San Francisco 49ers: Why Frank Gore Will Come Up Big Again in 2012
In 2006, Frank Gore became the first San Francisco 49er running back ever to lead the NFC in rushing with 1,695 yards. He carried the ball 312 times (5.4 YPC) and led all 49er pass-catchers with 61 receptions as well.
Mind you, it was just the second season of Gore's young NFL career.
The point is, when the 49ers front office decided to kick the fumble-prone Kevan Barlow to the curb and eventually promote Gore to full-time RB duties, it was then that he became the complete focal point of the offense.
In fact, Gore was relied on so heavily in 2006, then-second-year quarterback Alex Smith was the second leading rusher on the team with 44 carries and 147 yards.
Outside of Vernon Davis in the passing game, the 49ers haven't had a single offensive skill player even half as dangerous as "Frank the Tank" was, and arguably still is.
Opposing teams have known that for some time now, but it hasn't done them much good.
In reality, injuries have been the only thing able to even slow Gore down throughout his seven-year career.
That, and the lack of a solid supporting cast.
As most of us know, Gore is the ultimate team player. Upon his emergence as one of the NFL's top running backs in 2006, it's basically been the Frank Gore show in San Francisco's backfield ever since.
But not because Gore craves the spotlight. Rather, because of a well-rounded skill set and fearless determination has made him an unavoidable pigskin magnet.
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Gore has demanded the ball more than any other 49er during his time in San Francisco. Not with his mouth, though, but with unmatched toughness and leadership instead.
And, of course, his vision and patience is up there with the best of them as well.
Also, before the emergence of Kendall Hunter in 2011, no one else was qualified to carry the rock in the 49er backfield. Not effectively, anyway.
Here's a list of all 49ers' backup running backs and their stats for every season Gore has been the starter in SF.
Now, Westbrook was a capable option in 2010. But he had only received four carries the first eight games of the season and racked up his yardage after Gore suffered a broken hip in Week 11 against the Cardinals. Westbrook gained 215 of his 349 yards in two games against that pitiful Cardinals' run D. Gore was averaging 10.4 yards on the five carries he received before the season-ending hip injury.
That devastating hip injury was just another mark on a long list of major ailments the 49ers all-time leading rusher has suffered throughout his collegiate and professional career. Ultimately, it ended a streak of four straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons for the 29-year-old.
But the human wrecking ball always seems to bounce back. He did so once more in 2011, piling up 1,211 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 282 carries during the team's first winning season in over eight years. He also served as a big part of the 49ers' playoff run, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.
But as Hunter enters his sophomore season and LaMichael James and Brandon Jacobs have entered the picture via the draft and free agency, respectively, the 49ers backfield suddenly isn't all about Frank Gore anymore.
In fact, some feel the added competition and variety of weapons could be signs that a decline is on the horizon for the aging star.
It's well-known that NFL running backs typically have a rather short shelf life, and the injury-prone Gore has seen his fair share of wear and tear.
Will Frank Gore eclipse the 1,000 yard mark again in 2012?
Still, though, he only turned 29 this May and is completely healthy—for now.
Up until now, Gore hasn't had any serious challengers when it comes to eating up carries in the 49er backfield.
But the Frank Gore that I know is not someone who backs down from a good challenge. Nor is he one who likes to come off the field—on any down.
Not to mention, the 49ers are finally playing as a team the way Gore has played his entire career: with reckless abandon, and only winning in mind.
With head coach Jim Harbaugh running the show in San Fran, the 49ers are now doing quite a bit of the latter.
Harbaugh is shaping up to be an absolute offensive mastermind. And in 2011, he only tapped into his play-calling potential at the NFL level.
He and offensive coordinator Greg Roman now have a plethora of weapons at their disposal, but you'd better believe Gore is among the best, if not the best of them all.
James is the explosive speedster, and should relieve some of the burden off Gore in the passing game. Jacobs, if he makes the squad, is an ideal candidate for short-yardage and goal-line duties.
Hunter and James will likely fight for work on passing downs and when Gore needs a breather, but the additions to the backfield aren't here to replace Gore—they're here to help him.
For years, Gore has been slamming his 5'9", 217-pound frame head first into an eight-man box and still squeaking through for one big gain after the other.
Now, if everything worked out as planned, Gore will be facing much less resistance at the line of scrimmage. This offensive line, especially the left side (led by Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley and the up-and-coming mauler of a left guard Mike Iupati), was built to punish opponents with their superb runb blocking skills.
And for once, defenses can't key on just Gore. They've got to worry about Moss, Manningham, Crabtree, Davis and the previously mentioned backup running backs—all in addition to Gore.
Trent Baalke and Co. came into the 2012 offseason with a clear intent to upgrade the 49er offense. They wanted to become faster, stronger and ultimately more effective.
It seems they've done just that.
Back when Norv Turner was the offensive coordinator for the 49ers during Gore's breakout season in 2006, No. 21 had all kinds of room on the gridiron to unleash his abilities.
Since Turner, who left San Francisco after the 2006 season, though, Harbaugh is the first coach of any kind to arrive in San Francisco who possessed even a shred of offensive ingenuity. And despite having limited options and a depleted WR corps in 2011, Harbaugh gave us a promising glimpse of that intelligent football mind of his.
Plus, that '06 squad was nowhere near as talented as this 49er offense looks to be.
Ask Gore, and he'll tell you he plans on being the same Frank Gore in 2012 that he's always been. And while his breakaway speed doesn't always resemble the Gore of '06, his vision and ability to burst through the hole do not seemed to have slowed a single iota.
You may not care to take my word, but it's probably best not to bet against his.
And it seems obvious that Gore has likely never been happier to be a member of the 49ers franchise.
In 2011, he was oh-so-close to a goal that's always seemed unattainable in San Francisco. And in 2012, he and the 49ers have arguably an even better chance of capturing that sixth Lombardi Trophy.
See, Gore has never been part of an offense that was this talented and diversified. And with Harbaugh, he's got a coach that can utilize it in a way that brings the best out of everyone wearing the Red and Gold.
That's a luxury I'm confident Gore has full intentions of capitalizing on.
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