Baalke: Hunter more than a change-of-pace back

May 14, 2011, 3:53 pm
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May 14, 2011MAIOCCO ARCHIVE49ERS PAGE 49ERS VIDEOMatt MaioccoCSNBayArea.comSANTA CLARA -- At 5-foot-7, 200 pounds, it's easy to envision Kendall Hunter as a change-of-pace running back in the NFL.It's even easier to project Hunter in that role when the ultimate every-down back, Frank Gore, is already on the 49ers' roster.But the 49ers are going to have to find a way to get Hunter on the field early in his career. The 49ers selected the Oklahoma State standout in the fourth round (No. 115 overall), and there is no denying his talent.So while Hunter could be a specialty running back initially, when 49ers general manager Trent Baalke turns on the video, he sees a player with a lot of versatility."We're not looking at this guy as a change-of-pace back," Baalke said Thursday during his annual film session with reporters."This is a guy we feel can run the power game, can run between the tackles, can get out on the edges, can pass protect, can come out of the backfield and catch the football, can return kicks (and) can play on coverage teams, if we ask him to."Hunter runs with a lot more power than you would expect from somebody his size. The 49ers like that about him. In fact, they'd like to see 235-pound Anthony Dixon use his power more, rather than regularly trying to juke defenders. Hunter will compete against Dixon for playing time behind Gore."We like the way he finishes his runs," Baalke said of Hunter.During the video clips the 49ers put together of Hunter, he finished a lot of those runs in the end zone. He tore through Washington State for 257 yards and four touchdowns on 21 carries in the season opener. Later in the year, he gained 201 yards on 26 rushes against Nebraska.Baalke talked about Hunter's "quickness, strength and burst." Those attributes enabled him to rush for around 1,550 yards an 16 touchdowns as a sophomore and again as a senior, sandwiched around an injury-plagued junior year."Is he a 4.3 guy? No," Baalke said. "But he's got very good (functional) speed. We love his feet, his vision and love the fact he can step through tackles."At the Senior Bowl, the 49ers paid particular attention to how Hunter fared in pass-protection drills. That's a must for a running back on third downs in the NFL. He held up very well and showed a willingness to perform that essential duty, Baalke said."We like the guy's versatility," Baalke said. "And he's a football player. He loves the game (and) is passionate about it."