San Francisco entered training camp loaded at running back; Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Marcus Lattimore and rookie Carlos Hyde, but after a string of injuries, another 49er running back could steal the preseason spotlight, and it’s not the newly acquired Alfonso Smith.
Jewel Hampton, an undrafted free agent who signed with San Francisco back in 2012, spent last season on the 49er practice squad.
Injuries to Hunter and James, and the continued recovery of Lattimore could force a huge spotlight onto Jewel Hampton, who could see a majority of the carries during the preseason.
And it’s not the first time a 49er running back has stolen the preseason spotlight.
Thomas Clayton, a sixth round pick of the 49ers back in 2006, led the NFL in rushing two straight preseasons (2007 and 2008).
Hampton faces a difficult journey to make the 49ers 53-man roster. Injuries or not, the depth chart at running back is deep, and with Gore, James and Hyde expected to be active come Week 1, the 49ers may not want to carry a fourth or even a fifth running back.
In the meantime, the preseason is Jewel Hampton’s time to shine.
Last year, Hampton finished with 113 yards rushing on 37 carries and a touchdown. In the third game, Hampton carried the ball 19 times, which is unheard of in preseason.
This year may be no different as Hampton should get a bulk of the carries.
Although preseason stats might not seem like a big deal, it is often a time for unknown players to make a huge impact. Who can forget that one preseason game back in 2010 when an undrafted wide receiver from the New York Giants torched the New York Jets secondary to the tune of 145-yards and three touchdowns.
One year later, he was salsa dancing in the Super Bowl.
Jewel Hampton may not salsa dance, but he’s hoping for the same opportunity that Victor Cruz got, to take the preseason spotlight and transition it to regular season success.