We break down the implications Kendall Hunter's injury has on Frank Gore.
The 49ers have made it official: Kendall Hunter and Kyle Williams were placed on injured reserve, ending their seasons. Running back Jewel Hampton has been activated and we await one more roster move, as the 49ers currently sit at 52 players.
There are plenty of implications, but I think the most significant will be how the 49ers will best split up their running game. Frank Gore remains the starter, and will receive the vast majority of carries. When Hunter was healthy, Hunter received 6.5 carries per game, while Gore had 16 carries per game.
Frank Gore is on pace for the second highest rushing total of his career as he currently sits at 914 yards. If he maintains his current pace, he would finish the season with 1,329 rushing yards. What is great about that is that he is doing that while remaining on pace for 256 carries. In his record-setting second season, Gore rushed 312 times for 1,695 yards. Since then, he has had seasons with 282 and 260, so he is on pace for the fourth highest number of carries for his career.
The loss of Kendall Hunter does not mean the 49ers will suddenly dump the entire work-load on Frank Gore. That would be a foolhardy idea given the bigger context implications, and I think most of us realize that.
The question at this point will be how the 49ers use the running backs they have. The 49ers running back corps consists of Brandon Jacobs, LaMichael James, Anthony Dixon and Jewel Hampton on their roster. While James would seem the most likely to be able to replicate Hunter's ability in space, that does not necessarily mean the 49ers will look to adopt that similar focus. I do think we'll see James utilized on plays where the team can get him in space, but that does not mean he will automatically fill Kendall Hunter's role as backup running back.
Although Gore and Jacobs are both bruising backs, I still think Jacobs can fill a suitable role as the primary backup. I look at it Jacobs and James as a sort of thunder and lightning pair behind Gore, as opposed to one of them "complementing" Gore. Jacobs has gotten some criticism for dancing around in the past, but his preseason performances were rather inspiring. While only limited appearances for Jacobs, he was thoroughly bulldozing players.
If Jacobs can bring that kind of aggressive attitude to the 49ers running game, I think the rushing game will be in fine shape. And in fact, his size could prove to be useful for further softening up the defense for Gore and the passing attack. We won't know the game plan until this Sunday, but it is intriguing to consider the possibilities.
Nobody ever likes injuries, and I know Trent Baalke is not the type to jump out with an "I told you so" if Jacobs, James and others find success. Nonetheless, given some of criticisms from the national media about the 49ers 2012 draft class, this is an opportunity for Trent Baalke to get in a nice little "I told you so" if this works out. Given the performance of the 49ers offensive line thus far, I am comfortable with things moving forward.