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Once training camp kicks off, there will be an interesting competition at running back for the San Francisco 49ers. Carlos Hyde is currently the starter and it would be tough to imagine the youngster not being in there with the first team offense when the 49ers open up the season against the Minnesota Vikings on September 14. There has been a lot of hype surrounding Hyde as he aims to help replace the team's all-time leading rusher, Frank Gore, who left for the Indianapolis Colts via free agency.
Hyde was Gore's backup last season, but it is entirely possible that he would not have been in that position had it not been for an offseason injury. On the second day of the team's 2014 training camp, running back Kendall Hunter, the guy many expected to be Gore's backup, went down with a torn ACL in his right knee. The injury cost him the entire 2014 season and elevated Hyde in the depth chart.
It has been 11 months since Hunter's injury and he has been an active participant in the 49ers' offseason programs so far. In November, before he even stepped back onto the practice field, the team showed confidence in Hunter by signing him to a one-year contract extension during the early stages of his rehab.
This isn't Hunter's first return from a major injury. In November of 2012, he was placed on injured reserve after an Achilles tear that he suffered against the New Orleans Saints. He returned the next season and played in all 16 games, carrying the ball 78 times for 358 yards, a 4.6 yard-per-carry average, and ran into the end zone three times.
Hunter may be one of the more 'under the radar' players on offense this season. With so much attention being directed at Hyde, free agent addition Reggie Bush, and Australian rugby star turned NFL player Jarryd Hayne, who is competing at running back and returner, it is easy to see how Hunter has gotten lost in the crowd. In addition to this, the 49ers drafted Mike Davis out of South Carolina in May. It will be a crowded competition, but one that Hunter will enter with optimism.
At 5-7 and nearly 200 pounds, Hunter is smaller and lighter than Hyde. However, when healthy, the Oklahoma State product has been consistent during his career with the 49ers. He has averaged 4.6 yards per carry throughout his career. In 2012, he averaged 5.2 in 72 carries, the largest season average of his career. Hunter will be a strong option to relieve Hyde when needed.
There has been much discussion about the 49ers' changes on offense, as the team has experimented with faster tempo and the introduction of a zone blocking scheme along the line. Hunter does not seemed phased by that. "I feel like I can fit into any system and make the best of my opportunities," said Hunter back in May. With his injury mostly behind him, he sounds ready to go. When asked if he could play a game right now, he simply say, "No doubt."
Hunter's contributions may not be limited to the running game either. He has shown a great deal of elusiveness when catching the ball too. Pre-injury, he had shown that he cuts well, has good acceleration, speed, is dependable when it comes to his assignments, and has shown some strong power when running near the end zone.
"I feel like any injury will show you how much you love the game and motivate you … that made me take advantage of every opportunity I have," said Hunter while speaking with the media. It will be exciting to watch him compete during the team's upcoming training camp. After watching the depth at running back be devastated by injury during the team's week 15 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks last season, Hunter's return will be a welcome one.
Hunter was a fourth-round selection by the 49ers in the 2011 NFL Draft. The 26-year-old has rushed for 1,202 yards over 43 games with seven touchdowns during his career.