SANTA CLARA, Calif. — San Francisco 49ers running back Mike Davis' production can only go up after his weight went down entering his second season.
As a rookie, Davis became the sixth running back in 45 years to average fewer than two yards a carry with at least 35 attempts. The fourth-round pick from South Carolina had 58 yards on 35 runs in 2015.
On Sunday against the Bucs, the 49ers could call on Davis to make his first NFL start in Chip Kelly's run-first offense. The 49ers are trying to snap a five-game losing streak and will likely be without Carlos Hyde, who suffered a shoulder injury last week in Buffalo.
Davis, 23, is down roughly 12 pounds from his listed playing weight of 217. He said he hasn't been this light since high school and that his body fat as a rookie hampered his ability to make defenders miss, leading to his historically low numbers.
Now Davis has a new diet, which excludes his favorite Flamin' Hot Cheetos, that has his agility up, catching Kelly's eye in the preseason. Davis led 49ers running backs by averaging 8.1 yards per carry in four exhibition games. His work in recent practices helped him jump ahead of veteran journeyman Shaun Draughn on the depth chart.
"(The diet) was a game-changer for me," Davis said. "… So I eat right with strawberries, granola, that type of thing."
Hyde is the NFL's 11th-leading rusher with 429 yards and is tied for second with six rushing touchdowns through six games. The 49ers enter the week with the league's fifth-ranked rushing offense averaging 123 yards.
Kelly has dialed up running plays on 50 percent of the snaps, the second-highest rate in the league, meaning Davis could be in for a big day against Tampa Bay.
San Francisco's offense could use all the help it can get on the ground. Colin Kaepernick will be making his second start of the season after struggling in the blowout loss to Buffalo, completing just 5 of 18 passes in the second half of the 45-16 defeat.
Davis could be an integral part of the offense if his preseason production translates.
The changes Davis made after struggling during his first season have been noticed by his teammates.
"I think there's a big difference from this year and last year," receiver Torrey Smith said. "He's grown a lot, he's matured a lot and he's playing the way that they expect him to play."
Davis' opportunities have been limited with Hyde in the lineup. He has just 10 carries for 18 yards on the season, while Hyde received 109 attempts. Davis received a modest total of five carries — a season high — against the Bills, which he hopes to build off of Sunday.
The opportunity to make his first start has kept Davis in check when it comes to his new diet, which he hasn't deviated from, whether it be Cheetos or cheat days.
"I got where I'm at because I stick to it," Davis said. "I don't want to veer off and end up where I was. I'm where I want to be and I'm happy about it."