KANSAS CITY, Mo. Facing the Chiefs' first-string defense for a long stretch Friday, 49ers tailback Jewel Hampton didn't find a lot of room to maneuver in a game dominated by the defenses.
Ten of his carries went for no gain or a loss, and he averaged a humbling 1.7 yards per attempt. But the fact he was on the field at all was somewhat of a triumph.
A promising college career was sidetracked by two ACL tears, and bone spurs in his ankle cost Hampton most of his rookie season last year. The 49ers placed him on their 53-man roster late in the season, but he was never active and had no carries.
Even his preseason debut was delayed.
Two days before the 49ers' exhibition opener against Denver, Hampton tweaked his hamstring covering a kickoff in practice and had to sit out the Denver game.
He's been a 49ers mystery since the team brought him in as an undrafted rookie last year. When he had space against the Chiefs, he looked like he has in practice making quick moves and continuing to push the pile when he was stopped.
"I definitely was not pleased," Hampton said. "I felt like I had more in the tank."
Frank Gore started the game and La-Michael James was his primary backup.
Though Kendall Hunter has rejoined the roster after recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon, the 49ers are easing him back into action, and he did not play Friday.
The 49ers have two other tailbacks on the roster this summer, veteran Anthony Dixon and undrafted rookie D.J. Harper. A third, fourth-round draft pick Marcus Lattimore, may not play in 2013 because of knee injuries suffered in college, but he is being eyed as Gore's eventual heir.
Asked about that crowded backfield, Hampton noted that all 32 teams scour the exhibition-game film. The 49ers have such a talented roster that their film is bound to be scrutinized more than most.
"Whatever happens at the end, it happens," Hampton said. "I'm coming out in these preseason games and putting my game on film."
Say hi to Alex Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was harassed by the 49ers during the game and mobbed by them afterward.
The former San Francisco starter was surrounded by a crowd of 20 or so 49ers after the final whistle, and the handshakes and well wishes lasted for several minutes at midfield.
"I think it speaks volumes to his character," offensive tackle Adam Snyder said. "We went through a lot together the years we were here."
The reunion was particularly meaningful for Snyder and Gore. Along with Smith, they were part of the 49ers' 2005 draft class that experienced a string of mostly dismal seasons until Jim Harbaugh took over in 2011.
"Alex and I go back," Gore said. " I just saw him go through so much. To see what he went through last year and now he's on what I think will be a good team with the guys he has around him, I think he'll have a great year."