The first four days of 49ers training camp cut into the 49ers’ depth at running back.
Frank Gore, Carlos Hyde and Jewel Hampton are the only healthy running backs on the roster. The 49ers will sign a player to help ease the workload for the others. And Marcus Lattimore expects to be available to begin practicing shortly.
Here is a look at the 49ers’ running backs after four days of training camp (the 49ers have a players day off on Monday):
Frank Gore: He already looks as if he is in midseason form. Gore participated in every practice over the first four days of camp. He is expected to see limited action in the exhibition season. Last summer, he carried the ball four times. He should not exceed that number in the four exhibition games this year, as the 49ers need him to be at the top of his game in his contract year.
Carlos Hyde: The second round draft pick appears to be the likely candidate to take over Hunter’s role as the No. 2 running back. At 230 pounds, Hyde could make an initial impact as a short-yardage back. He rushed for nearly 2,500 yards and 31 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Ohio State.
“There’s nothing that Carlos Hyde has done since he’s been here for me not to like him a lot as a coach,” 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said.
LaMichael James: James sustained his third setback in the preseason in three NFL seasons. As a rookie, he sustained an ankle sprain in the final exhibition game. Last summer, he sustained a partial MCL tear that kept him out for the first couple weeks of the regular season.
He sustained a dislocated elbow in practice on Sunday. James should be recovered from his latest injury in time for the opening of the regular season, Sept. 7 at Dallas, to handle the team’s return duties.
Marcus Lattimore: He remains on the active/non-football injury list as he rehabilitates the knee injury that kept him out as a rookie and a hamstring strain he sustained in the offseason program. Lattimore believes he is close to making his training camp debut. He hopes to get activated this week.
The 49ers are not going to rush Lattimore because they have several years to get a return on their 2013 investment of a fourth-round draft pick. He is expected to be on the 53-man roster, but it might be difficult for him to earn a role on game days. Most reserve running backs are counted on to play special teams. The 49ers are not likely to ask Lattimore to run down the field and cover kicks.
Jewel Hampton: This is Hampton’s third summer with the 49ers, and he will likely again see a lot of action in the exhibition season. He led the 49ers last season with 37 rushing attempts and 113 yards with a touchdown.
“Jewel Hampton has been patiently waiting, has been training and preparing and this is an opportunity without question for Jewel to be a contributor and I’m very excited for that for Jewel,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said.
Kendall Hunter: He is out for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee. He does not have a contract for next year, and the 49ers would like to bring him back in 2015.
“We’d love to have Kendall,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said. “Kendall is a tremendous football player and an even better young man. What’s the likelihood? It’s not even worth speculating at this point, but Kendall knows, as does his representative, exactly how we feel about him on both sides –- as a person and as a player.”