Kendall Hunter suffered an ACL tear when he went down early in Friday’s practice, multiple sources have confirmed this morning. The fourth-year running back’s right knee buckled after catching a swing pass. It’s the second severe injury Hunter, who has been Frank Gore’s main backup since 2011, has suffered in as many years.
LaMichael James took over Hunter’s role in 2012 after Hunter tore his Achilles’ in a November game against the Saints. James averaged 4.6 yards per carry in the four games after Hunter’s injury and 5.9 yards a carry in the playoffs and Super Bowl. He had been unhappy with his minimal role on the team last year and had wanted to be traded this offseason.
James currently is the team’s top punt returner, and if the 49ers are looking for a change-of-pace back to complement Gore this season, he might be the best fit.
Hunter’s absence also puts more scrutiny on second-round pick Carlos Hyde. The 49ers will practice in pads today for the first time, and Hyde is sure to receive a lot of the carries. Another option for the 49ers is 2013 draft pick Marcus Lattimore. He is still on the non-football-injury list after trainers decided to continue to be cautious with the knee that was surgically reconstructed in 2012.
Lattimore also has been dealing with a hamstring strain, and he worked out on a side field with a trainer during Friday’s practice. The work included impressive broad jumps from Lattimore, and it appears that he could come off the NFI list in the near future.
Hunter made a full recovery from his Achilles’ tear last year when he rushed for 358 yards and averaged 4.6 yards a carry. He is in the final year of his initial rookie contract. Gore also is in the final year of his contract.