The San Francisco 49ers are set for training camp to begin at the end of the month. But before the team can defend its NFC West division crown this upcoming season, let’s take a look at the depth of each position group on the roster as they prepare for camp. Running backs are up next.
The eighth-best rushing attack in the NFL last season relied heavily on the every-down performance of Frank Gore, a gifted cut-back runner, who made it hard for the 49ers coaching staff to take him out the game. It also received great contributions from rookie running back Kendall Hunter (668 combined rushing and receiving yards) and rookie fullback Bruce Miller (eight starts), fourth- and seventh-round picks in last year’s draft. The rookie runners were the only newcomers on the roster to make starts in 2011, a season that will be synonymous with Gore’s consistent success. Gore passed the 1,000-yard mark for the first fifth-time in seven seasons, all while maintaining his role as a key cog in San Francisco’s offensive attack. The 5-foot-9, 217-pound runner also posted five consecutive 100-yard rushing games (the most in franchise history) on his way to moving atop San Francisco’s all-time rushing list, passing Hall of Fame running back Joe “The Jet” Perry. Gore finished the year by earning his third Pro Bowl selection and the No. 28 spot on the NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2012 list. Gore won’t be alone in carrying the load this coming season. He will, however, share plenty of reps in training camp. Besides Hunter, the team went out and drafted speedy Oregon running back LaMichael James in the second round of the draft and signed New York Giants all-time rushing touchdown leader Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs fit in nicely with his beloved childhood team this offseason and said he especially appreciated the team’s “championship work.” As for Gore, the 29-year-old runner said he has no plans of slowing down and vowed that there’s plenty left in his tank. While the 49ers have great depth at running back, the team looked to develop backup options at fullback during the offseason program. Miller continued his own development at a position that’s still relatively new to him and even found himself passing along tips to rookie teammates.
RETURNERS: Frank Gore (eighth season), Bruce Miller (second season), Kendall Hunter (second season) and Anthony Dixon (third season). NEWCOMERS: Brandon Jacobs (eighth season, first in San Francisco), Rock Cartwright (11th season, first in San Francisco), LaMichael James (second-round pick, Oregon), Jewel Hampton (undrafted, Southern Illinois), and Cameron Bell (undrafted, Northern Illinois).
The team’s offseason program was a great benefit to players like Hunter who had no offseason training in their inaugural NFL seasons. In a similar vein, it helped veteran newcomers like Jacobs and special teams contributor Rock Cartwright adjust to a new environment. Jacobs gave the team’s strength and conditioning program high marks for how it helped him trim his playing weight from incorporating squat lifts into his workouts. Bell enters camp as the only other true fullback on the roster behind Miller.
Thanks to quality ball security, the 49ers set a team record last season with 22 consecutive quarters without a turnover to end the season.
“I feel like I still got a lot left in my tank. I want to show it off that I still got a lot left in my tank and I can play at a high level. I will play at a high level as long as God blesses me to be healthy so I can go out and do something that I love.”
-Running back Frank Gore on his expectations for this coming season.