Frank Gore has seen a lot in his seven-plus years in the 49ers backfield – winning, losing and everything in between. But he's never seen an offensive line like San Francisco has put together in 2012.
The five big men up front were all on the 49ers last year, but since Alex Boone was elevated to the starting right guard this season, something has clicked for the whole unit. It's been routine to see gaping holes open up at the line of scrimmage for Gore, who is on pace for another big season.
"I'm just having fun running through the big holes they're giving me," Gore said, while adding that his ribs feel much better. "I told them today, we've got to play catch-up with the bye week. It seemed like nobody wanted to play defense this last week, all these guys running for all these yards. I told them we need to play catch-up and we will."
Gore couldn't add to his totals this past weekend, but he enjoyed the time off at his home in South Florida. The proud Hurricane alum paid a visit to the University of Miami and also caught a Miami Heat game during the break.
Despite the bye week, he still ranks third among NFL running backs in yards per carry (5.5), seventh in yards per game (82) and eighth in total rushing (656). Along with his four touchdowns and consistent production in all phases of his position, Gore was recently named the best running back in the NFL by Sports Illustrated's Peter King at the halfway point of the season.
"It's a blessing," Gore said of the recognition. "I work hard and try to do everything good as a back – running, blocking, catching. My o-line's been doing a hell of a job springing me and giving me big lanes that I never saw before. I got to give it up to them and the receivers blocking downfield and coach G-Ro (offensive coordinator Greg Roman) is doing a great job scheming the defensive boys up."
Gore said the 2012 offensive line is the best he's played behind throughout his whole career. Right tackle Anthony Davis and left guard Mike Iupati have also garnered plenty of mid-season accolades, while Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley and center Jonathan Goodwin are steady as ever.
"We spent a lot of time working together in the offseason, (organized team activities) and training camp and I think there's a lot of talent in that room, on that line," Goodwin said. "The one thing I'll say about that line is it's a hard-working line that's not satisfied with a little success. I think everybody wants big success for themselves and this team."
It's not just Gore who's having success. Quarterback Alex Smith is enjoying another efficient campaign under Coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff, while the offense is receiving contributions from each of its talented weapons.
"When you see other teams, other players, you see one or two guys having big stats," Gore said. "In this offense, it's different. … There's so much talent around here. That helps us as a team but hurts people's fantasy teams."
Tuesday marked the first day of 49ers practice since last week. It also marked the first 49ers practice ever for undrafted free-agent rookie running back Jewel Hampton, who was placed on the non-football injury list during training camp. The Southern Illinois University product is eligible to be activated over the next three weeks, otherwise he will be designated to the non-football injury list for the rest of the year.
"I've just been waiting to get back on the field to test it out and see what I actually can do," Hampton said of his previously injured ankle. "My first actual NFL practice today, it felt good to be done. I've got a smile on my face, can't complain."
But Hampton will be hard-pressed to crack the running back rotation behind Gore, as Kendall Hunter, Anthony Dixon, Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James are also on the depth chart. Gore and Hunter have been so effective this year that Jacobs and James haven't received a carry yet this season.
Jacobs has stayed positive throughout his first nine weeks with the 49ers and hopes to carve out a bigger role in the second half of the season.
"Everything with me is positive," Jacobs said. "I come to work every day and work hard and that's just about all I can do."