Maiocco: 49ers will continue to lean on 30-year-old Gore
Anthony Dixon and Jewel Hampton (shown) are likely to compete for one spot as the fourth running back. (AP)
Editor's note: Insider Matt Maiocco will be providing position-by-position breakdowns each day leading up to 49ers training camp. The rookies are scheduled to report on July 19, with the veterans scheduled to follow on July 24. Today Matt focuses on the running backs.
Who they have: Frank Gore, FB Bruce Miller, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Anthony Dixon, Jewel Hampton, Marcus Lattimore, FB Will Tukuafu, D.J. Harper, FB Jason Schepler
Who they lost: None
Looking back: The 49ers opened the season with seven running backs/fullbacks, including Tukuafu, a two-way player who saw 90 snaps on offense. During the season, Hunter went on injured reserve (partially torn Achilles) and Brandon Jacobs was suspended for the final three regular-season games after criticizing the coaching staff through social media. Jacobs was cut at the beginning of the playoffs, and he remains a free agent. The 49ers moved Hampton from the non-football injury list to the 53-man roster for the final five regular-season games. He remained inactive for the remaining games. Gore had the second-best season of his career. Including the playoffs, he rushed for 1,533 yards and 12 touchdowns with a career-high 321 rushing attempts in 19 games. Hunter emerged as one of the better No. 2 backs in the league before his season-ending injury. He carried 72 times in 11 games for 371 yards (5.2 average) with two touchdowns. James did not play in the 49ers' first 12 games. When he got on the field, he did a good job on kickoff returns and contributed 125 yards on 27 carries. He had a costly fumble in the first half of the 49ers' Super Bowl XLVII loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Overall outlook: Gore turned 30 in May, so a lot of people will be expecting a drop off. "When I turned 29, would I be able to be (the same) Frank Gore?" he said of the doubts concerning his age. "Now, I'm 30. I'm going to keep working and training hard." Gore is still the undisputed top running back and the best the 49ers have as a runner, receiver and blocker. If Hunter comes back strong from his injury, he should resume as the No. 2 back. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman will have to find a way to incorporate James' breakaway ability into the mix. Miller has emerged as a strong lead-blocker at the fullback position. Lattimore, coming off a serious knee injury in his final season at South Carolina, hopes to be available to begin practice in the middle of the season. But the 49ers will have the option of placing him on injured reserve or elevating him to the 53-man roster like they did with Hampton.
Camp competition: The top spots appear set. Gore, Hunter, James and Miller will find ways to contribute this season. After that, the remaining roster spots in the backfield will hinge on special teams. Dixon played just 32 snaps of offense the entire season, but he was one of the 49ers' core special-teams players. The 49ers really like Hampton, who came to the team a year ago as an undrafted rookie. He did not play in a game with the 49ers last season after undergoing offseason surgery to remove bone spurs in his foot. Dixon and Hampton are likely to compete for one spot as the fourth running back. Dixon won his job last season because of a strong training camp and his willingness to play special teams.