Finally, Gore has some company in 49ers backfield


The 49ers strongly encouraged running back Frank Gore to take part in the team's offseason program when they signed him to a three-year extension last summer.The enticement came in the form of an annual 400,000 workout bonus. Typically, Gore has remained in his hometown of Miami to train. There is no arguing with the results. After all, the only time during his six seasons as the featured back that he did not achieve 1,000-plus yards rushing was in 2010 when he sustained a fractured hip and missed the final five games.Gore bounced back last season with the second-best rushing total (1,211 yards) of his career.With nearly 1,700 career rushing attempts and another 300 catches, Gore is at the point where most running backs begin to slow down. Gore does not see that happening quite so soon, though."As long as I'm healthy and in great shape and ready to play, I'm going to be the Frank Gore I've always been," he said.Although the 49ers have the most depth at running back that they've had at any point during Gore's career, there was no indication throughout the offseason program that anybody is ready to take his job.Gore appears to have lost a step of explosion -- hey, that's only to be expected -- but he is still clearly the team's best option and most well-rounded running back.Obviously, with no contact allowed during the offseason program, it's difficult to fully evaluate the running backs on the 90-man roster. Roster spots will be won and lost in training camp . . . Perhaps, 265-pound Brandon Jacobs is the best-suited to fill in as the first- and second-down back ifwhen Gore needs a breather. Jacobs and Gore entered the NFL in the same year, but Jacobs has a thousand fewer touches.Jacobs had a strong offseason. Mark Uyeyama, who heads the 49ers' strength and conditioning program, had him working harder than ever before, Jacobs said. If Jacobs runs powerfully when the pads go on in training camp, he can carve out a role as Gore's top backup on base downs, as well as the short-yardage option.Kendall Hunter, the backup from a year ago, had his moments during the offseason program. He concluded one two-minute drill with a 50-yard touchdown reception from Alex Smith after shaking free from inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite. Hunter performed well as a rookie, and he should be even better this year. However, he's in a fight to earn the same amount of carries (112) that he got in his first season.The 49ers invested a second-round draft pick in LaMichael James. Gore was impressed when he watched film of James. But the two have never been on the field together. Because of Oregon's late graduation, James is the only player who did not practice with the veterans during the offseason program.The 49ers have wanted to see a greater commitment from Anthony Dixon, a sixth-round pick in 2010. As the No. 3 back last year, he played sparingly and was given just 29 rushing attempts in the regular season. He is going to need a strong camp to win a job.Veteran Rock Cartwright got some reps at running back in the offseason program, but his spot on the roster will be determined by whether the team believes he can step in as a core special-teams player.Bruce Miller took over at fullback from Moran Norris (now with the Houston Texans) and started seven games as a rookie. Miller is back as the unquestioned starter -- though it's unclear how often the 49ers will utilize two backs. One of the big developments of the offseason was the emergence of 295-pound Will Tukuafu, a defensive lineman, as an option at fullback. Tukuafu is very athletic and demonstrated the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.Undrafted rookie running back Jewel Hampton (Southern Illinois) showed promise with his burst and hands. With a good camp, he can stick around on the practice squad. Undrafted fullback Cameron Bell (Northern Illinois) got back on the field after a hamstring strain in early May to see limited action.

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