SANTA CLARA -- A large part of the 49ers’ optimism about their running back situation entering training camp centered on who was returning as much as the contributors.
And Kendall Hunter was at the top of that list. He returned last season after sustaining a torn Achilles late in the 2012 season. And this offseason, he turned some heads.
“He looked so good, and really was back to form,” 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said on Saturday.
But Hunter’s season came to an end on Friday when he sustained a torn right ACL in the 49ers’ second practice of training camp.
“Does it get any better than him as a person or as a contributor? No,” Roman said. “But next man up is not a cliché. It’s a way of life.”
Behind starter Frank Gore, the 49ers have LaMichael James, second-round pick Carlos Hyde and college star Marcus Lattimore, who continues to rehab from the knee injury he sustained in 2012 in his final season at South Carolina.
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Lattimore remains on the non-football injury list, and Roman described his availability as a “more of a day-to-day situation.”
“Thankfully our front office and scouting department have done a great job of fielding some depth -- quality depth,” Roman said.
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Roman said he wants to be able to utilize the running backs out of the backfield as pass-catchers. Last season, the 49ers’ screen game was nonexistent. Some of it had to do with an offensive line that was not suited to getting to the second level to make blocks. And Roman said having a mobile quarterback, such as Colin Kaepernick, limits the opportunities, too.
“We weren’t seeing traditional great screen look opportunities,” Roman said. “With Kap’s dynamic ability to pull the ball down, people weren’t just rushing up the field mindlessly to a spot. So a lot of teams that are really good at screens, that’s what they see.”
Center Daniel Kilgore is getting first-team repetitions as the early front-runner to replace veteran Jonathan Goodwin. Rookie Marcus Martin is unavailable to practice due to an ankle sprain.
“Daniel Kilgore brings an athletic type of profile to the position,” Roman said. “He’s really good in space at the second level, and just a really good athlete.”
But whether it all translates to the 49ers using the running backs more in the passing game remains to be seen.
“We work screens, and we always have them in our back pocket,” Roman said.