Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
In 2012, Frank Gore is expected to lead perhaps the deepest group of running backs currently assembled in the NFL.
Gore, a perennial Pro Bowler and top NFL back, is now joined by high-profile runners Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James, with Kendall Hunter returning. The 49ers have been an effective ground-and-pound team, even through their porous years.
Much of the team's success on the ground can be attributed to running backs coach Tom Rathman. The former 49er ball-carrier has been a pillar for the running back unit, maintaining consistency even through personnel change. He has even taken on projects like Bruce Miller and produced results.
This season, Rathman has a bunch of toys at his disposal. Each 49ers back is a physical freak in their own right, and being in the right system with a competent staff, they should all see a certain level of production.
In the 49ers first preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings, Gore sat out, allowing the newer backs to get reps. Hunter started the game at tailback, with Jacobs behind him on the depth chart that day.
Against Minnesota, the 49ers ground game looked unstoppable, bringing an array of elements—particularly size and speed—that kept defenses on their toes.
Including Kaepernick's TD break, the 49ers accumulated 198 first-half rushing yards against the Vikings. Of the running backs, Jacobs' performance was particularly encouraging, as he carried the ball four times achieving four first downs with a long run of 23 yards.
San Francisco proved its depth even further when newly-acquired special teams ace Rock Cartwright had eight carries for 44 yards. The 49ers had good blocking up front, and the backs were hitting holes with authority, leading to a productive overall day on the ground.
The 49ers rushing attack could be one of the more effective units in 2012.
Position Grade: A