SANTA CLARA -– The 49ers’ all-time leading rusher is no longer with the organization, but quarterback Colin Kaepernick expressed confidence Friday that a group effort can help compensate for his loss.
Gore this offseason signed a three-year free-agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts after the 49ers were only willing to offer Gore a one-year deal.
“It’s going to be different without Frank,” Kaepernick said. “Frank was a huge asset to us, but we have a lot of great running backs here.”
The 49ers figure to turn to more of a backs-by-committee approach with Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush teaming up with Kendall Hunter, who is returning from a torn ACL in his right knee that kept him out of action the entire season. Hunter was on the field during the first week of the team's offseason program without an restrictions after sustaining the injury on July 25 in training camp. Video released by the team showed Hunter taking part in full-speed change of direction drills.
“We have Kendall coming back who a lot of people forget about,” Kaepernick said. “Carlos had a great rookie year for us, and we’ll probably be using him a lot more this year. We’ve brought Reggie in who’s another great weapon on offense. And those are just to name a few of the guys that we have back there.
“He’ll be missed, but we also have people that are more than capable of filling that void.”
A year ago, Carlos Hyde rushed for 333 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie. He averaged 4.0 yards per carry after the 49ers invested a second-round draft pick in him. Hyde is expected to be the lead back with Bush, a free-agent acquisition, using his versatility as a runner and receiver.
Kaepernick is also familiar with a player who has never played in a game of American football. Australian rugby league star Jarryd Hayne, 27, joined Kaepernick at the EXOS training facility in Arizona before the 49ers’ offseason program began this week.
“A phenomenal athlete -- just a natural,” Kaepernick said. “Since the day I’ve met him, since every workout he’s been at, he’s going to give you everything he has. It doesn’t seem like there’s much of a learning curve for him.”
Hayne (6 foot 2, 226 pounds) will begin his quest to win a job with the 49ers as a running back and return man. He ran an unofficial time of 4.53 seconds in the 40-yard dash for NFL scouts this offseason. But the 49ers are open-minded about finding the right position for him, 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said.
Kaepernick said he believes Hayne will be able to help – somehow, someway.
“This is going to be a football player,” Kaepernick said. “He does a lot of things very well. It’s going to be our job to be able to utilize him and put him in positions to allow him to make plays and use his athleticism.”