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2011 49ers Draft Picks: RB Coach Robert Gillespie On Kendall Hunter

We continue our series of posts featuring discussions with coaches of the 49ers 2011 NFL Draft picks. We'll find plenty of scouting reports from the media and outsiders, and that information is certainly of some value. However, getting a chance to speak with the players' position coaches brings a certain value you can't get from outside sources. That's not to say a coach is going to be the absolute best source of information. Rather, it's a matter of combining all this information together to get a complete picture of the newest 49ers.

I had a chance to speak with Kendall Hunter's running backs coach at Oklahoma State, Robert Gillespie. Coach Gillespie has since left OSU for West Virginia but he spent two seasons with the Cowboys. Coach Gillespie provided some interesting analysis on Hunter. While he was generally positive, he did acknowledge some areas of improvement for Hunter. Head after the jump to see what Coach Gillespie had to say.

Niners Nation: With Kendall Hunter, one of the big questions comes down to size. He's about 5'6, 5'7 and there are questions about whether he can be a feature back at the NFL level or is he more suited as a third down running back type of level. I was curious what you think about that?

Robert Gillespie: I'll tell you what, he's one of the toughest kids I've ever seen. He's not the biggest guy. From that standpoint, when you see him you question his toughness but he's a kid that we didn't have to take out of the game on third and short or passing downs where he had to pick up blitzers. If you put the tape on, he's a physical football player. It's just that if you see him in person you think "Wow!" you didn't realize he was that short. But he doesn't play like that when you watch him on tape. He's a physical kid that plays a lot bigger than his size.

NN: That's definitely good to hear. You mentioned picking up the blitzes and I was wondering when it comes to that, how is he in terms of identifying the pass rushers and knowing the protection schemes and what to pick up?

RG: Very good. That's the part that set him apart from some other smaller guys. He's a guy that if you put the tape on him, at Oklahoma State we threw the ball a lot. So being able to see him pick up blitzers, picking up corner blitzes, he's able to identify the blocking scheme, but he's also a guy that when you're watching on video and you press pause, then push play he's a guy that is a physical pass protector. That's what set him apart from a lot of smaller guys in the draft.

NN: In the recent past the 49ers have had some issues with some of their running backs struggling in pass protection. If he can excel in that, it would give him a leg up in the battle for playing time.

NN: One of the criticisms I've read is that there are concerns that he dances a bit behind the offensive line. I was wondering how he is at finding the hole and knowing when to cut up field?

RG: He's good. You know, he's a guy that can make you right a lot of times also. He is a guy that as a coach you want to call the perfect play and you want the design to be perfect. But there's times guys are going to come free, and we can't block them all. He's a guy that has made us look pretty good at times. We didn't block the safety a lot of times and what we did versus Nebraska was to cover [can't decipher a word here]. There safety was at the linebacker level and he made that guy miss seven times in the game. And he ran for 200 yards against one of the top defenses in the country. He's a guy we thought for us had very good vision and the fact that he can make that last guy miss was a plus. Can he get better? Yes. But I don't think there is a guy at the college level or NFL that can't afford to get better and misses the cut every once in a while. There's always room for improvement.

NN: Speaking of that is there one particular area where he could improve the most?

RG: Yea, he can get better with his hands. He has good hands and can catch the ball well but he's not a natural at it so he could become a better receiver out of the backfield. He could get better at pass protection. I think running backs have to continually get better at that throughout their career. But I will say one thing would be being a better receiver out of the backfield.

NN: Your offense at Oklahoma State, was it based on numbers or words?

RG: It was based on numbers. It was based on numbers and then trigger words that let him know what he had to do. But everything was no-huddle; the quarterback used a number system.

NN: When he comes up here, Coach Harbaugh is going to be running a bit of a west coast offense that he used at Stanford. I was wondering how Kendall is in terms of learning the new offense, being able to acclimate to some changes and just as far as picking that kind of stuff up?

RG: I'll tell you what, I think he'll be like any rookie. You know, he'll struggle at times. The west coast offense is very wordy and there's some veteran backs that struggle with it. I don't think he'll be coming in there conducting his own meetings but he's a kid that I know from personal experience will put in extra time. He'll be the first one in the meeting room and he'll be the last one out because he'll let you know that he doesn't understand something, which I think is important to me. So often you get guys that don't want you to think that they don't know it because they're too cool and they go on the field and make mistakes. But this is a kid that if he doesn't understand it he's going to let you know, but he's going to show the coach he wants to learn. I think after a fourth attempt and taking his rookie bumps I think he'll be a pretty good player and he'll be a good one for the system.

NN: Going back to that first question I had about his size, how do you think he'll handle some of these behemoths? Do you think he could maintain some of his speed if he had to put on ten pounds?

RG: You know I don't know. Right now he's 5'7, 200 pounds. He's a big kid for his frame and I think people used to have the misperception that you have to be a big back in the league. I mean I can recall Charlie Garner playing out there for San Francisco. He wasn't a big guy. And you look around the league, there's a lot of small guys. Everybody thinks you have to be so big, you don't. You just have to be a physical guy. I mean being physical at 6'2, 225 is no different than being 5'7, 200 pounds and being physical. The attitude that you approach the game with, I think the kid approaches the game like a big back, just like a Charlie Garner did. I think he'll be fine. The questions will come up just like they came up for him out of high school. He wasn't a big kid out of high school and a lot of people overlooked him. And four years later he was an All-American, Doak Walker finalist, and a fourth round draft pick. I think once he gets out there and learns the system I think the people in San Francisco will be pleasantly surprised. They've got a kid who is going to work hard and wants to be good.

NN: How is he off the field? How is he as a person?

RG: He's a quiet kid, warms up to you once he gets to know you. I tell everybody, he's a football player. He's a guy who just enjoys being around the weight room, around the fellas. I never had any problems out of him from the standpoint of missing class. He was academic honor roll every semester. Never had to warn him for missing class, never got into trouble. So, I think he'll be a responsible kid. I think he'll be able to handle money. That's become a big issue in the league, with people handling the fame and the night life. I think he's a kid that can handle all that. I think he'll be a good asset. He can be as good as he wants to be. I think it's a good system that he'll be in and we just wish him the best and we'll be pulling for him.

NN: That's great to hear. I appreciate you taking the time to answer a few questions.

RG: No problem, anything for that kid. I'll do anything for him. Great kid. I hope he makes you guys happy out there.