After two training-camp practices in shorts, the 49ers coaching staff will have a chance to make some better evaluations Sunday: The 49ers will have their first padded practice.
“I think when the pads come on,” linebacker Elvis Dumervil said, “we start really separating the men from the T-shirt guys.”
The sessions will allow coaches to finally get a better feel for the running backs, the most difficult position group to evaluate in non-contact practices.
“You really can’t develop an opinion (on running backs) until the pads are on,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “You can’t play in this league if you don’t run through arm tackles, break through arm tackles — and you really don’t even know that until you get the pads on.”
Carlos Hyde is the favorite to retain his starting role, but the situation behind him is muddled. Tim Hightower, Kapri Bibbs, rookie fourth-round Joe Williams and undrafted rookie Matt Breida will compete for carries.
The Hill: After a 2-14 season, the 49ers have a few mountains to climb before they can return to respectability.
With that in mind, perhaps their new piece of a training equipment is fitting: The team has installed a massive hill adjacent to their weight room that is at least 30 feet tall, measures 19 feet wide and has a 30-degree incline.
Running back Tim Hightower said he’s eager to test himself by running up the 60-foot ramp.
“I’m looking forward to conquering that thing,” Hightower said. “That’s a good visual when you walk in. When you come to work and you walk through that gate and you see that hill … it will change you real quick. I’m glad they put that up.”
Hightower figures to have more success than CEO Jed York, who twice raced 49ers.com writer Joe Fann up the hill during practice Friday and had a pair of runner-up finishes.
It’s safe to say not everyone shares Hightower’s enthusiasm for the hill.
“First of all I was thinking, ‘Who is going up that? What is that?’” said wide receiver Marquise Goodwin.
Added fullback Kyle Juszczyk: “Reviews weren’t so positive in the locker room.”
First-round watch: Rookie linebacker Reuben Foster primarily lined up with the third-stringers, although he had at least one snap, in which he blitzed, with the first team. A day after signing his contract, defensive tackle Solomon Thomas played with the second team and batted down a pass by Matt Barkley.
Injury report: Safety Jimmie Ward (hamstring) and undrafted rookie WR BJ Johnson (hamstring) did not practice. Undrafted rookie center JP Flynn was down for a few minutes and eventually walked off the field with assistance with a leg injury.
Eric Branch is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: EBranch@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @Eric_Branch Twitter: @Eric_Branch