Guy Haberman is buying 49ers as Super Bowl favorites
Kendall Hunter's stiffest competition for the No. 2 job will come from second-year player LaMichael James. (AP IMAGES)
SAN FRANCISCO -- Thirty-seven weeks after 49ers running back Kendall Hunter's season ended with a torn left Achilles tendon, he was cleared to return to practice.
Hunter took a limited number of repetitions during the 49ers' open practice Saturday at Candlestick Park, but he appears to remain as the favorite to open the season as the team's No. 2 running back behind Frank Gore.
[RELATED: 49ers activate Hunter from Active/PUP list]
"He definitely has been on it, as far as his assignments," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "(He's) very attentive in meetings. I think he probably is the No. 2 guy in terms of assignments.
"Whenever you're coming off an injury, you got to prove you're back at 100 percent and also you got to be better than other people. But we all know what Kendall's about. And I think things will go well for him. He's smart and, first things first, let's think about getting him back up to 100 percent."
Hunter's stiffest competition for the No. 2 job will come from second-year player LaMichael James, who started the 49ers' exhibition opener Thursday night with Gore resting and Hunter out of action.
Hunter can now officially begin the process of regaining his old job. The 49ers activated him from the physically-unable-to-perform list for Saturday's practice.
"I feel blessed to be back out there because you never know how much the game meant to you until it's taken away from you," Hunter said. "I feel good being with the teammates, being able to grind and get back in the groove and play the game I love."
Hunter said he is fully prepared to compete to retain his job. Hunter was the No. 2 back in his first two seasons. He rushed for 844 yards (4.6 average) and four touchdowns in his first two seasons as Gore's primary backup.
"In this league, you got to compete for everything," Hunter said. "Anything you want, you have to compete for it and go out there and do it. Nothing comes easy. If it did, a lot of people would be playing this game."
Hunter's return comes 8 1/2 months after his injury. He said he believes he sustained a partial tear of his Achilles. Under the same time frame, Michael Crabtree, who's Achilles tear was complete, would be available to return to action in early February.
"Yeah, me and Crab talk every day," Hunter said. "I see him every day. He's working hard. It's just good to have somebody go through that and he's seeing me get back on the field and motivate him to work even harder."
Hunter said he's felt ready to go "mentally" for a while. Now, it's a matter of "getting back in the routine," he said.
When asked how it felt to get Hunter back on the field, fullback Bruce Miller answered, "It felt great. Now, I just got to get out of the way. He runs too fast for me -- fresh legs."