There has been a lot of talk about the 49ers’ offense, specifically their ability to run the ball. Obviously, Frank Gore is the feature running back. LaMichael James has gotten a lot of attention due to some big plays late in the season as well. Marcus Lattimore has been a consistent subject of conversation despite not being likely to play a single snap this season. Unfortunately, Kendall Hunter has become a forgotten man when it comes to discussing the 49ers’ running offense.
Hunter tore his Achilles tendon in week 12 against the New Orleans Saints. Prior to that injury, he was a key part of the rushing attack. Up to that point, he was averaging an impressive 5.2 yards per carry and had two touchdowns. Hunter was a good compliment to Gore.
The 49ers also liked to throw the ball to Hunter on screens to take advantage of his ability to operate in space. As a rookie in 2011, Hunter averaged 12.2 yards per reception. That is a pretty impressive number for a running back. He is definitely a weapon that Greg Roman will be sure to keep involved in the offense.
Hunter hits the hole very fast and doesn’t waste any time getting to the second level of the defense. He is an explosive running back that will make defenders miss as well. Trent Baalke is on record as saying that he wants each of the running backs in his three headed rushing attack to be able to bring something different to the table yet still be able to exist within the offense. The thing that Hunter brings is he packs a lot of power in his small 5’7″ 199 pound frame and has break away speed that will eat up big chunks of yards quickly.
The Achilles injury happened later in the season which caused his rehab to run into June and July. Hunter was able to take part in some individual drills with the running backs during Organized Team Activities. He did a lot of change of direction drills under the watch of the 49ers’ medical staff at OTAs also.
Hunter was very happy to be back on the field. “It feels good just to be out there running around and do a little bit with the team,” said Hunter. “Just getting out there period and doing something that you love, there’s nothing like it. You never know how much you love the game until it’s taken away from you. You want to be out there to help your team and I’m just happy with the progress I’m making with the trainers. I’m happy with them, they’re helping me get better and we’re just working towards success.”
Greg Roman knows that Hunter is anxious to get back on the field and contribute. “The first thing that comes into my mind when I hear Kendall Hunter’s name is, ‘Football player,’” Roman said. “He loves football. He loves to get out there and compete. He always gives his maximum effort.”
The problem is Roman will need to know how to balance the reps that Hunter will be able to take in training camp. This will be necessary to avoid re-aggravating the injury. Hunter knows that there will be a lot of competition for carries during the season so he has to make the most out of every rep he gets.
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Despite the need to get reps, Hunter knows that he has to be patient and not overwork himself right away. It will be hard for him though. “That’s the hard part, they tell you that,” Hunter said. “They cut you down from a lot of stuff and it’s hard because I’m the type of guy that likes to work and get better. I’m used to going hard in everything I do. I respect what the trainers and what the coaches want and I’m abiding by the rules, doing the little thing so when I come back I’m mentally prepared. I’ll be ready and sharp.”
There is a lot to be excited about with the 49ers in 2013. The loss of Michael Crabtree will cause Greg Roman to devise more ways to get other players involved in the offense. I look forward to seeing creative plays such as a double screen with James and Hunter in the game at running back. The New England Patriots used to run that play very well with Kevin Faulk back when they had Charlie Weis as their offensive coordinator.
In some circles Hunter is a forgotten man, but that will not be the case when the coaching staff unleash their game plan for the 2013 season.