Frank Gore has been the face of the 49er’s offense since 2005. The franchise’s all time leading rusher, Gore has been remarkably consistent his whole career in red and gold. During the Harbaugh era, he has also been remarkably durable, playing all 32 games (37 counting the playoffs). But Gore only has so much left in he tank. He will enter the 2013 season at 30 years old. 30 is the scary age when you start to see running backs take a step back, although Gore has shown no signs of that. His stats over two seasons in Greg Roman’s offense have been almost identical. 1,211 yards rushing with 8 touchdowns in 2011. 1,214 yards rushing with 8 touchdowns in 2012.
While his stats have looked the same, a trend to keep an eye on is the amount of touches Gore will receive. Gore carried the ball less in 2012 than he did in 2011 (282 in ’11 to 258 in ’12) and actually responded with higher yards per carry (4.7 in ’12 opposed to 4.3 in ’11). Limiting Gore’s workload paid off in the playoffs as he averaged 106 yards on the ground and scored 4 rushing touchdowns. With Gore aging and other players in the fold, expect to see another dip in carries this upcoming season.
The 49ers have mostly gone with two running backs in the game plan under Harbaugh. Gore has been the feature back with Kendall Hunter rotating in to spell him. Gore has averaged just under 17 carries a game the past two years (16.8). Hunter has averaged just under 7 (6.8). When LaMichael James took over after Hunter’s injury, he also averaged just under 7 carries a contest (6.75). With how similar the touches were for Hunter and James, it tells you the 49ers stay true to their philosophy. This season though, they will have to find a way to get both Hunter and James involved in the offense and that will probably be at the expense of Gore. It’s not because Gore will be less effective, its because he’s older and the team wants him fresh down the stretch run. This approach is also going to help vary the team’s rushing attack. Gore will still be to focal point but his carries per game should dip again as Hunter and James continue to provide different looks for defenses. So how much less will Gore touch the ball? If the 49ers are running to ball around 25 times a game, one could predict Gore’s average carries would be somewhere in the 14-15 range, with Hunter and James splitting the other 10 or so in some way. Then there is the Colin Kaepernick factor. The 49er’s will want to limit his carries, but it’s still a factor in terms of touches, especially in the red zone.