WIlliams tore his ACL on same play Hunter was hurt
The injury news got worse for the 49ers on Tuesday when word came out that running back Kendall Hunter will be lost for the remainder of the year with a torn Achilles' tendon. Hunter joins wide receiver/kick returner Kyle Williams on the injured reseve list, ending the promising seasons of both players after they were hurt on the same play late in the third quarter of Sunday's win at New Orleans.
The loss of the young play-making duo is a blow to San Francisco's arsenal of talent and firepower on offense. Both had become valuable role players for the 49ers, working their way into regular action this season in San Francisco's offensive game plans.
Williams, who in his third season with the 49ers had developed into a regular contributor in his duties as both a receiver and return specialist, says he will miss the rest of the season with a torn ligament in his left knee.
Williams posted on his Twitter account that he has a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the knee. Surgery would be the likely next step.
''Regret to inform y'all I will be out for the season with a torn ACL,'' Williams tweeted. ''Not how I saw things playing out. This is just another obstacle I will have to climb to get back. Looking forward to the challenge!! Love all true fans your prayers are much appreciated.''
The loss of Hunter may be an even bigger blow. The team's fourth-round draft pick in 2011, Hunter won the job as Frank Gore's backup last year as a rookie and has excelled in that role this season, giving the Niners a dynamic change-of-pace back while also keeping Gore fresh.
Hunter rushed for 371 yards on 72 carries, averaging 5.2 yards a pop, before he was injured while gaining two yards on a first-down run on the second-to-last play of the third quarter against the Saints.
''That was a major hit,'' running back Anthony Dixon said Tuesday. ''Kyle and Kendall are both go-to guys in our offense. They made a lot of plays for us this year, and to see them go down on one play - man, that's crazy. We pride ourselves on being a stacked team, on being deep, and we've just got to show up this week.''
Now, Dixon likely will take on a larger role backing up Gore and rookie second-round draft pick LaMichael James is expected to be active, along with top draft pick wide receiver A.J. Jenkins.
Hunter's steady performance helped lighten the load on Gore, who is having another banner season despite averaging just 16 carries a game. The three-time Pro Bowler is fifth in the NFC with 914 yards rushing, averaging 5.2 yards a carry, and he is one of just three running backs in the NFL with 200 yards or more rushing who is averaging more than five yards a carry.
Now, James will probably get his first true look on the field. The rookie out of Oregon rushed out of the locker room to a meeting before addressing reporters Tuesday.
''I expect dynamic plays, man,'' Dixon said. ''I watch him every day on the practice field, and he's making plays, going up to get the ball. They have him doing Percy Harvin stuff when we're playing teams like that, and he really is a great talent. I feel like he's going to come in and make plays. I know he's hungry.''
Gore also is expecting Dixon to help fill the void left by Hunter, who beat out Dixon for the backup role behind Gore last season.
"At the running back position, we've got depth," Gore said. "I respect Tony's (Dixon) game a lot. He makes big plays. I know coach (Tom) Rathman, whoever he's got next on the depth chart, they'll get him ready to play.''
Coach Jim Harbaugh said it appeared Williams was hurt before any contact was made when his foot stuck in the ground during the 31-21 victory over the Saints, a battle Harbaugh said "was a hard-hitting game. It took a toll."
Both Williams and Hunter were helped off the field and were soon after taken by cart to the locker room.
The 24-year-old Williams – a third-year pro who had two costly fumbles in a 20-17 loss to the Giants in last season's NFC championship game – had 14 catches for 212 yards and a touchdown this year, including a season-long 57-yard reception in a victory over the Chicago Bears on Nov. 19.
Williams also had become San Francisco’s top return man on kickoffs this season, returning 13 for 353 yards, a 27.2 average, including a 94-yarder. Williams also averaged 13.0 yards on four punt returns this year.
With the injuries, Harbaugh is likely to call upon rookie receiver A.J. Jenkins and rookie running back LaMichael James this week against the Rams in St. Louis. Jenkins, the team’s first-round draft pick, has dressed for only one game this season. James, San Francisco’s second-round pick, has been inactive for every game.
''There's a good chance there'll be some new active guys on Sunday,'' Harbaugh said. ''Yeah, I send that message to some of our young guys, some of our inactive guys that the opportunity is coming. You say that every week to them, `Be prepared, be prepared.' You'd rather be prepared for your opportunity and have it not come than have your opportunity come and not be prepared. To both those youngsters' credit, and others who have been working extremely hard for their opportunity, we feel good and excited that a couple of those youngsters will get that opportunity.''
With Hunter and Williams going on IR, the 49ers made several transactions in the wake of Tuesday's developments.
Running back Jewel Hampton was activated to the active roster from the non-football injury list. The team also released Eddie Whitley from the practice squad and signed former Eagles returner/receiver Chad Hall to the practice squad.
The 49ers' active roster now stands at 52, leaving the team with one open spot with which it can add a player at any time.