With the end of the preseason came news that Kendall Hunter was going to be the go-to guy behind Frank Gore at running back, beating out second-year player and 2010 6th-round draft choice Anthony Dixon for the honor. It's likely that both will see carries this season, as Hunter provides more of a "change of pace" than Dixon, who may be the guy who gets the carries when Gore is either tired or hurt. It's kind of a weird situation, as Hunter is still technically the backup.
That being said, one of them looked clearly better than the other, and that one was Hunter. During the preseason, he looked better than Dixon each time out, getting more yards and more yards-per-carry, and in fact looking like the best rookie running back of his class. So we've established that Hunter has value and should get some carries, but what is realistic at this point?
It's really up-in-the-air, considering the question marks surrounding Gore coming off his season-ending injury in 2010. Gore looked good in the preseason, but nobody will really know how he's going to look until he gets out there. If Gore is on point, then he'll probably be hungry for carries early and often. Short of Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman wanting to further evaluate Hunter sooner rather than later, it's likely that the rookie will sit while Gore take's the lion's share for himself. It probably won't be until later in the season for Gore's carries to slow down, so that's likely when the backups will get going.
Then again, Harbaugh and the 49ers organization have just invested another three years into Gore and his future with the team needs to be as close to guaranteed as possible. This might mean a decreased workload in comparison to past seasons, where he was the offense in every conceivable way. The default play was to run Gore down the middle and that was that. Maybe the team has a different plan this time around, which would mean some carries for Hunter early.
We've got a Sicilian vs. Man in Black Battle-of-Wits conundrum going on right now ... are we finished? Not remotely, we're only just getting started! (Perhaps not, actually going to wrap this up shortly.)
One piece of evidence will tell us that Gore is likely to take every carry greedily, while the next will tell us that Hunter and Dixon might just see the field sooner rather than later. Another possibility is that it's wholly dependent on how things go ... a play-it-by-ear situation, if you will. If Gore comes out looking like he has against Seattle in the past, he'll certainly get every opportunity to keep doing it.
But if not? Maybe Hunter can change things up and get some valuable yardage against the NFC West rivals. Or maybe it's just best to wait-and-see what happens, it will definitely be something to watch come Sunday, though.