For the majority of his career, Frank Gore has literally carried the San Francisco 49ers offense on his back. Over the past two seasons, Gore has averaged 4.5 yards per carry while logging 540 touches. The veteran running back is a proven workhorse. But entering his ninth season in 2013, the 49ers should closely monitor, or perhaps even limit Gore’s workload to a certain degree.
Running backs have a short lifespan in the NFL, and it’s a testament to Gore’s conditioning that he has been able to play as long as has. Gore, even at 30-years old to start the upcoming season, is still a talented runner. This past season, he finished with 282 carries, fifth in the NFL. But with the emergence of LaMichael James, Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree, Gore does not need to shoulder the workload like in years past.
With James’ speed and quickness, he makes for an ideal change-of-pace back to Gore. At 5’9’’, 195 pounds, James may not be an every-down back, but if the 49ers become more pass-oriented under the pistol formation, the former Oregon Duck makes for an ideal fit. His ability to run inside or outside gives him a more versatility than the traditional third-down back, and he can also be a security blanket for Kaepernick. If James can put the fumbling issues behind him, he should get about eight to nine touches per game (averaged just over six carries in the regular season).
Picking up the scraps will likely be Anthony Dixon. He only had 21 carries in the regular season, and most of them came when the game was well-decided. However, utilizing him more in short-yardage and goal-line situations will save some wear and tear on Gore’s body.
In addition to them, let’s not forget about Kendall Hunter, who tore his Achilles in Week 12. He might not be ready to suit up in the early parts of 2013, but if he can come close to his pre-injury form, it will only give the 49ers an extra weapon out of the backfield. Depending on his health, he’s capable of breaking a long run on any given play.
Allowing James, Dixon or anyone else to play a larger role in the offense might not only benefit San Francisco, but it will also prolong Gore’s effectiveness. After spending so many years as the primary, and only weapon for the 49ers, the eight-year veteran is finally surrounded by a talented supporting cast. Now is the time to use it.
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