It was only for a few seconds, but the 49ers Faithful finally got a glimpse of 2012 Frank Gore on Saturday night in Houston.
Lining up with the first-team offense to start the preseason matchup, Gore took a handoff from Alex Smith and broke off one of his vintage runs. In classic Gore style, he found a crease in the trenches before bursting past the line of scrimmage, picking up 14 yards and a first down in a flash.
Gore has played in just four snaps this preseason – all of them coming in the Houston matchup – and recorded two carries. Asked if he has been lobbying to Coach Jim Harbaugh for more playing time, a big smile crept across Gore’s face.
“When I got out there against the Houston Texans, I wanted to keep going,” Gore said. “I got that first carry and it was a pretty good run, so I wanted to get that rhythm and keep going. But I’ve got to listen to coach, he knows what’s best for me.”
Gore spent the rest of the evening on the sidelines watching as the 49ers rolled out their impressive collection of tailbacks. And while San Francisco suffered a couple of injury scares to Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James, both players aren’t expected to miss significant amount of time.
By the time the regular season rolls around, the 49ers are expected to feature one of the league’s most versatile and dangerous groups of running backs. It all starts with Gore, the franchise’s all-time rushing leader, who enters his eighth NFL season.
“He looks spry,” Harbaugh said. “Expectations are always really high for Frank. We’ve got a lot of admiration for Frank and his abilities and respect for his game. He’s looking good so far. So far so good. Like a young buck.”
The team leader experienced his first taste of the playoffs in 2011, when he racked up 1,211 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, serving as a key part in his team’s run to the NFC Championship game. The team’s second year in coordinator Greg Roman’s offense will only help, as the 49ers are comfortable in their roles and know their coaches’ expectations.
“It feels great to see as a team from last year to this year how far ahead we are,” Gore said. “I think as long as we keep working, we’ll do some great things this year.”
Another factor in the optimism for 2012 is the development of second-year tailback Kendall Hunter. The small, powerful option out of the backfield racked up 668 yards and two touchdowns from scrimmage last year as Gore’s backup and has looked even better in the preseason.
Hunter followed up his 44-yard performance in the preseason opener with a 46-yard effort on six carries in Houston, playing in front of dozens of friends and family members who made the four-hour drive from Tyler, Texas.
“You can tell – from the first year to this year – that he grew a lot,” Gore said of Hunter. “It’s his second year in the offense and he knows what he’s doing now. He’s not thinking; he’s just playing football.”
Gore’s workload may increase in Saturday’s matchup at Denver, as starters traditionally play more in the third preseason game. But the 49ers rushing king is already chomping at the bit to face the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field for the regular season opener on Sept. 9.
“We want to win,” Gore said. “We got a taste of it last year and it feels good. We want to keep that taste in our month.”
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