49ers’ Hunter can’t afford to rest

Kendall Hunter’s phone wasn’t blowing up with messages the night

the rookie running back scored the 49ers’ first touchdown of the

preseason on a dazzling play in the third quarter.

Outside of a brief chat with his mother shortly after the game,

Hunter didn’t receive many congratulatory calls or text messages at

all.

”And she didn’t see the game, she just saw the stats,” Hunter

said before practice Tuesday. ”I didn’t talk to too many other

people.”

That’s exactly how the 49ers’ fourth-round pick prefers it.

With more than two weeks left before the start of the regular

season, the last thing the soft-spoken Hunter wants to do is get

comfortable. Pats on the back can wait until Sept. 3 when final

roster cuts are made.

Until then the smallest player on San Francisco’s roster won’t

relax – even if many people are already penciling him as a key

member of the 49ers backfield.

”He’s definitely a guy who brings his lunch bucket to work,”

fellow running back Anthony Dixon said. ”It’s a long season and if

we’ve got a guy like Kendall who can help us, take some of the

practice reps off us and help us in games, that’s big because we’re

going to need him. I just hope the coaches put it all in

play.”

Listed at 5-foot-7 and 199 pounds, Hunter is third on San

Francisco’s depth chart behind oft-injured Frank Gore and Dixon.

But the two-time All-American proved against the Raiders he’s

capable of handling just about anything the coaching staff throws

his way.

He rushed for 105 yards on nine carries and scored on a 53-yard

touchdown run early in the third quarter against Oakland’s

second-team defense.

Hunter took the handoff from quarterback Colin Kaepernick, broke

through the right side of the line without being touched and then

sped past a tackle attempt by safety Jerome Boyd. He raced the rest

of the way into the end zone.

It was the 49ers’ first touchdown of the season after being held

to three points against New Orleans then getting only a field goal

in the first half against Oakland.

”As a player I was taught that if you’re going to do something,

do it the hardest you can or don’t do it at all,” Hunter said. ”I

mean, that was good but I just want to be out there to help the

team any way I can. Whatever they need me to do, I’m going to do.

Anything.”

That includes sacrificing his body to save the 49ers

quarterbacks.

Hunter, who has been playing with a metal plate in his right

ankle since his junior year of high school, worked on his pass

protection throughout training camp. But it didn’t come to fruition

until the second half Saturday when he upended a blitzing Oakland

linebacker, allowing Kaepernick a few extra seconds to work.

So while he may be dwarfed by his teammates in the running backs

meeting room, Hunter finally measured up.

”He’s done considerably well,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said

after his team’s 17-3 win. ”(Running backs coach Tom Rathman) has

him working on that quite a bit in practice and he’s really done a

good job.”

It hasn’t been a completely smooth transition from college to

the NFL. Hunter played in a spread offense at Oklahoma State and

had a pair of 1,500-yard seasons there but has been trying to learn

the nuances of the West Coast offense Harbaugh is employing in San

Francisco.

That’s meant more running between the tackles and sweeps,

something he didn’t do a lot of in college. But like Hunter’s run

against the Raiders, he’s approached it at full speed.

”He struggles a little bit but you can tell that he’s got the

fight in him,” Dixon said. ”When I saw him do what he did

Saturday I wasn’t surprised. I saw what he did in college a couple

times so no, I wasn’t surprised. Kendall’s here early every day and

he puts in the work.”

Notes: Harbaugh declined to say when he’ll name a starting

quarterback for the regular season. ”I just don’t have any

pressure on myself, as I look at it, to name a starting quarterback

in a timetable manner,” Harbaugh said. … The 49ers still aren’t

sure if injured wide receiver Michael Crabtree (foot) will be

healthy enough to play in the opener. Crabtree remains on the

team’s physically unable to perform list but is no longer wearing a

protective boot.