How do 49ers replace Williams, Hunter?

November 27, 2012, 7:09 pm
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UPDATE: The 49ers on Tuesday afternoon officially placed receiver Kyle Williams and running back Kendall Hunter on injured reserve with season-ending injuries. The 49ers added undrafted rookie running back Jewel Hampton to the 53-man roster. The 49ers currently have one roster spot. The club also signed receiverreturn man Chad Hall to the practice squad.

The 49ers' slot receiverbackup punt returner and No. 2 running back are out for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.
For all the talk that this means for the 49ers' top two draft picks, A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James, it might turn into bigger opportunities for two veteran free-agent pickups: Randy Moss and Brandon Jacobs.Here's what the 49ers must consider as they move into the final five games of the regular season without Kyle Williams and Kendall Hunter.Replacing Williams
The 49ers' three best wide receivers are Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and Randy Moss. Williams was the 49ers' best slot receiver, so when the 49ers went with three wides, Williams was on the field, along with Crabtree and Manningham.NEWS: Kyle Williams to miss rest of season with torn ACL
After Williams' injury on Sunday, the 49ers used three wides on only one play: Manningham was in the slot, with Crabtree and Moss flanked out wide.Moss has 32.5 percent of the 49ers' offensive plays this season. He has been on the field, mostly, when the 49ers go with two backs, two tight ends and one wideout.But it becomes a question of which remaining receiver the 49ers believe is the best in the slot. If the answer is Manningham, then it will mean a lot more playing time for Moss.Manningham showed good short-area quickness when he lined up in the slot in the first half with Frank Gore on the outside. Manningham ran a whip route that left Saints cornerback Jabari Greer scrambling. He turned it into a 40-yard gain.MAIOCCO: 49ers offensive review -- Walker, Manningham deliver
When the 49ers drafted Jenkins with the No. 30 overall pick, they touted his versatility. He spent the summer learning each of the three receiver spots, including the slot. Jenkins has yet to play in a game. And his only chance to make a big contribution now will be to convince the coaching staff that the trio of Crabtree-Manningham-Jenkins is better than Crabtree-Manningham-Moss.With Williams and Hunter out of action, it means that the do not have much of a safety net underneath Ted Ginn in the return game.Cornerback Perrish Cox is the most logical backup as a punt returner. The 49ers signed Chad Hall to the practice squad, and he is an option to be promoted if they need another punt returner.James does not appear ready to return punts in a game, but he is definitely an option behind Ginn on kickoff returns.Replacing Hunter
The 49ers initially reported Hunter's condition as an ankle injury. But team athletic trainer Jeff Ferguson was seen examining Hunter's left Achilles on the sideline Sunday in New Orleans. The Sacramento Bee reported Tuesday that Hunter sustained an Achilles tear.REPORT: Kendall Hunter out for remainder of season
This is precisely the reason the 49ers kept Jacobs on the 53-man roster. Hunter was the No. 2 running back behind Frank Gore. He averaged 5.2 yards a carry, and every week his grasp on the backup job became more secure.There was simply no role for Jacobs because he does not play special teams. On most game days, Anthony Dixon was the 49ers' third running back because of his versatility while Jacobs was in street clothes, failing to secure a spot as one of the team's 46 active players.
Dixon has carried 12 times for 48 yards, mostly in mop-up duty, while Jacobs' two snaps on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints were his only times on the playing field this season.Hunter's injury means that the 49ers must decide on another No. 2 running back. Jacobs, an eight-year pro, has the track record. He has averaged 4.5 yards a carry in his career with 56 touchdowns. He is the logical choice to get the bulk of the playing time behind Gore.With Hunter's injury, it's possible that James could be active for the first time this season. It's also possible that James could be used on occasion when quarterback Colin Kaepernick runs those zone-read-option plays. James and Kaepernick worked those plays well during the exhibition season. James had 63 yards on 13 carries (4.8 average) in the preseason.

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