Niners running back Kendall Hunter averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2012 before he was injured. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Niners running back Kendall Hunter made his exhibition debut Sunday night, carrying the ball three times.
It was the first time he’d appeared in a game since last November when he suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon in a game against the Saints.
How did he look? Just like the No. 32 who was averaging 5.2 yards per carry in 2012 before his injury.
On his first carry against the Vikings Sunday night, Hunter showed his familiar burst on a 15-yard pickup.
“A lot of the fellas have been talking about how he seems faster,” 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I can’t say I disagree with that.”
Hunter wasn’t cleared to practice until Aug. 10, so he missed the 49ers’ first two exhibition games. But before playing against the Vikings, he was eager to show he’s all the way back. The Niners, in fact, have penciled in Hunter as the No. 2 back behind starter Frank Gore.
“I feel like I’m getting back to myself,” Hunter told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group last week. “Whatever coaches call or want, I’m there and ready for it.”
Since being OK’d to resume practice with his teammates, Hunter has looked sharp, said Harbaugh.
“When you dive back into the action, your instincts, your senses come back,” Harbaugh told Taylor Price of 49ers.com. “He appears to have that.”
The return of Hunter gives the 49ers a deep backfield again with LaMichael James – who picked up the slack for Hunter last season after he was lost – and veteran short-yardage back Anthony Dixon.
Hunter worked diligently this offseason to come back and be ready for opening day, as has wide receiver Kyle Williams, whose season also ended in the same Saints game last November.
With one more exhibition game to work out the kinks – the 49ers play the Chargers in San Diego Thursday night – Hunter should be primed for the season opener vs. Green Bay on Sept. 8.
“Just to come back and show that I’m back and ready to play, and whenever they need me they can count on me,” Hunter told reporters Sunday night, when asked about his preseason debut performance. “So I’m ready to prove that.”