SANTA CLARA -- Running back Kendall Hunter’s condition is a reason for concern as the 49ers get ready to put on pads for the first time in training camp.
Hunter was scheduled to undergo an MRI examination Friday evening on his right knee. The results are not yet known. His knee buckled awkwardly early in Friday’s practice as he tried to make a move on cornerback Perrish Cox after catching a Blaine Gabbert swing pass near the right sideline.
Hunter got up and hobbled back toward the line of scrimmage and sat down. A couple of teammates, coach Jim Harbaugh and the team’s training staff came to check on him. After a few minutes, Hunter got to his feet and walked under his own power back to the 49ers locker room.
Hunter opened camp as the team’s No. 2 running back behind Frank Gore. He has proven he can handle the job in his three seasons in that role. The 49ers anticipate having good depth at the position, but they need to see if Carlos Hyde and Marcus Lattimore can fulfill the requirements of the position before it’ll be known how much they can expect this season.
Neither Hyde nor Lattimore was asked to do much blocking while in college. Being able to diagnose a blitz, know the assignment and being able to carry out the physical nature of delivering a block is what a running back must do in order to win playing time around these parts.
Despite his lack of size, Hunter won the confidence of the coaching staff. And when Hunter reported to camp approximately 20 months removed from his Achilles surgery of 2012, the 49ers expected him to be better than ever.
Hyde and Lattimore showed encouraging signs during the offseason program. Both players looked comfortable catching the ball out of the backfield. Lattimore looked to gain more and more confidence as a runner, as he attempts a return from the severe knee injury that ended his college career.
Hyde, a second-round pick from Ohio State, struggled catching the ball in the first practice of training camp. That aspect of his game, however, should not be a concern. And Lattimore, on the non-football injury list, continues to rehab his left knee and hamstring. He worked out Friday with a medicine ball and making short bursts of sprints. Lattimore appears close to being able to get on the practice field.
With the pads going on, the 49ers will finally see what needs to be done for the younger running backs to earn game action behind Gore.
The 49ers have a good idea what to expect from reserve running back LaMichael James, who enters his third NFL season. They need to be able to evaluate Hyde and Lattimore to determine if their depth is as good as it appears on paper.