Nearly 10,000 rushing yards, 70 total touchdowns (60 rushing, ten receiving) and with eight seasons of his nine year career as a starter, Frank Gore has accumulated seven seasons of at least 1,000 rushing yards in route to becoming San Francisco’s all-time rushing leader…and arguably a future Hall of Famer.
Certainly a resume to be proud of, but where does it end?
Coming into his 10th year of pro ball, Gore will be 31 years old (that’s about 51 for NFL running backs). Although, this past season the workhorse tailback was fed the third most carries of his career. With that said, Gore’s 4.1 yards per carry, while still solid, was a career low.
Gore has been praised throughout his career as an excellent pass blocker and is still regarded as one of the best RB’s at picking up blitz’s, which in effect keeps Gore on the field in deep passing situations. Throw in San Francisco’s recent success as a team, reaching at least the NFC Championship game in three straight years, and that adds about two to three more games per season onto the legs of a running back that had two major surgeries in college.
The Niners have monitored their lead back’s touches over the last few years in order to prepare for the playoffs, yet we cannot forget this is a run first and run heavy offense and Gore’s participation is essential. However, Gore has kept his body in tremendous shape, as 49ers.com reported, there are videos of the SF rushing king sparring in a boxing ring with a trainer as if he had a title fight coming up this summer.
“It keeps me on my feet…you get less pounding and also, it’s great cardio.” Gore explained.
Not only will the 49ers incumbent running back be examined carefully throughout the year to see if his body holds up, but if he can hold off his much younger competition.
Kendall Hunter returns as the initial back-up to Gore once again, likely stronger than he was for most of last season due to his recovery of a torn Achilles two seasons ago.
Marcus Lattimore comes into this season eager to see the playing field as the second year pro missed all of his rookie year due to multiple leg injuries which concluded his college career, but possesses as much talent as any recent collegiate running back draftee the league has seen and evidently has a fire burning underneath him. The former South Carolina Gamecock reportedly told USA Today this offseason, "I'm trying to take [Gore's] job, but I know that's going to be the hardest thing in the world."
2nd round draft pick and potential steal of the 2014 draft, Carlos Hyde from The Ohio State University is a bulldozer of a back which led to him being named BIG TEN Running Back of the Year and a 3rd team All-American.
Finally there’s LaMichael James, the fleet footed speedster out of Oregon, who has big play abilities but hasn’t quite found his niche yet in the 49ers system…all four will be vying for some playing time which would indeed cut into the top dog’s workload.
Coach Harbaugh did suggest last season that his top RB may have a good three years left in the tank, yet number 21’s 11 carries for 14 yards in last year’s NFC title game may have suggested that Gore had less gas than they thought and should not have been ridden on so heavily that late in the season. Could that have simply been the result of a tough Seattle defense? Perhaps, those very same Seahawks essentially shut down a historically high octane offense in Denver during the Super Bowl as well. But it makes you start to think, the Niners last two seasons ended as they tried to force the passing game on their final set of downs.
Gore is in the final year of his contract and with San Francisco still geared up to be one of the favorites to contend for a ring, it will be curious to see if the 49ers all-time leading rusher will be able to ride off into the sunset like the great John Elway … or will the Niner faithful be sentenced to watch another franchise great suffer the same fate as Joe Montana and Jerry Rice and “tell it goodbye” to the city by the bay.
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