POSTED: 11:47 a.m. HST, May 29, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 12:19 p.m. HST, May 29, 2012
SANTA CLARA, Calif. >> Frank Gore is embracing change and competition at age 29.
The three-time Pro Bowl running back is taking part in the San Francisco 49ers' offseason workouts this year, arriving far earlier than usual to the Bay Area from his offseason home in Miami to get going with his teammates.
He has spent the offseason in Miami his entire seven-year NFL career. Now, Gore has no unsettled contract status weighing on his mind the way he did a year ago and seems as focused and confident as ever.
"As long as I'm in great shape, I'm going to be the Frank Gore I've always been," Gore declared after a practice last week.
While Gore is determined to do his part to duplicate San Francisco's special comeback season of 2011, he has other motivation, too: The defending NFC West champions already have a busy backfield, and Gore will get a daily push from backup Kendall Hunter, newly signed Brandon Jacobs and rookie second-round pick LaMichael James. Gore also has a workout bonus for his attendance that's part of the new $21 million, three-year contract extension he received last August.
"It feels good to be back out with the team," Gore said. "Change is good at times. My first year here. I've been here at 6 o'clock in the morning. I'll be out here 'til minicamp is over, go home and get in beast mode shape and be ready for the season."
Gore has long prided himself on being a durable, every-down back who can carry the load for the Niners year after year. Yet coach Jim Harbaugh knows Gore will need his share of breaks. The 49ers' career rushing leader, who last season reeled off a franchise-best stretch of five straight 100-yard games, took six weeks off to rest after the 49ers' 20-17 overtime loss in January to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the NFC championship game.
Gore also needed a mental break after the way the season ended.
"It was tough. That's one of the reasons I didn't go to the Pro Bowl," he said. "It broke me down for a while. How close it was, just looking back, all the tough times we had here to be that close to going to the big dance, that was very tough. ... I took a little longer this time because we played a little longer last year," Gore said. "I had a few more bumps and bruises to get back together. So I took a little longer. Now my body is starting to get back."
While Gore is still the main man carrying the ball in Harbaugh's offense, Hunter made an immediate impact as a rookie. He carried 112 times for 473 yards and two touchdowns.
General manager Trent Baalke said during the draft last month that the 49ers have ample options at running back, and they like it that way.
"It's like poker, it's a full house. That's good, right?" Baalke said.
And the players seem to like the idea of sharing the touches — for now anyway.
"I think it's good for the team and all us running backs to push each other to make the team better," Hunter said. "I think all us running backs have, like, different styles. We're all going to compete and make the team better."
Harbaugh has described the competition this way: "It's going to get real real, and it's going to get real real, real fast."
James ran for 5,082 yards and 53 touchdowns on 771 career carries in three seasons at Oregon. That included 49 carries for 382 yards and four TDs in two games against Harbaugh's former Stanford team before the coach jumped to the NFL in January 2011.
"We envision him coming in and competing," Baalke said of James. "Like we always say, we're trying to create as much competition as we can. This does that. One thing about this football team, they're up to the challenge. They're not afraid to compete."