Suddenly, Jewel Hampton’s chances to make the 49ers opening-day roster look a lot stronger.
Hampton, who spent all of 2013 on the Niners’ practice squad, was considered an afterthought going into this training camp, buried on a very deep list of running backs behind Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore, Carlos Hyde and LaMichael James.
But just days into camp, Hunter is out for the season and James may miss all of training camp and preseason.
Suddenly Hampton is in a position to get a much longer look and plenty of carries in exhibition games.
Hampton was an undrafted free agent out of Southern Illinois who signed with the 49ers in 2012.
Hampton had severe injury problems in college when he began at Iowa, suffering ACL tears to both his left and right knees in 2009 and 2010 before transferring to Southern Illinois. But he was healthy his senior year at that school, rushing for 1,121 yards, 17 TDs and a 4.9-yard average.
This past weekend, 49ers head coach expressed confidence in Hampton, saying he believes the running back will be able to produce now that it appears he’ll get a better chance to make the roster.
“Jewel Hampton has been patiently waiting,” Harbaugh told the media. “He’s been training and preparing. This is an opportunity without question for Jewel to be a contributor. And very excited for Jewel.”
Last year, Hampton said he has learned a lot just by watching Gore practice and play.
“The biggest thing I picked up was being patient,” Hampton told 49ers.com. “He’s a very patient runner and he always attacks. He always picks precision points where he’ll attack a player. He doesn’t take a lot of big hits on the outside. He preserves his body.”
In the 2013 preseason, Hampton got plenty of work, getting 37 carries and rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown. He also caught two passes for 17 yards.
But, according to some reports, his blocking needed to improve for him to earn playing time.
He’s now still behind Gore, Hyde and Lattimore (once the former South Carolina star is cleared to practice), but Hampton figures to get a long look and plenty of opportunities to prove he can be trusted if called upon.
For now, at least, Hampton and Hyde are expected to get most of the snaps in practice, with the team being very careful with Gore until the regular-season opener.
For Hampton, the future may be now.