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Kendall Hunter Stands Out

Posted Aug 7, 2012

At 5-foot-7, Kendall Hunter is the shortest player listed on the San Francisco 49ers roster.

The second-year running back’s playing height, however, isn’t a determining factor of his development by any means. When asked to name training camp standouts after a week of practices, Jim Harbaugh listed two players, with Hunter being mentioned first.

Following a rookie season in which he totaled 668 combined rushing and receiving yards, the 2011 fourth-round draft pick has continued to turn heads this summer with his consistent play.

Hunter never has an off day from offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s vantage point.

“I’ve never seen Kendall Hunter have a bad day or a bad snap where he wasn’t totally tuned into football,” said Roman about the No. 2 runner listed on the current depth chart. “Kendall’s becoming more of a well-rounded football player. We’re really glad we have him. He gets better every day.”

Already talented at running with the football and catching it out of the backfield from his days in Oklahoma State’s spread attack; Hunter has displayed his willingness to block in training camp by holding his own in physically contested one-on-one blitz pickup matches.

In Roman’s mind, it all goes back to Hunter’s passion for the game.

“The first thing that comes into my mind when I hear Kendall Hunter’s name is, ‘Football player,’” Roman said. “He loves football. He loves to get out there and compete. He always gives his maximum effort.”

And, because of his height, Hunter finds himself winning most battles.

“I feel like I have an advantage over big guys because I can get under them and stay low, especially when they come between the linemen and they can’t see me,” Hunter said.

Those linemen detect Hunter’s presence much more in film review, but 49ers coaches like Roman appreciate Hunter’s willingness to stick his nose into a pass-rusher’s chest whenever needed.

Roman also sees Hunter improving in his pre-snap awareness, a crucial skill needed in blitz pickup.

“Defenses are so complex, there’s a bunch of guys moving around, it’s not like the old days where they’d line up three guys or four guys and one or two guys might blitz,” Roman explained. “It’s hard to even tell the structure of the defense sometimes with guys milling around (at the line).

“There’s a lot of different components for the running backs to identify week-to-week. Knowing who to block is very important in this league, even before how to block. He’s gotten much better at both those.”

That being said, Roman admitted it was a transition period entering the professional ranks for the running back who played a great deal in the shotgun formation. Even so, Hunter’s passion for the game and willingness to learn make him one of team’s top weapons on offense.

“He’s really starting to understand all the different things that go into playing running back in this league which is more than carrying the ball,” Roman detailed. “It’s pass-protection, route-running, catching the ball, ball security and the special teams aspect of things as well.”

So while Hunter might have a lot on his plate, it doesn’t seem to bother the easy-going running back who runs harder than anyone his size. Hunter said he improved a great deal this offseason just from asking more questions to the coaches and spending more time reviewing the playbook.

Hunter said he watched as much of Frank Gore’s game tape as his own.

“Frank helps me out with detailing things out and just going back and looking at my play last year, there’s a whole lot of stuff I could’ve done different,” Hunter said. “But I’m still learning, still learning to this day, and getting better.”

Perrish Cox is used to seeing Hunter defy size stereotypes. When the two were teammates at Oklahoma State, the 49ers defensive back thought it was the norm to see Hunter make big plays repeatedly.

“He’s still quick, strong and he knows what he’s doing,” Cox said. “He’s quiet, but at the same time he’s very talented. Whatever you ask him to do, he’s there to do it. Whatever needs to get done, he’ll get it done.”

Cox, however, said the personality comes out even more in the locker room.

“As a person, he’s still the same,” Cox revealed. “He’s the playmaker that everybody knows him as. He’s quiet to the world, but in the locker room, he’s one of the funniest guys you’ll ever meet. As a matter of fact, he plays too much.”

It’s not known how much Hunter’s role will be impacted with the additions of Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James to San Francisco’s talented backfield, but Hunter’s attitude will remain unchanged.

When the 49ers kick off the 2012 preseason this Friday night against the Minnesota Vikings, Cox will treat it like old times in college. While Cox will be looking for sideline feedback from his defensive coaches, he’ll also try to catch a glimpse of his college teammate in action.

“When the offense is going, we always try to hype them up,” Cox said. “We usually get a little time in between what we do, we try to keep our offense hyped up. Playing with him in college, it’s going to be great to watch him from the sideline the way I did.”

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