Niners Got Backs

The 49ers have accumulated quite the talented stable of running backs during the offseason, which includes Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs, LaMichael James, Anthony Dixon, Rock Cartwright and Jewel Hampton. Frank Gore has been the go to guy for the 49ers offense since he was drafted. He has only played all 16 games in two seasons, this past one and his second season. Gore was not 100% in the last few games and it showed, however he still carried 281 times which is the second most of his career. The 49ers did their due diligence to acquire capable people to fill in while he gets much needed rest. Gone are the days of Gore carrying 25+ times a game, his carries will equate to about 13-16 per game with all the additions in order to keep him healthy all season.  Hunter will be the heir to the throne when Gore retires, at least in my estimation. He was very capable of carrying 20 times a game at Oklahoma State as a senior in 2010, even with Weeden and Blackmon setting records through the air. However, with the crowded backfield this season, his role will be less defined from last season.

LaMichael James will be a situational player much like Sproles in New Orleans. Not one 49er back had more than 17 receptions last year and while throwing to receivers will be emphasized much more this year, so will short throws to the flats which will serve as extended hand-offs. This is where James will see most of his touches on offense. Furthermore, Gore has been vocal in past seasons about how he prefers to have a fullback as a lead-blocker, so expect James, not Gore, to see carries throughout the season from the shotgun formation like he did so often in college.

Jacobs and Dixon will fight for the right to be the short yardage back when Gore is too tired or sore. Dixon is more versatile of a player due to his contributions on special teams. Jacobs however is cutting weight to play more athletic than he did last year, often stumbling before getting to far from the line of scrimmage. He is trying to play at a weight of around 255 which will be the first time he has played at such a weight since college. He is currently at 266 and a few weeks after the super bowl, Jacobs reportedly weighed a whopping 285. “We just relaxed, ate, took trips and had fun, my wife and I and my son,” Jacobs said. “We just traveled and did a whole bunch of things. We really didn’t care about anything, we just ate.”After enjoying his Super Bowl victory, Jacobs said it only took him three weeks to get back down to his playing weight. Jacobs has 600 less carries than Gore in his career and is only a few years removed from multiple 1000 yard seasons. He will be the goal line back that the niners needed so bad in the red zone last season.

Rock Cartwright was signed in the off season to be a replacement on special team after letting Blake Costanzo sign elsewhere. Rock will be the back up fullback and may see limited carries at running back. He was recruited by Harbaugh when he started his career with the redskins. Cartwright has been a special teams captain in Oakland and looks to bring his tenacity and leadership across the bay. His presence along with Jacobs seem to leave no role for former sixth round pick, Anthony Dixon, on the squad this upcoming season.

Jewel Hampton is a longshot to make the roster but is a good prospect out of Southern Illinois. He went undrafted but has a good center of gravity and it is because of this balance he is able to shed blocks consistantly. He also has great vision which is something that is hard to teach and may be the reason (along with his youth) that he has an outside shot of surpassing Dixon and Jacobs for a roster spot.

The team has multiple backs that could be featured backs in many other systems. This is one problem a team doesn't mind having. Harbaugh will be able to run two back sets and keep defenses on their toes. With Bruce Miller lead blocking and coming up as one of the best young fullbacks in the league, the 49ers rush attack will be the strength of this offense for years to come.

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