploit them. Now that the 49ers can no longer reasonably play “11-on-11 football”, those advantages will need to be found elsewhere.

Moving Samuel around the formation seems like the logical first option. It drives defenses crazy — they never have the right combination of players on the field to stop him.

Samuel doesn’t mind if that’s what the Niners call on him to do. He’s a playmaker, and playmakers can’t change the game without the ball.

“I’ve always been the guy that makes the first guy miss whatever happens after that happens,” Samuel said.

Plus, after a long and messy contract negotiation this past offseason, Samuel has codified in his new deal that he will be paid bonuses for his freelancing work.

Per ESPN, the Niners will pay Samuel $650,000 if he has more than 380 rushing yards this season. He can also earn $150,000 if he has more than three rushing touchdowns. There is a cap on how much he can make in bonuses — $650,000 — so Samuel might want to get the Niners back to the negotiation table.

Even before Lance’s injury, those thresholds looked easily surpassable.

So far this season, Samuel has been nearly equally involved in the run game as the passing game. He has been targeted 13 times as a wide receiver (seven receptions) but has rushed the ball 12 times (105 yards, a touchdown) so far in 2022.

That’s nearly a 1,000-yard pace as a rusher. And that was before two of the Niners’ top three running backs — Elijah Mitchell and Ty Davis-Price — were ruled out for weeks with injuries.

The Niners are in an eerily similar offensive situation to last year. The running back room is decimated, Garoppolo is back at quarterback with a questionable throwing shoulder (he had off-season surgery on it), and the stakes are as high as ever.

It makes sense to lean on Deebo again.

And those bonus thresholds? They’ll be shattered.

So long as Samuel can avoid the same fate, that is.

[We’ll] always balance it out and see how to best attack the defense to win on Sunday,” Shanahan said Wednesday. “We don’t see [using him] the way it ended last year — we don’t see that quite soon — but you never know.”









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