In January, after Falcons running back Tevin Coleman caught a 14-yard touchdown pass in a divisional-playoff win over the Seahawks, Brian Hoyer grabbed his phone and sent a message to Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

“I remember texting him, ‘Hey, congratulations, man. I wish we would have had that play when we were in Cleveland,’” Hoyer said. “I think that’s one of the things that’s been really cool is to see how this offense has evolved.”

Perhaps the most notable way Shanahan’s system has changed since he was with Hoyer in Cleveland in 2014: His offense includes running backs plenty in the passing game.

In 2014, Terrance West led Browns running backs with 11 catches (64 yards) and Cleveland’s running backs and fullbacks accounted for 12 percent (32 of 274) of the team’s receptions.

In 2016, Devonta Freeman led Falcons running backs with 54 catches (462 yards) and Atlanta’s running backs and fullbacks accounted for 25 percent (93 of 374) of the team’s receptions.

A 49ers running back hasn’t had more than 30 receptions in a season since Frank Gore had 46 in 2010.

“The core routes, formations, protections — those are still intact,” Hoyer said. “But I think an offense that’s going to do well is always evolving to what is going on in the league. And Kyle’s definitely been able to do that with getting the backs involved.”

Hoyer mentioned fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who has 78 catches the past two seasons, as a likely frequent target in the passing game. Running back Carlos Hyde had a career-high 27 catches last year and Tim Hightower ranked second among running backs in receptions (63) in 2009.

Hyde said he spent plenty of time learning his passing-game assignments in the offseason.

“I was more focused on the passing game,” he said. “In this offense, running backs are more involved in the passing game. So I’ve been trying to get that part down.”


Here are the 49ers’ leading RB/FBs in receptions the past six seasons:

2016: Shaun Draughn, 29

2015: Draughn, 25

2014: Bruce Miller, 18

2013: Miller, 25

2012: Frank Gore, 28

2011: Gore, 17

Twitter: @Eric_Branch

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