Maybe it’s Frank Gore’s age. At 31, the 49ers’ running back should be slowing down – though he’s not shown any signs of it even after nine NFL seasons.
Or maybe it’s because Gore is on an offense with quarterback Colin Kaepernick and wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree and a group of able running backs waiting to succeed Gore in the starting lineup.
Perhaps NFL observers already are penciling in Marcus Lattimore, Carlos Hyde and Kendall Hunter for more carries and snaps in 2014.
But for whatever reason, Gore – long considered one of the NFL’s most versatile and skilled running backs – was left off a list this week compiled by NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks about the top 10 most complete running backs in the NFL.
Even though Gore had his third straight season of more than 1,100 yards rushing in 2013. Even though 49ers coaches consistently note that he’s perhaps the best-blocking running back in the NFL. Even though he’s caught 331 passes during his pro career – with five seasons of 40 or more receptions – Gore couldn’t crack the 10-man lineup of (from No. 10 to No. 1) Eddie Lacy, Le’Veon Bell, Ryan Matthews, Reggie Bush, DeMarco Murray, Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy.
Gore of course is past the age when most running backs hit the wall.
But with one more year on his contract, Gore continues to punish himself with challenging offseason workouts to keep himself sharp, and his teammates marvel at his fitness and desire to stay at the top of his game.
“I really think Frank has three more good years,” 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh told Bay Area reporters this spring. “I truly believe that. But we’re in a game of taking it one year at a time.”
In the playoffs last season, Gore proved in a victory over the Packers what an all-around talent he is. He had a key block on a 42-yard Kaepernick run, had a 10-yard TD run and a key 11-yard reception on the 49ers’ drive to the winning score.
Said Kaepernick after that game: “He’s one of the best, whether it’s lead blocking on a scramble or pass protection. He’s one of the best in the league at what he does.”
Offensive tackle Joe Staley agreed, saying Gore is “willing to do anything to help the team.”
Gore says being an all-around back is something that’s very important to him, and he credits former 49ers running back and current position coac, Tom Rathman for helping him focus on being the best blocker he can be.
“I’d rather do whatever it takes, whether it’s running, catching, blocking, whatever it takes to be successful,” Gore said during the 49ers playoff run last season. “My coach, Tom Rathman, he’s really big on it.”
With Gore’s proven track record, plus his 1,269 yards from scrimmage in 2013, it’s surprising Gore didn’t make Brooks’ top-10 list. But, Gore has been proving skeptics wrong for years.
It’s very likely he’ll do it again in 2014.