Why Kendall Hunter and Frank Gore Will Create a Scary Backfield Tandem for 49ers
Frank Gore is a one-man wrecking crew who’s quite adept at instilling fear in the eyes of his detractors.
Just ask the teams that passed him 64-times over in the 2005 NFL draft.
After an underrated rookie campaign, Gore reeled off four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, including 1,695 yards and a dominant 5.4-per-carry-average in 2006.
Opponents last season witnessed him rush for over 1,200 yards and earn a third Pro Bowl nod at the age of 28.
Fast-forwarding to 2012, things look even more frightening for the opposition.
Now with a complementary back in Kendall Hunter at his side, opponents facing the San Francisco 49ers will experience as scary a backfield tandem as any in the NFL.
As a lockout-deprived rookie in 2011, Hunter rushed for an impressive 473 yards and two touchdowns, not to mention an additional 195 yards receiving.
Mr. Gore is not alone anymore.
He now has an underrated and like-minded running mate who seeks the approval of the NFL as Gore had in his second year.
Let’s examine the four factors that will deem this tandem a fearsome duo in 2012.
Gore and Hunter combined for 10 touchdowns and nearly 1,700 yards rushing last season.
That came to fruition without any semblance of an offseason due to the lockout.
Both players essentially learned the playbook on the fly and produced a remarkable output during the season.
Now in the second year under Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman, Gore and Hunter can only improve their play with better knowledge of the playbook.
These running backs are experiencing a full set of 49ers camps during a prototypical offseason for the first time together. This experience has afforded them the opportunity to develop a rapport unlike what could have existed in 2011.
Most importantly, Gore and Hunter will have actually practiced and played as a tandem before the beginning of the season.
That bodes well for a smooth execution of the playbook during the regular season.
Coaching Staff Endorsement
As an accomplished seven-year veteran, Frank Gore needs no endorsement from the 49ers coaching staff. The mutual respect between the two is beyond what most NFL players can ever hope to achieve with their bosses.
A commitment to hard work and steadfast humility are qualities that set Gore apart from so many others.
His football IQ, consistent production and all-around skill set further contribute to Gore’s revered status.
Can Kendall Hunter hope for the same?
According to Coach Roman, he sure can (via CSNBayArea.com):
He’s really starting to understand all the different things that go into playing running back in this league…[It’s] more than carrying the ball. It’s pass-protection, route-running, catching the ball, ball security and the special teams aspect of things as well.
That’s one strong vote of approval.
The offensive coordinator gave credence to the idea that Hunter is developing the gamut of requisite skills for all NFL running backs. That is pretty remarkable considering the Oklahoma State product is just a second-year player.
And if Roman’s support wasn’t enough, the head coach himself endorsed Hunter even further (via CSNBayArea.com):
I think just his instincts, his vision, both have improved. It just seems the feel, the experience is there and in tremendous shape, very strong, running with a lot of confidence.
It’s fair to say that Gore has a rather prodigious sophomore talent alongside him in 2012.
Expanded Playbook, Complementary Nature
The 49ers implemented some of the most creative run formations last season.
While many of their rushing sets utilized heavy packages with multiple tight ends and extra offensive linemen, the coaching staff employed additional schemes as well.
Harbaugh would instruct his athletic linemen to aggressively pull for misdirection runs and even call for the antiquated fly-sweep with Ted Ginn on the field.
Defensive players could also be seen on certain rushing plays.
Harbaugh’s coaching staff developed the offense “on-the-go” last year. Now they’ve had the luxury of a full offseason in which to develop and diversify the playbook.
Enter: Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter.
Gore will deftly fulfill his usual duties as an in-between-the-tackles runner who utilizes excellent vision and an indefatigable motor.
Hunter, meanwhile, will represent the diversified tactics of the expanded playbook.
His speed and 5’7’’, 199-pound stature will enable him to flex out wide as a multi-dimensional back, or catch opposing defenses off guard with misdirection runs up the middle.
And when big defensive linemen over-pursue, Hunter says he’ll use his size to his advantage (via CSNBayArea.com):
“I feel like I have an advantage over big guys because I can get under them and stay low. Especially when they come between the linemen and they can’t see me."
Or just imagine these two in the backfield at the same time.
Even though Hunter possesses greater speed, both can operate as versatile backs and pass-catchers. They will be seriously lethal in Harbaugh’s expanded West Coast offense.
Outsider speculation or not, the extensive possibilities with these two are readily apparent.
Upgraded Personnel Brings It All Together
This article could easily focus on a larger perspective.
With all of the offseason acquisitions at running back, why not change the title to, “Why Kendall Hunter, Frank Gore, Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James Will Create a Scary Backfield Foursome for the 49ers.”
In all seriousness, this personnel grouping is a monumental upgrade over what sported the Red and Gold in 2011.
Jacobs will complement both Gore and Hunter by advancing the offense in short-yardage situations; tasks that Anthony Dixon failed miserably at last season.
James can spell Hunter when needed on third downs and offer his dynamic abilities in sub-packages.
This trio—along with tight end Vernon Davis—will keep defenses honest and expand the field for the 49ers' top two running backs.
One way or another, Gore and Hunter will profit immensely off this thoroughly stacked roster.
Now it’s time to see if these guys will put on more of a show come Saturday in Houston.
The inner fan in us sure hopes they do.
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