Gore sparkled on the field in his return to 49ers
Like a breath of fresh air, Frank Gore blew onto the practice field with the 49ers on Tuesday, adding energy and life to a lagging offense that has been working so far this summer without several of its top players. Gore looked better than ever, a man among boys in a young offensive huddle, and he promised to not let his contract situation be a diversion any longer in his quest to be the best.
This is one guy you just knew couldn’t stay away, even if he feels he’s due for a contract extension with the team that drafted him in 2005.
Gore’s holdout lasted only four days, and he is such a stand-up individual and good-hearted guy that he actually – and somewhat sheepishly – apologized for his absence at the end of his first 2011 chat with the media early Tuesday evening.
“I’m happy to be back,” Gore said, flashing his broad smile, “and I want to tell my fans, I’m sorry about the little holdup, but I’m back and I’m ready to go to work.”
And go to work Gore did, immediately moving back into his role as the main man around which San Francisco’s offense revolves.
This year, that will be the new offense the 49ers are installing under the direction of new coach Jim Harbaugh. Gore looked as though his cram course in Harbaugh’s playbook already had taught him the essentials of the system he’ll be playing in this season. Gore spent more than three hours upon his return to team headquarters Monday – an off day for players – putting heads together with running backs coach Tom Rathman.
Gore was given plenty of work with the first-team offense on his first day back, particularly in a session near the end of practice that focused on running plays – 20 consecutive running plays at one point, in fact. Looking robust as ever at 215 pounds – “right there at my fighting weight,” Gore said – Gore burst through holes in his trademark slashing style.
Even Harbaugh – who has made it increasingly clear during his camp news conferences so far that he’s not one who’s much for hyperbole – had to admit he was impressed.
“There is quite a difference in communication when he’s in the huddle,” Harbaugh said. “Frank does a great job communicating at the line, in the huddle, giving reminders as we break the huddle. I was very impressed (with him) hitting the hole, extremely. He’s really quick and fast. So I think that raises the competition and gives some of our young backs a good example of what a top-notch pro looks like.”
They don’t get much more top-notch in the NFL than Gore, who has led the 49ers in rushing each of his six seasons with the team and enters this season needing 931 yards on the ground to become San Francisco’s all-time leading rusher.
Gore was on his way last year to a fifth consecutive 1,000-yard season – one of the several team records he already holds – before he fractured his right hip Nov. 29 in a Monday night game against Arizona, the most debilitating injury of his pro career. It forced Gore to miss the final five games of the season, an incident that probably had something to do with the 28-year-old Gore thinking more about his future this year and ultimately deciding to hold out when camp began July 28.
Despite the injury, Gore still led the 49ers in rushing with 853 yards and finished the season third on the team with 46 receptions. The all-around dynamo has 6,414 yards rushing in his six seasons and also ranks fourth in team history with 8,697 yards from scrimmage and 14th among San Francisco’s all-time leaders with 270 career receptions.
Needless to say, Gore’s return caused a stir amongst the team as he was welcomed back by a new coaching staff and several players that have been anticipating his arrival.
“I almost hugged him and gave him a kiss, but I tried to play it cool,” wide receiver Joshua Morgan said. “It was really exciting to see him.”
Gore returned the excitement, saying, “I felt like a kid out there. I was happy. It was a blessing to come back from the injury, a lot of people doubted me – that I wouldn’t be back – and I feel good. I feel like a 22-year-old running back out there.”
Gore was a welcome addition to an offensive huddle that also has been missing incumbent starting quarterback Alex Smith and No. 1 wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Smith and other free agents that recently signed contracts with the team can’t practice until Thursday, and Crabtree has a foot injury that could keep him out several weeks.
Gore spent the offseason working out near his home in Miami and did not participate in player-organized 49ers workouts in June that were attended by most of his offensive teammates at San Jose State University.
Gore’s return was the obvious highlight of Tuesday’s session. The entire offensive tempo seemed to pick up with the 5-foot-9 sparkplug back on the field.
“Frank’s a leader on this football team and the energy is up,” tackle Joe Staley said. “Any time Frank’s back there, he’s going to take care of business. Just having him back on the field, his presence, is good for everybody and it raises spirits. The way he prepares and the way he communicates is a standard to live up to.”
Gore is in the final year of his contract with the 49ers, a deal that will pay him $2.9 million in base salary this year in addition to a $2 million roster bonus. He stayed away from the opening of camp because he’s seeking a contract extension that will give him some security as Gore reaches a point in his career when many running backs – especially ones that have absorbed the wear and tear Gore has – begin breaking down.
Gore said the holdout was a mutual decision between him and agent Drew Rosenhaus. But a few days away from the team was all it took to convince Gore to return.
“I love the game and I missed the game,” Gore said. “I’m a football player and I missed being out here with my team. I’m here to get better and take this organization to where it needs to go, and that’s get to the next level and get to the playoffs.”
Harbaugh said “diligent” contract negotiations continue with Gore’s representatives and he expects there to be a resolution on a new deal “sooner rather than later.”
“Frank’s a 49er and we want Frank here,” Harbaugh said. “We want Frank happy, too.”
Gore was happy Tuesday just to be back where he belongs.
“I want to be a 49er forever, and if the contract comes, it comes,” he said. “I feel great and I’m just coming here now to get better, learn the playbook and do the best I can to try and get the 49ers organization on a roll.”