49ers’ Kendall Hunter “feel good” to return to practice after last year’s injury
Hunter took part in his first full practice with the team at their annual Fan Fest, since going down with a torn ACL in the San Francisco 49ers’ Week 12 win over the New Orleans Saints last season. As the third-year running back hit the field for practice for the first time this year, there was one other person on the field who knew what that night meant for Hunter. Teammate Kyle Williams also sustained a season-ending knee injury on the exact same play that took out Hunter in New Orleans on Nov.25.
"Going through (rehabilitation) together and pushing each other, it helped us and was big for us. That's why today was so big, not just for him, but for me, and the team,” Williams said.
While Hunter was on hand for the team’s annual Fan Fest at Candlestick Park, he participated sparingly as the 49ers had no intentions of rushing him back into action. However, on a night when the team was having one of their worst practices of training camp, 49ers’ coach Jim Harbaugh was just glad to have No. 32 back on the field in some capacity.
"We all know what Kendall's about. Things will go well for him. He's smart,”” Harbaugh said. “(But) first things first, let's go about getting him back to 100 percent.”
Hunter was incumbent starter Frank Gore’s top backup last season, finishing as sixth-best receiver in the NFL despite prematurely ending his 2012 campaign following the ACL injury.
"It feels good to be back in the groove and play the game I love,” Hunter said.
Though, as a powerful runner and emerging play-maker Hunter played a considerable role in helping the 49ers to the post season, he and Williams both exited the team’s Super Bowl run last season together.
"When I'm coming to the sideline and I'm getting on the cart, I look up and Kendall's there," Williams recalled the unfortunate series of events. "They told Kendall to move over for me, and he said it crushed him. And it crushed me, too. He's like my little brother, really."
Williams and Hunter spent the offseason rehabilitating together, including performing the running drills on a side field at practice. While Williams was activated off PUP two weeks ago, Hunter had to wait until this weekend to reach a similar status. However, despite his availability, Williams did not participate in the 49ers’ preseason opening loss to the Denver Broncos on Thursday.
Hunter will likely resume action at the 49ers’ No.2 tailback spot after rushing for 5.2 yards per carry and totaling 371 yards on 72 carries last season. Former Oregon star LaMichael James is another candidate at the spot and started Thursday’s exhibition against the Broncos. So, Hunter could also end up splitting carries with James at the spot this season.
"He is the No.2 guy in terms of assignments," Harbaugh said. "But whenever you're coming off an injury, you've got to prove you're back to 100 percent, and that you're better than other people."
The 49ers’ crowded backfield also includes Anthony Dixon, undrafted rookie D.J. Harper and Jewel Hampton. While Dixon and Harper also saw action at tailback on Thursday, Hampton did not take any offensive snaps.