Asked if he lost his confidence at any point in the nearly nine months since tearing the Achilles tendon in his left foot, Kendall Hunter was quick to say, No. The 49ers running back said it three times, in fact.
"Nah, nah, nah," Hunter said following his first practice, timed well for the 49ers annual "Fan Fest" on Saturday at Candlestick Park. "I'm always motivated to get better. And this has motivated me even more… The feeling is indescribable, just to be back on the field."
The third-year pro, who was averaging 5.2 yards per carry before suffering his injury in Week 11 last season, participated in a handful of position group drills, including making cuts around cones under the watch of coach Tom Rathman.
Fullback Bruce Miller, who playfully barged into Hunter's post-practice gaggle with reporters, said, "Now, I just got to get out of the way. He runs too fast for me -- fresh legs."
Hunter, wearing his No. 32 on a road white jersey, did not participate in the blitz pickup session and his appearances in seven-on-seven and team portions of practice were few and far between. He did receive an ovation from his offensive linemen when he joined 11-on-11 scrimmaging.
"There's going to be a progression getting him back in," said Jim Harbaugh, adding that Hunter would need to re-earn his role on the team, which is well-stocked at running back with Frank Gore and second-year speedster LaMichael James, among others. "He definitely has been on it (mentally), as far as his assignments – very attentive in meetings. He is the No. 2 guy in terms of assignments but whenever you're coming off a injury, you have to prove that you're back to 100 percent and then also you have to be better than other people. We all know what Kendall's about, and things will go well for him."
Hunter said he hasn't been told whether he will appear in the 49ers second preseason game, which the Kansas City Chiefs will host next Friday. Of course, he'd like to be back under the lights sooner rather than later.
Opportunities are waiting to be seized.
"In this league you have to compete, anything you want, you have to compete for it and go out and do it," Hunter said. "Nothing comes easy."
Just ask Michael Crabtree, which Hunter has. The running back has kept his communication almost constant with his wide receiver teammate regarding the duo's rehab progress; Crabtree tore his Achilles completely and underwent surgery on May 22.
"Yeah, me and Crab talk every day," Hunter said. "I see him every day. He's working hard. It's just good to have somebody go through that and he's seeing me get back on the field and motivate him to work even harder."