SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers' running back competition is about to reach maximum capacity. The Niners activated Jerick McKinnon from the physically unable to perform list on Tuesday, which allows him to resume on-field activities.
In his first practice back, McKinnon participated in individual drills but was held out of team work. He shed the knee brace he'd been wearing in the offseason a little more than two months ago and practiced without it Tuesday.
Coach Kyle Shanahan was happy to have McKinnon back in the fold.
"He probably had a lot of butterflies getting out [there] for the first time," Shanahan said. "It's nice to get him in pads out there and get him with the team since he's off PUP now. We'll keep doing it day by day and hopefully sooner than later we'll get him out there in some team drills."
How soon that happens will depend entirely on how much progress McKinnon makes now that he's back in the mix. Shanahan said there's no timetable on when McKinnon could be worked into team drills, but he does believe there's a chance he could participate in a preseason game at some point, though it won't be Saturday's exhibition opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
McKinnon is embracing the day-to-day approach but believes he can be up to speed in time for the regular-season opener Sept. 8 against Tampa Bay.
"I'm confident," McKinnon said. "I'm taking it a day at a time. The training staff, the coaches, my doctor, they all have got a great plan set out for me. And when my name is called, I will definitely be ready to go."
McKinnon is returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that he suffered on Sept. 1 of last year. That injury came little more than a week from the 2018 season opener and cost McKinnon all of last season.
Since then, McKinnon has been rehabilitating alongside quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who also suffered a torn ACL just a few weeks after McKinnon. McKinnon has taken longer to return than Garoppolo, in large part because of the demand the running back position puts on his surgically-repaired knee.
While McKinnon did not participate in the offseason program as he continued his rehab, he was believed to be on track to open training camp on the field. Those plans took a hit when McKinnon suffered what general manager John Lynch called a "flare up" about a week and a half before the start of camp and ended with him being placed on the PUP list.
"It was a little frustrating just because I wanted to be back that first day," McKinnon said. "But, at the same time, this is a process and anybody who's been through the process will tell you that everybody's process is a little bit different than the next man. So, for me, it's just about taking the ups and downs and adapting to it, adjusting to it, and, just keep rolling in stride."
As training camp opened on July 26, Lynch and Shanahan expressed hope that McKinnon could be activated about a week into camp. Tuesday marked a little more than a week into camp.
McKinnon signed a four-year, $30 million deal as a free agent in 2018 with the Niners hoping to make him a focal point of their offense, particularly in the passing game. Upon his return, he enters a crowded backfield that also includes Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert jockeying for position.
Coleman has gotten the bulk of the reps with the starters thus far in camp, with Breida and Mostert sprinkled in. Despite McKinnon's injury, Shanahan has said he already knows what McKinnon is capable of, and now it's about working him back into game plans.
McKinnon said he has tried not to concern himself with the competition that has awaited his return.
"I try not to think about things that I can't control," McKinnon said. "You know, there's only so much that I can do ... our running back room is tremendous. As a competitor, you gotta love them bringing in guys like that to just push you that much harder. It's gonna make everybody better and at the same time, it's gonna make the team better. So, I'm excited to be back with those guys."