There's no blueprint on how to overcome an Achilles tear but if anybody on the 49ers can provide a roadmap to what Michael Crabtree's pathway to recovery will be, it's Kendall Hunter.
Crabtree, San Francisco's star wide receiver, went down this week with an Achilles injury, very much like the one Hunter suffered in a Week 12 road win over the New Orleans Saints.
Hunter didn't have surgery immediately after his injury like Crabtree did on Wednesday, but the third-year running back is now cutting on a limited basis six months removed from his setback.
The former fourth-round draft pick joined his fellow running backs in individual drills at San Francisco's Organized Team Activities this week. He's also practiced change of direction running drills on an adjacent practice field under the supervision of the team's medical staff.
"It feels good just to be out there running around and do a little bit with the team," said Hunter, the reserve running back who averaged 5.2 yards per game in 2012. "Just getting out there period and doing something that you love, there's nothing like it.
"You never know how much you love the game until it's taken away from you."
Hunter felt the frustration of not being able to contribute to the 49ers postseason run and Super Bowl appearance. Hunter rushed 72 times for 371 yards before his season was cut short. Despite the setback, Hunter did his part in the rehabilitation process and trusted the instruction of 49ers doctors and trainers to help him get ready for his third NFL season.
"It's motivation, especially when you get hurt," Hunter said. "You want to be out there to help your team and I'm just happy with the progress I'm making with the trainers. I'm happy with them, they're helping me get better and we're just working towards success."
Hunter suffered his season-ending injury on the very same play wide receiver Kyle Williams was lost for the year with an ACL tear. The 49ers running back, however, had no idea his injury was so severe at the time. He also didn't realize that Williams was injured on the same play.
"That was crazy," Hunter said of the costly play against the Saints. "When it happened, it thought I had a strained calf because it felt like someone twisted my ankle. I tried to stand up and my calf muscle was on fire. When they took me off the field, the next thing you know they said, 'Kendall, scoot over. Kyle's on the way.'
"I was like, 'What?'
"They said, 'Yeah, he got hurt on the same play.'"
Both Hunter and Williams were carted off the field together and were lost for the year. The moment was difficult for both young play-makers, but it allowed them to bond during their recovery.
"We've been pushing each other and giving it all we've got when they tell us there's a drill we can do," Hunter said.
The 49ers running back is looking to reach out to Crabtree, the most recent injured member of the team.
"I know exactly what he's going through, I went through it," Hunter said. "I'll be in touch with him. We're all from Texas so we have a good relationship."
Hunter is still working his way back to action, but is eager to help fill the play-making void this season while Crabtree recovers from his own Achilles injury. The 49ers expect Crabtree to return at some point in 2013.
"I feel like it's a big loss and everybody knows that but we also have a lot of guys who can play," Hunter said. "We all complement each other and push each other to get better. I'm just happy I'm going to be able to come back and help the team in any way I can."
Hunter's positive mindset will soon be rewarded. It's been difficult at times, but the hard-nosed running back is trusting the doctors and letting his health be the main focus of the 2013 offseason.
For Hunter, patience is the challenge. But he also knows he's being advised with his best interests to be most effective in 2013.
"That's the hard part, they tell you that," Hunter said. "They cut you down from a lot of stuff and it's hard because I'm the type of guy that likes to work and get better. I'm used to going hard in everything I do. I respect what the trainers and what the coaches want and I'm abiding by the rules, doing the little thing so when I come back I'm mentally prepared.
"I'll be ready and sharp."
Hunter doesn't need to take every rep on the practice fields, but he is getting more into the playbook and spends time analyzing his film from his first two seasons.
"It's a big thing," Hunter said. "You also get to get into the playbook more and go over things you didn't do right. You get with the coaches and you can help the young guys, too."