Some call him “Frank the Tank.” Others call him one of the best running backs in the National Football League. And if you’re associated with the San Francisco 49ers, you can call him “the rushing king.”
Frank Gore, who normally trains in Miami where he can spend time with his children during personal offseason workouts, joined 49ers teammates last Thursday to be a part of the team’s nine-week offseason strength program.
“I’m happy to be back out with my teammates, seeing some of the guys from last year trying to do even better than what we did last year,” Gore told 49ers.com on Monday. “It feels good to be back out here with the guys. Everybody’s looking good, looking focused. I feel like it’s going to be a good year.”
In 2011, Gore surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the fifth time in seven seasons with the 49ers. Gore’s 1,211 rushing yards, which included a franchise record of five-straight 100-yard rushing games, also put him atop the team’s all-time rushing list with 7,625 career rushing yards.
Still, despite all of that production, Gore has more to prove.
Reaching the playoffs for the first time in his seven seasons, albeit appearing in the NFC Championship Game, was simply not good enough for a passionate player like Gore.
“I didn’t get what I wanted, we didn’t get what we wanted,” Gore said with a serious look. “We got close, but it ain’t good enough.”
Gore applauded the 49ers front office for adding key play-makers through free agency and the draft, but extra depth on the offensive side of the ball won’t change the veteran running back’s determined mindset for 2012. In Gore’s mind, there are still bigger and better things for him and the 49ers ahead.
“I feel like I still got a lot left in my tank,” said Gore, who’s coming off his third Pro Bowl selection. “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.”
Gore’s presence around the 49ers facility is always welcomed by teammates.
“It feels good to see him because he’s a leader,” second-year running back Kendall Hunter explained. “There’s a lot of guys who look up to him and he still helps us.”
Hunter said he learned the most from picking up on Gore’s patience on the field and knowing when to attack open running lanes. Away from the field, Hunter’s always studying Gore’s behavior in the class room.
“The things he can do to master the game like he has,” Hunter marveled, “it’s just impressive. I’m picking up on everything he’s doing to be successful on Sundays.”
Pretty soon, there will be a few more rookie running backs looking to soak up knowledge from the team’s all-time leading rusher. Second-round draft pick LaMichael James (5-foot-9, 195 pounds) and undrafted running back Jewel Hampton (5-foot-9, 210 pounds) will be the latest players to learn from Gore.
The 49ers rushing king already has a good idea of James’ abilities from watching a bit of Oregon game tape with general manager Trent Baalke.
“He’s a tough little dude,” Gore said. “Very quick, good football player. I can’t wait to see it when he gets out here.”
Gore might have to wait to evaluate some of the newest additions in the coming weeks, but he’s already got a great impression of some of the team’s veteran additions like running back Brandon Jacobs and wide receiver Randy Moss.
A player with Moss’ accolades certainly garnered Gore’s respect. Gore is also very familiar with Jacobs based on previous encounters. Both were selected in the 2005 NFL Draft; Gore in the third round and Jacobs in the fourth round.
In knowing Jacobs’ abilities from previous clashes (two games in 2011 alone), Gore was excited to see a player of Jacobs’ caliber added to the mix.
“It was good seeing a guy who came out with me now on the same team,” said Gore, who’s been constantly communicating with Jacobs during Football School drills. “He’s a good dude and he’s a very smart player. You can see that he’s picking up the offense. I look forward to training camp where we’re going to see more.”
Moss is another player Gore certainly wants to see come training camp.
“I was happy about that (signing),” Gore said. “He’s a baller. I know he’s going to prove a lot of people wrong that say he can’t still do it. That’s a big upside to have him on our team.”
Extra play-makers like Jacobs, James, Moss, and even wideouts Mario Manningham and A.J. Jenkins might be a splash to some, but Gore sees it differently.
“We’re still working,” the running back said, modestly downplaying the team’s added star power. “We’re out here working and hopefully we can do better than last year.”
For the rest of the summer, Gore is gearing his body for his favorite time of the year. With him entering his eighth year in the league, offseason reps are mostly for younger players looking to establish themselves in supporting roles.
Gore sees it as an opportunity to stay mentally sharp while giving pointers to his younger teammates.
“It’s their time right now, I’m going to help them and teach them,” Gore explained with a smile. “And like I told (running backs) Coach Tom (Rathman), when training camp comes, that’s when I get dirty.”
Top to bottom, the competition amongst the running backs has been a positive development for the 49ers.
“There’s always somebody who’s going to push you and want your spot. It’s a good thing,” Hunter added. “There’s always going to be competition, but it teaches you life lessons, because life is never going to be easy. Going through things like this in football, nothing can break you.
“It’s all about pushing each other and making the team better.”
Gore sees it no differently.
Despite coming within a few plays of reaching the Super Bowl, the grind continues.
“I got over it,” Gore said of last year’s defeat in the NFC title game. “It took awhile, but now we’ve got to move on and get ready for what’s coming.”