You can’t be a workhorse running back forever without it starting to take a toll. Frank Gore might be a lot more durable than most players, but the San Francisco 49ers can’t keep pushing him to the brink forever, and this season will probably a show a drastic decrease in his touches to keep him effective and efficient.
Gore played 16 games for the third consecutive season, rushing for 1128 yards, scoring nine touchdowns. He carried the ball 276 times (4.1 average, his lowest ever in a nine year career), third most since entering the league in 2005. He got past the 1000 yards mark for a seventh time. Still very productive, regardless of the reason – himself or a monstrous offensive line.
The guys playing behind him aren’t exactly nobodies. Marcus Lattimore might be, at this point, a great story and nothing else, but Carlos Hyde, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James aren’t exactly guys who expect to get only scraps and leftovers from Gore. They’re also capable of providing more than minuscule backup services, regardless of whether Gore wants to give up touches or not (and he doesn’t).
He was on the field for 75% of the 49ers’ snaps last season, the second most of his career. The last time he was involved so much in their plays was 2006, when he was in his second year in the NFL and his first as a starter, on the field for 77% of the snaps. That’s rare for a 31 year old running back who has been in the league for nearly a decade.
Maybe Gore is one of those who can beat even the effects of time and age, at least for a while. Maybe there’s no reason to worry so early, before training camp even officially began. But running backs, at one point or another, start to break down or at least slow and become less efficient. It’s better the 49ers control that situation instead of it surprising them later in the season, like it happened with Knowshon Moreno, who wasn’t the same player as the Broncos got closer to the playoffs.
It always helps to have a quarterback who can also use his feet instead of his arm to pick up some yards. The 49ers have enough offensive weapons to not keep riding Gore into the ground, even if that is what he wants.