As the 49ers work to wrap up their preseason schedule, one of the big position battles that is seemingly still up in the air is Anthony Dixon vs. Kendall Hunter as the primary backup to running back Frank Gore. The 49ers decision to extend Frank Gore through 2014 brings stability to the running back position, but as Gore ages that backup running back will grow in importance. To date Gore has been the guy more or less, but we all know that won't last forever.
I took a look back at some of the 49ers-Texans film and there's not a whole lot new that needs to be said really. Dixon and Hunter each carried the ball eight times, with Dixon getting 15 yards and Hunter getting 40 yards. Some of the numbers can be dissected a bit more, but by all appearances Hunter had the better game.
Anthony Dixon is a big guy but for some reason when he gets that ball, even though he may not be dancing all around in the backfield, there is some kind of stutter step right before he hits the line. I can understand looking for a hole, but it seemed like he stuttered anytime he took a handoff. When I heard "he dances" I had always thought it was a bit more bouncing around, but watching him closely in the Texans game, I see what people mean with "dancing."
Some of Kendall Hunter's runs came against softer defenses, but he still showed explosiveness throughout the game. In one run he took the handoff towards the right guard and in the face of multiple defenders he quickly cut left and found a hole for eight yards. He ran a sweep to the right for 13 yards as he easily made the corner and burned up the field. There's just an explosiveness to his style that is hard to ignore. In reality, he seems to have first round pick explosion with the unfortunate combination of later round size. It's not fair, but that's the way things sometimes work out.
The team split the carries pretty evenly last weekend, alternating series between the two backs. I'd suspect we'll see the same tomorrow against San Diego. At this point, Kendall Hunter would seem to have the edge. If they do alternate carries and Hunter has another strong performance, is there anything still keeping him from being Gore's primary backup? Or do you see some value in a two-headed backup?