49ers Blog and Q&A

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

September 1, 2011
No surprise: Preseason rushing leader is a 49er

The NFL's preseason rushing leader through three games? It's Kendall Hunter, and if you follow preseason stats - and who doesn't? - that should come as no surprise. A backup 49ers running back has led the league in rushing in three of the last four exhibition seasons. To wit:

2010: 1st - Anthony Dixon, 300 yards
2009: 1st - Glen Coffee, 249 yards, Benjarvis Green-Ellis, 249 yards
2008: 3rd - Thomas Clayton, 186 yards
2007: 1st - Thomas Clayton, 200 yards


As it stands now, Hunter, the 49ers' fourth-round draft pick, has 174 rushing yards, one more than Redskins rookie Roy Helu, who worked out for the 49ers before the draft.

The explanation for the preseason success for 49ers backup runners is easy. They have been a run-heavy team that has kept its top rusher, Frank Gore, on ice the last few preseasons. Also, they typically have had their best games against the Raiders, a team they've played every preseason and one that struggles to stop the run.

The question that 49ers fans, and indeed fantasy football devotees, have is whether Hunter will end up being Gore's primary backup this season. So far, that role has gone to Dixon, who hasn't been able to duplicate his 2010 preseason success.

It's a bit counter intuitive given their relative sizes, but Hunter has been the better north-south tailback while Dixon has been too indecisive and too apt to break runs to the outside. I asked Jim Harbaugh on Sunday whether Hunter had moved ahead of Dixon on the depth chart. He said that battle is ongoing. Hunter also said he hadn't heard when he will get into today's preseason finale.

Counting the snaps between Dixon and Hunter will be interesting. Last week, each got eight. Hunter ran for 40 yards; Dixon picked up 15.

-- 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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