49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

May 17, 2011
RB Westbrook being replaced by Westbrook 2.0?

When Greg Cosell, a senior producer for NFL Films, was going over tape of Oklahoma State running back Kendall Hunter in the run up to the draft, he wrote the following note: "looks like Brian Westbrook." Weeks later, Hunter landed with the 49ers in the fourth round. His immediate role - filling in for Westbrook, an unrestricted free agent who played well when he finally got his chance in 2010 but who was unhappy for most of the season and is unlikely to be back.


There are similarities in size and style. Westbrook was listed as 5-8, 200 pounds coming out of Villanova in 2002. (He somehow grew two inches in the NFL). Hunter weighed in at 5-7 2/8 inches and 199 pounds at the Senior Bowl. Hunter mostly ran out of the shotgun at Oklahoma State. Westbrook mostly ran out of the shotgun with the Eagles.


Westbrook was on the down slope of his career last season in San Francisco and therefore was viewed as only a complimentary runner. That will be Hunter's initial role with the 49ers. The question is whether he's a type of runner who can take on a more meaningful role in coming years. General manager Trent Baalke seems to think so, calling Hunter a "four-down player."

"This is a guy we feel can run the power game, can run between the tackles, can get out on the edges, can pass protect, can come out of the backfield and catch the football, can return kicks (and) can play on coverage teams, if we ask him to," Baalke said.

Cosell agreed that despite Hunter's small stature, he ran like a bigger man. "I thought he was a very powerful guy for 199 pounds," he said. "He had a very physical running style. He had suddenness in the way he moves, the ability to stop and start and change direction." Cosell said he wouldn't have blinked if Hunter had been taken in the third round.

Westbrook differs from Hunter in that he was already a prolific pass catcher coming out of college and was superb in that role in the NFL. Hunter, meanwhile, averaged fewer than two receptions a game with the Cowboys. That, however, had more to do with Oklahoma State's offense than Hunter's ability. And he showed at the Senior Bowl that his 5-7 frame wouldn't be a liability in pass protection.

"He just played physically in everything he did," Cosell said.

Cosell weighed in on quarterback Alex Smith today via his Twitter account. Here's the thread:

• A lot of questions re: Alex Smith. Arm strength limitations made worse by lifting back foot off ground before delivering. Fundamental flaw.
• More Alex Smith: Struggles to drive the ball downfield. Needs functional space in pocket to have any chance. Otherwise limited as passer.
• More Alex Smith: Big concern based on track record is efficiency drops dramatically with bodies around him. Tough to play consistently.
• When QB has arm strength limitations he must compensate by being very good in many other areas: Speed of decision making, timing, accuracy.

There may be no football right now, but there is bowling. The 49ers are hosting an event later this month at Sea Bowl in Pacifica that benefits at-risk youngsters in the area. Former 49ers Dwight Clark, Jesse Sapolu, Keena Turner, Steve Bono, Guy McIntyre and Dennis Brown will be on hand, as will PBA bowler Tony Reyes.

The event will raise money for Bayview Hunters Point YMCA, Simon Youth Foundation and the San Francisco 49ers Foundation. It will be held May 26 beginning at 4:30 p.m. Click here for more information.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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