Frank Gore has finally got some company, and it’s more than welcome.
Since 2005, the San Francisco 49ers’ workhorse running back has carried the team’s rushing load alone. Sure, there have been a few sidekicks during Gore’s seven years in the backfield, but players like Michael Robinson, Brian Westbrook and Terry Jackson didn’t exactly ease Gore’s burden.
Now, for the first time in Gore’s career, he’s got some help. In Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs, Anthony Dixon and LaMichael James, the 49ers have assembled the league’s most dynamic backfield collection to complement Gore.
Make no mistake—Gore is still first on the depth chart. But each of the other members of the 49ers’ running back fraternity is going to contribute to the team in a big way.
In 2011, Kendall Hunter established himself as a shifty change-of-pace back, and may have been the most effective backup the 49ers have had during Gore’s tenure. Hunter may not improve on his total of 397 rushing yards from last season, due largely to the other new additions to the position, but if he can maintain his average of 4.1 yards per carry, he’ll serve well as Gore’s primary understudy.
Brandon Jacobs may be on the downside of his career arc, but his hulking size and sledgehammer style gives the 49ers a whole new dimension on the goal line. And because ineffective goal-line playcalling may have cost San Francisco a Super Bowl berth last season, Jacobs’ particular set of skills helps address a crucial need.
The most dynamic addition to the running back corps may be rookie second-rounder, LaMichael James. The former Oregon Duck finished his career as the Pac-12’s No. 2 all-time rusher, amassing 5,082 yards in just three seasons.
James also led the nation in rushing in 2010 as a sophomore, with 1,682 yards.
At only 5’8” and 195 pounds, James is the anti-Dixon in both size and style. He’ll thrive in the open field and as an outlet receiver and should see his fair share of screen passes. In short, he’ll do his best Darren Sproles impression for the 49ers.
Last, and probably least, is Anthony Dixon. Dixon essentially does what Jacobs does, only not as well. He’ll likely contribute most on special teams, where he was effective last season. If Jacobs turns out to be washed up, or suffers an injury, Dixon’s role could expand.
There’s no question the 49ers have an unprecedented load of complementary talent in the offensive backfield. And they’ll need it to meet the high expectations the team faces this year. Those expectations will be an awfully heavy load to carry.
For the first time in a while, Frank Gore won’t have to carry the load alone.