All week long, Kendall Hunter peppered fellow San Francisco running back Anthony Dixon about how he looked in practice — how fast did he look?
No more questions necessary after the burst Hunter showed Sunday night, a darting 15-yard gain during the 49ers' third series of the first quarter that resulted in a 5-yard touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick to Quinton Patton on the way to a 34-14 preseason win against Minnesota.
“He's looking quick. He was showing that burst up in the hole during the week and he was coming back to me, 'How I look, how I look, do I look fast?'” Dixon said.
“I said, 'Yeah, bro, you got it, baby, you're good, I can't wait to see you go.' We all rally around each other and play (for) each other. That was what he was asking me all week. I saw it and I was expecting him to have a good game.”
Indeed, Hunter is looking plenty swift — not to mention fresh — after working tirelessly to return following surgery on a torn left Achilles tendon that ended his season in late November last year.
Does Hunter feel quicker on his feet after spending more than half a year rehabilitating and waiting?
“We'll just see,” he said with a smile. “A lot of guys came to me saying, 'You look faster.' I think they haven't seen me in a while.”
It was hard enough not to be on the field with the NFC champions, and even more difficult to miss playing in the Super Bowl.
Only cleared for full practice activity on Aug. 10, Hunter had three carries for 13 yards in his first preseason appearance against the Vikings — yet just being part of 13 snaps at Candlestick Park meant more than the results for Frank Gore's likely backup.
“It felt good just to be back out there,” Hunter said. “I feel real good, just to be back out there and able to play again. Everything's starting to come back. I've got to give it up to the offensive linemen. They made a hole for me and let me get that 15.”
Hunter, a fourth-round draft pick in 2011 out of Oklahoma State who turns 25 next month, had 72 carries for 371 yards and two touchdowns last season in an increased role as the team's second-leading rusher behind Gore.
Then, all of the momentum he had gained was halted when he got hurt at New Orleans on Nov. 25.
In spite of the injury and missing the final five regular-season games, he still wound up ranked third on the team in yards rushing and sixth in the NFL with a 5.2-yards-per-carry average before going on season-ending injured reserve.
The 5-foot-7, 199-pound Hunter tried to remain upbeat, and having a jokester such as Dixon around certainly didn't hurt.
Dixon had no doubts Hunter would return to his top form — and, now, they both want to keep a good thing going right into the Sept. 8 season opener at home against Green Bay. It will be a rematch of the NFC division playoffs last January at Candlestick Park.
Dixon rooted for a big run by Hunter in his preseason debut.
“We were talking about it before it happened,” Dixon said. “I said, 'The only thing you've got to do is just get that first lick and you're going to be good.' I guess once he got it, he was good.”
Coach Jim Harbaugh noted how Hunter's teammates are talking up his speed and how he might be faster than before he got hurt.
“He looked like it, yeah,” Harbaugh said. “He's looked like it in practice as well. A lot of the fellas have been talking about how he seems faster. So, I can't say that I disagree with that.”
Notes: Quarterback Scott Tolzien was among five players waived Monday, a day after Harbaugh announced Colt McCoy had earned the job as Kaepernick's backup. With Tolzien out of the mix, newly signed veteran Seneca Wallace and rookie B.J. Daniels are left competing to be the third QB. … The other departed players are RB D.J. Harper, LB Joe Holland, G Al Netter and P Colton Schmidt. The moves left San Francisco's roster at 85 players, with 10 more cuts to make by Tuesday afternoon's deadline.