49ers review: Running backs

February 7, 2012, 7:46 pm
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This is the eighth installment of a nine-part series that reviews every 49ers player and position group.The 49ers finally got some help for Frank Gore. For the first time since 2005, the team had two running backs with at least 100 rushing attempts. The 49ers got good production from Gore and change-of-pace back Kendall Hunter, as they combined for 1,684 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Gore was selected for the NFC Pro Bowl team, but did not want to play after the 49ers lost in the NFC Championship. He was excused from the game for "medical reasons." Grade: B
Frank Gore -- He played in all 16 games for the second time in his seven-year career and posted the second-highest rushing total of his career with 1,211 yards. But it's not as if Gore was healthy the entire season. He had ankle and knee injuries that limited him in some games. After a slow start to the season, Gore had a five-game stretch in which he rushed for 127, 125, 141, 134 and 107 yards. Over his final eight games (123 rushing attempts), Gore averaged 3.5 yards an attempt. But, then, in the playoffs he was very effective. He gained 163 yards on 29 rushing attempts (5.6 average). And after catching just 17 passes in the regular season, Gore caught 13 passes for 83 yards in the two playoff games. And if Gore wasn't healthy, why did he play 84 percent of the team's offensive snaps in the playoffs? There were times when Gore took himself out of the game after run plays. That shouldn't be too alarming. After all, when he's on the field, he was either running the ball, going out on a pass route or blocking a bigger man in pass protection. Gore turns 29 in May. The 49ers' all-time leading rusher is at that stage when most running backs begin to slow down dramatically.Kendall Hunter -- He won the job as the No. 2 back with a strong training camp. After playing just six snaps total in the first two games, Hunter got on the field for his first extended play time when Gore was hobbled with an ankle sprain. Hunter performed well, so he began seeing more playing time when Gore was healthy, too. He supplied a lift for the 49ers offense with 473 yards rushing on 112 attempts (4.2-yard average) and another 195 yards receiving. In the playoffs, Hunter saw limited time. He had 10 rushing attempts for 54 yards.Bruce Miller -- The converted college defensive end did not play any snaps on offense in the first two games. But when veteran fullback Moran Norris was injured, Miller stepped into the lineup and never relinquished the starting role. Miller showed good versatility, as he caught 11 passes for 83 yards. He should continue to get better on offense while being one of the 49ers' core special teams players for a few years.
Anthony Dixon -- The 49ers brought in three veteran running backs for tryouts in early October to light a fire under Dixon, who told CSNBayArea.com during that time that coach Jim Harbaugh "challenged me to get my attitude back in check." Dixon carried 29 times for 87 yards (3.0 average). When Gore checked out of the NFC Championship, Dixon was entrusted with two important carries in the fourth quarter against the New York Giants. He gained 3 yards on a second-and-4, and then was stopped for no gain on a third-and-1 situation. Dixon has plenty of talent, but the 49ers will definitely try to bolster this position to supply Dixon with competition.Moran Norris -- He started the first two games of the season at fullback, but he lost his job when he sustained a fractured left fibula. Norris was inactive for 11 games total, did not play in another and saw limited time in a couple other games. The 11-year veteran is scheduled for unrestricted free agency.