Carlos Hyde

Hunter’s ACL tear forces 49ers to count on James and Hyde (we’ll see about Lattimore)

lamichael james sf 49ers

So much for trading LaMichael James. With Kendall Hunter tearing his ACL during yesterday’s practice, the 49ers go from the deepest running backs group they’ve had in years to a situation that’s fairly unsettled.

They have the veteran, Frank Gore, who was supposedly going to see a decreased workload this season. That could still happen, but after losing the second-most experienced running back on the roster, they’ll probably lean on Gore almost as much as they have in previous seasons.

Next on the depth chart (for now) is LaMichael James. He hasn’t exactly thrived in the 49ers’ power running attack, although he hasn’t gotten a lot of opportunities, either. He’s averaged 4.7 yards per rushing attempt in the regular season– only 39 carries, but that’s still a respectable figure.

With Hunter out, will the 49ers alter the offense to take advantage of James’ strengths? We’ve seen a few screen passes to James in minicamp and early on in training camp, so finding ways to get James in space could become a priority this season.

In my opinion, Carlos Hyde was going to move ahead of Hunter on the depth chart at some point this season anyway. He fits the 49ers’ preferred style perfectly and already showed he has the size and technique to pass protect while he was at Ohio State. The injury to Hunter makes Hyde’s preseason work all the more interesting, because presumably James will play with the first team offense (there’s no reason to risk losing Gore during an exhibition game) and Hyde will come in after James’ night is finished.

If you take Gore in your fantasy football draft and are looking for a “handcuff” option in case he gets injured, take Hyde.

Behind Gore, James and Hyde is Jewel Hampton, who should get a lot of second half work this preseason.

I feel like I’m forgetting someone …

Oh yeah, Marcus Lattimore! A lot of outlets are breathlessly reporting Lattimore’s every move, because Lattimore news drives clicks and excitement. Page views are nice, but I feel a little dirty stoking the Lattimore flames. On Thursday, Harbaugh diverted questions about Lattimore’s health to team doctor Jeff Ferguson (someone who has never held a press conference, as far as I know) after mentioning how Lattimore started camp on the NFI list due to a combination of knee and hamstring troubles.

In my mind, Lattimore is a non-factor until he gets his first preseason carry. He spent all of last season rehabilitating his knee, and he still isn’t ready.

Finally, what a terrible blow for Hunter, who was starting to look like a viable NFL runner (perhaps even a future starter) when he tore his Achilles in 2012. The 49ers didn’t use him much last season, but by all accounts he was looking as explosive as ever over the last few months. Now he’s going to miss his entire contract year, which obviously hurts his earning potential tremendously. Perhaps the 49ers will sign him to a one-year deal next season, since he knows the offense and they can follow his rehabilitation process throughout the 2014 season.

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