SANTA CLARA It's a familiar tune at 49ers headquarters: Jewel Hampton not only tore his right ACL in college, the 49ers running back also tore his left one.
The injuries came in 2009 and 2010 when Hampton was at Iowa, which makes him unusual among NFL tailbacks but not on San Francisco's roster.
Hampton, Frank Gore, Marcus Lattimore and undrafted rookie D.J. Harper all suffered double ACL injuries in college. (Both of Harper's occurred to his left knee.) The only 49ers runners who didn't endure that ordeal are Anthony Dixon, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James.
It was another injury, however, that kept Hampton out of action as a 49ers rookie last year and makes him an intriguing mystery player this offseason. Hampton had bone chips removed from his foot/ankle, and the 49ers put him on the non-football injury list before training camp. He was taken off the list Nov. 27 after Hunter went down because of an Achilles' tendon tear but was inactive for the final eight games.
When he wasn't injured in college, Hampton was a prolific runner, first at Iowa and then at Southern Illinois. In 2011 less than a year after his latest ACL tear he ran for 1,121 yards and scored 17 touchdowns and was invited to the scouting combine. He went undrafted and chose the 49ers because he said they pursued him most heavily.
Hampton, healthy again, found himself working with the first-team unit this week while Gore, Hunter and James sat out nursing injuries.
Here's a Q&A with the 5-foot-9, 210-pound runner, who pumped out 26 bench-press repetitions of 225 pounds a year ago and ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash at his pro day.
Most 49ers fans have yet to see you run. How would you describe your style?
"I've been hearing this my whole life: They say I run angry. So I guess I have an aggressive style of running. But I've been trying to be more patient because the game's not always 110 (mph), you know? That's one of the things I'm working on now is just being patient, and I'm definitely getting the opportunities this spring."
Is your forté running in traffic, between the tackles?
"Yeah, that's definitely my favorite running up the middle. I can run outside and use my speed, but I'd rather navigate inside the tackles."
When you make sudden cuts in traffic, processing information quickly is key. Does that come naturally?
"I've been running in a traditional-style offense pretty much my whole life, so that instinct and that quick-twitch has been part of my running style my whole life. That's why I like running between the tackles. It's just a sudden cut, and then going with your instincts."
You had a front-row seat last season to watch Frank Gore. Were you able to pick up things for your own game?
"Always. Life is nothing but learning. And I pay attention to everything every other running back does, even in college. There's always something you can learn while watching someone else. And one of the main things I'm learning right now is just that patience. He's real subtle to the line, and then he just makes that sudden cut. And that's what I'm really learning from him."
Gore used to say that he loved to watch LaDainian Tomlinson. Is there a runner you've been compared to?
"Ray Rice. That's pretty much what everyone's been telling me. They say I even look like him a little bit. I don't think so, you know? That's what all my friends, my family, even coming here (to the 49ers in Santa Clara) they say my style's like Ray Rice."