As the San Francisco 49ers made their run to the Super Bowl last season, one player — who had been a key contributor through the early part of the season — was not on the field of play at during the Super Bowl. That player would be running back Kendall Hunter. Hunter’s season would end during the Week 12 game against the New Orleans Saints as he sustained a tear of his Achilles tendon.
With Micahel Crabtree being lost for most of — if not the entire — 2013 season, questions have been asked about how the 49ers will replace the numbers and step up to fill the void he will leave behind. Remember that Kendall Hunter will be back and has proven to be valuable contributor in his first two seasons.
Before having gone down for the season, Hunter was averaging 5.2 yards per carry as the backup to Frank Gore. If Gore was the thunder, then Hunter was the lightning as he served as a great change-of-pace running back for the 49ers. In addition, Hunter was a capable pass catcher as well, having caught 25 passes in his first two seasons. With the emergence of LaMichael James late in the season for the 49ers, many might have assumed that Hunter’s role would or could be diminished for the 2013 season. But with Crabtree’s injury, Hunter has value.
Despite the 49ers throwing more ever since Colin Kaepernick became the starting quarterback, let’s remember that at its core, Jim Harbaugh is a coach who likes to run the ball and establish the running game. While many try and figure out which wide receivers are going to step up in the absence of Michael Crabtree, the emphasis might be to run the ball more with Crabtree’s absence.
If that happens, Hunter will have the opportunity to be the value contributor that he has been in his first two seasons. Hunter has done more than enough to demonstrate to Harbaugh and the offensive coaching staff that he can be counted on to produce. With Greg Roman as the Offensive Coordinator, one can bet we could see sets where Hunter is on the field at the same time as Gore and James.
While many will focus on which wide receivers will help make up for the loss of Crabtree, keep in mind that it could be the running game that fills the void. As a result, Kendall Hunter and his 5.2-yards-per-carry average will have a role and a valuable one at that.
Lucas Carreras is a contributing San Francisco 49ers writer for RantSports.com. You can follow Lucas on Twitter by following @maldini3fan and you can add him to your contacts and connect with him on Google+.