49ers Rushing Attack: Of Beasts, and Bulldozers
A couple years ago the New York Giants shocked the New England Patriots with a 17-14 victory in Super Bowl XLII. The game was a spectacle of the American dream. The Patriots had bullied the entire league to reach 18 wins in a row, while the Giants came in as probably the biggest underdog in Super Bowl History.
The Giants would become the first NFC Wild Card team to win the Super Bowl behind a tough defense, an excellently laid out and well-executed game plan, a crafty young quarterback, a lazy (but super talented) receiver, and one out-of-this-world circus catch by an unknown.
They also brought with them a ball-control oriented running game that featured three very different running backs with three very different running styles nicknamed "Earth, Wind and Fire."
Fast forward to the 2010 draft. In the wake of the 49ers selecting bruising running back Anthony Dixon, San Jose Mercury News writer Daniel Brown referenced this rushing attack as he joked that San Francisco's new ground game should be called "Earth, Earth and Earth."
It's actually quite fitting.
Frank leads the squad as the talented and accomplished veteran. There are no questions regarding the starting running back spot; it's Gore's.
At 5'9" 217lbs, Frank is the compact runner, but don't let that fool you into thinking he plays compact. His running style can best be likened to Emmit Smiths; he runs hard, blocks hard and is hard to tackle. His north-south abilities are among the best in the league.
Frank has the 49ers' rushing record coming out his ears already, but the most impressive numbers reflect his contributions to the team. San Francisco is 18-2 when Gore has 20-or-more carries in a game; they are 15-5 when he rushes for 100 or more yards in a game.
When there's a heavy load to carry, it falls on Frank's shoulders. When the ball has a date with the end zone, call the Gore taxi. It'll get you there in a hurry.
Only injuries can threaten Gore's Sunday status, and tough as he is, it's never very likely that he'll sit. There is, however, a need and desire not to overload him late in games when leading.
Coffee had a modest season as a rookie. He looked good in the 2009 pre-season, and boasted that he had an expectation of harder hitting in the NFL. He finished the pre-season with 249 yards on 42 rushing attempts.
When Coffee got a surprise week three start at Minnesota (not a start, actually, as Gore left the game after one play) he showcased whet he could do. Coffee logged 54 yards in 25 attempts against a tough Viking defense. It wasn't impressive.
The next week Coffee delivered 74 yards in 24 carries against a weak Rams defense at home. Though it was a mild improvement, it was hardly cause for celebration.
In the week-five debacle against Atlanta, Coffee put up 45 yards in 12 carries, and recorded his first and only rushing touchdown of the season.
This year, it's said that Coffee looks faster and more understanding of the o-line's blocking schemes. It's good to hear he is improving, as he will need to work hard this summer in order to keep his position on the depth chart.
At 6'1" 210lbs, he's not what you want in an upright running back in the NFL. Glen has to adjust his style to make it work in the big leagues.
Drafted in the sixth round, Dixon is big and could play even bigger in the long run. At 6'1" 233lbs, he's a deceptively slippery bruiser with an extra gear. Playing against tough SEC opponents behind a mediocre Mississippi State O-line, he managed to damage opposing defenses , regardless.
The big fella could be the real heir apparent to Frank Gore. It will be interesting to see how his skills translate to the NFL on the 49ers beefed up O-line; and it will be real exciting if he can deliver a punch on offense as one might expect.
Robinson provided the 49ers with a fairly consistent threat on offense and special teams. Selected in the 4th round of the 2006 NFL Draft, Robinson saw time at running back, fullback and kick returner in 2009. As San Francisco's special teams captain, he was named as an alternate to the Pro Bowl for special teams in each of the past two seasons. He finished the 2009 season tied for third on the team with 20 special teams tackles, while having totaled 79 special teams tackles through his first four seasons.
His offensive contributions, however, have been minimal. He remains a versatile threat having played quarterback in college, and the 49ers used him at quarterback for a Wild-Cat play about once every other game. The result is typically a small gain.
As the tribal elder in the backfield, Norris leads the way literally and figuratively. The fullback is often forgotten by the casual fan, but running backs and quarterbacks know his true worth.
In nine NFL seasons, Norris has carried the ball 25 times for 67 yards and a touchdown. He's caught 34 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns as well. His real talent is in lead blocking though. This dirt mover puts the smash in smash-mouth.
It would be nice to see Norris get a carry or two in short-yardage situations when the other team's whole defense is looking at Gore. It could be a solid shock to them if the first back they see (and usually want to avoid) runs strait up the gut with the football.
The hard nosed fullback didn't get a warm welcome into the NFL. Miller, a 6'0" 240lb linebacker in college, wasn't invited to the NFL combine, and he wasn't drafted. Initially signed by the Carolina Panthers, he was promptly released before the 49ers picked him up.
They would have him transition to fullback.
Miller capitalized on his playing time by catching two passes—both for touchdowns—in a pre-season match up against the Broncos. Although Miller did not make the final cut for the 49ers 53 man roster, he worked his tail off on the practice squad and was promoted to the team for the last five weeks of the season when safety Curtis Taylor went on the injured reserve list.
Brit continues to make contributions on special teams while steadily improving at fullback under the guidance of Norris and Tom Rathman.
Fighting for a place in the NFL is nothing new for Caulcrick, who has bounced on and off the Jets practice squad. After a brief stint in Tampa, Jehuu is a 49er now. Welcome to the Bay Jehuu!
Adam Biggers provides more insight to the fullback in articles such as "Catching up with San Francisco 49er Jehuu Caulcrick" on a consistent basis.
Of course no power running attack could exist without the heavy movers. The stampede attended two more bulls to the pen this off-season when the 49ers grabbed Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati (both run and pass blockers in college) in the first round. Eric Heitmann and Joe Staley continue to anchor the unit, while returning pros Davis Baas, Adam Snyder, Barry Sims, Cody Wallace, Tony Wragge, and Chilo Rachal will push for starting time. Alex Boone and Chris Patrick will also contend ferociously for roster spots.
They might be the best run-blocking line San Francisco has had since Larry Allen showed up a few years back, or even since Kevin Gogan joined the club in the late 90's.
The unit I liken to Voltron is certain to have increased levels of talent—and depth—this year, which could (dare I say should?) translate to a big, big year from the 49ers running game.
Vernon Davis has been, and will continue to be, a premier blocking tight end in the league. His success as a pass-catcher will not change this, rather it gives opposing defenses one more thing over which to get heartburn. Delanie Walker may be more of a receiving sort, but he will lay the pads on any given blocking scheme.
New blood joins the unit with 268 pound, sixth-round pick Nate Byham. This kid could be a menace. On run blocking, Nate said "That’s what I pride myself on. I like to bloody noses. I don’t shy away from contact. I’m going into the hole and I’m trying to hit somebody. I think that’s what makes me unique. There’s not too many tight ends these days that want to go in there and try to hurt somebody. I’m trying to inflict pain when I’m in there as a tight end. I’m not trying to get in someone’s way. I’m excited to be a part of the hard-nose offense.”
The power rushing attack from yesteryear should only be getting more powerful with the addition of young talent. As the veterans groom their eventual heirs to conquor their foes, there should be an excellent level of motivation, and camaraderie—hard work, and teamwork.
The tight end unit could be one of the best in the league, at all facets of the job, and should give defensive coordinators ulcers all over the NFC West.
Behind a tried and true Pro-Bowl running back in Gore, his tough young backups in Coffee and Dixon, road paving fullbacks, and the living wall on the line, the offense has the tools it will need to succeed on the ground.
This offense, contrived of beasts and bulldozers, is going to be a pain to stop—literally.
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