Question to 13-year veteran tackle Joe Staley after the Niners advanced to the Super Bowl: Be honest now. Did you ever think you’d get back to the Super Bowl?
Staley: “No. Well, once [coach] Kyle [Shanahan] got here, I did. From day one, I believed. I believed when we started, whatever, 0-9 that first year, and when we were 4-12 last year. He wins, he’s super-creative, and you don’t have to be the most talented player to be able to play for Kyle and this coaching staff. Raheem Mostert is the perfect example of that.”
America will get to know Mostert well in the 13 days leading up to the Super Bowl. On Sunday, Mostert’s 220-yard rushing game, with four touchdowns, led the 49ers to an easy win over Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game. In camp, Jerick McKinnon, Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida had an edge on Mostert for playing time. But injuries, and the coaching staff’s ability to judge players without regard to draft or contract status, helped Mostert . . . as did his rushing style. It’s interesting that the Kyle Shanahan 49ers, with running backs coach Bobby Turner, judge backs much the same way Mike Shanahan’s Broncos, with running backs coach coach Bobby Turner, did. Turner is a classic one-cut teacher of backs. Don’t wait, wait, wait to pick your hole; rather, at the first sign of a crease, hit it, and get as much as you can.
Mostert was let go by six teams since 2015: Philadelphia, Miami, Baltimore, Cleveland, the New York Jets and Chicago. His career stats for those six teams: zero rushes, zero yards. The Niners claimed him and activated him late in 2017, and then he was hurt much of 2017 and 2018. Under Shanahan, meritocracy wins. And healthy this year, Mostert continued to prove he should get carries. His 220-yard day gave him 1,050 yards for the season. He’s a darter at 5-10 and 197 pounds (he looks bigger), and on his 36-yard TD against Green Bay, he burst past three Packers almost before they knew he was gone.
“He’s fast, hits the hole quick, he’s fearless, and he’s got great acceleration,” Staley said. “Those qualities are perfect for our running game.”
In 2017, I sat in on the first draft of GM John Lynch and Shanahan. Before the draft, Lynch showed the draft room his San Francisco 49ers Vision Statement: “Our nucleus of dedicated players will re-establish The 49er Way and lead our organization back to the top of the NFL. These players will represent our core values and beliefs in both their talent and their spirit.”
The talent traits included speed and physicality; nothing surprising there. When Lynch defined “spirit,” it included football IQ, mental toughness, football passion (defined by Lynch as, “Do they love it?”), and “contagious competitiveness.”
The statement concluded: “We firmly believe that players who embody these core values will change the culture and re-establish The 49er Way—a brotherhood that will lead us back to competing for championships year after year.”
Raheem Mostert, let go by six teams in two years. He wouldn’t quit. Quite a poster child for everything the Lynch/Shanahan 49ers hold dear.