Calling 49ers running back Frank Gore a workhorse is understatement. Ever since he became the 49ers No. 1 option at running back in 2006 he has averaged 207 carries, 1,174 rushing yards and five touchdowns in each of the past six seasons. Gore is still the unquestioned leader on the 49ers but for the first time in his career he finds himself in a crowded backfield with Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs, LaMichael James and Anthony Dixon.
This is a good thing for Gore who for the first time has viable backups behind him. Not just one backup, like Hunter, who had 112 carries for 473 yards and two TD’s last season, but also in Jacobs, James and even Dixon. Gore may have reserves to rest him but that does not mean he will want to come out of the game.
Gore will still be the No. 1 option for the 49ers and will rush for over 1,000 yards in 2012, however, the days of him solely taking on the load of running the football are over. Expect Gore’s carries to be closer to 200 than the 282 he had last season. Hunter and Jacobs will be the main backups to Gore. Expect Hunter to take over and give Gore rest on anything longer than three or more yards for a first-down. Jacobs should take over in short yardage situations for first-downs and on the goal line. The 49ers have always lacked a big, power running back like Jacobs, but his 6-foot-4, 264-pound frame finally fills that hole. Dixon was in the role the last two seasons but did not have much success. Enter Jacobs. Dixon might be the odd man out of the five RB’s currently on the roster. Dixon will really need to have a great training camp to force the 49ers to keep him on the team with all of the other running backs.
Rookie RB LaMichael James will be the 49ers version of Saints running back Darren Sproles. James will not only lineup in the backfield but will also be sent out as a wide receiver to give the 49ers extra speed on passing plays. Don’t be surprised if James finishes as the rookie leader in all-purpose yards on offense in 2012.
Another first for Gore this offseason is his participation in the 49ers voluntary workouts. In the past Gore has worked out in the offseason in Miami where he lives, trains and starred in college for the Hurricanes. One might think he is only showing up to a size up his completion but that’s not how Gore works. With Gore at 29-years old, in football that’s approaching old age for a RB, he knows running and working out with his teammates helps his body better prepare for the upcoming season. In addition, Gore realizes that with three of the four options at running back only having three seasons of combined experience, his leadership and knowledge is need now more than ever. Combine Gore’s and Jacobs’ experience and you have some solid teachers for Hunter, Dixon and James. Despite more options for the 49ers offense at running back don’t expect Gore to slow down. Gore will be the same old every-down back he has always been, it’s just now the 49ers offense can continue chugging along while he sits out a play or two.
It’s real different, but change is good for everybody at times. We’ve got a great thing going out here. We know what type of team we’ve got and hopefully we get back to that. Frank Gore