Frank Gore is starting in the Pro Bowl. Three months ago, the statement would be laughable, at best – now, it is a bright reality.
After 15 weeks of his first full NFL season as a starting running back, Frank Gore has been given the honor of starting at running back in this year’s Pro Bowl, February 10th in Honolulu, Hawaii. With 1,491 yards through 14 games, Gore leads the NFC in rushing yards, and trails only the San Diego Chargers’ LaDainian Tomlinson (1,626) and the Chiefs’ Larry Johnson (1,516) for the league lead. Second to Gore in rushing in the NFc, in comparison, is perennial Pro Bowler Tiki Barber of the New York Giants, trailing him by over 100 yards, at 1,357.
Although his success this season has come as a surprise to many, those who know what Gore is capable of are not at all surprised. Drafted in the same class as first overall pick, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, the Miami (FL) prospect fell to the Niners in the third round, as many teams felt his two reconstructed knees and history of injuries were too much of a risk to take in the early rounds. Miami (FL) products Edgerrin James of the Arizona Cardinals, Clinton Portis of the Washington Redskins and Willis McGahee of the Buffalo Bills having seen much success in their careers. Those who had a chance to play with Gore in Miami, however – Portis and McGahee, among them – believed that it was Gore that had the most potential to become the best pro of them all. Gore’s two season-ending knee surgeries while at Miami were the only things holding him back.
Fast forward to 2005 – it was Gore’s rookie season, sharing carries with Kevan Barlow, the Niners’ starting running back at the time. Gore managed 608 yards on 127 carries – a 4.8 yard average – compared to Barlow’s 581 yards on 176 carries – a 3.3 yard average. His flashes of brilliance came near the end of the season, where San Francisco won its last two games to finish 4-12.
Gore’s big chance came the following season. Head Coach Mike Nolan decided to trade Barlow to the New York Jets in the offseason, and Gore was toted as the starting running back in the season opener against the Arizona Cardinals. He proceeded to rack up 87 yards on only 16 carries – a 5.4 yard-per-carry average – and two touchdowns. The starting job was his from that game on.
His 5.5 yard-per-carry average on the season leads the league in running backs with over 200 carries. His dynamic breakaway speed, knack for finding holes in opposing defenses and elusiveness have made him one of the most dangerous running backs in the league: he currently has eight 100-yard games on the ground. Gore recently set a franchise record with 212 yards on 24 carries – an astonishing 8.8 yard-per-carry average – in Week 10, against the rival Seattle Seahawks. He has been a huge factor in the Niners’ improved season, currently 6-8, with an outside shot at the playoffs. He is such a potent offensive force, opponents must account for Gore in their defensive schemes.
His only weakness, many have found, has been his knack for holding on to the ball. He has lost fumbles in each of his first four games, and currently has six fumbles on the year. He has held onto the ball in the last two months, however, fumbling only once after Week 9.
Despite the talent that has made him successful throughout his scholastic and pro career, Gore is humble. He gives credit to his offensive line, teammates and coaches. He lends much of his success to his line, headed by fellow Pro Bowler Larry Allen, opening many of the running lanes Gore utilizes every game. Because of the success of his offensive line, Gore has a chance to annihilate the 49ers’ season rushing record (1,570 yards), set by Garrison Hearst in 1998: he is on pace for over 1,700 rushing yards on the year. Gore’s talent on the ground gives the 49ers much hope for the future.
Even with Gore’s gaudy numbers this season, his offensive line was makeshift, at best, for half of the season, due to key injuries to Allen and Jonas Jennings. As Alex Smith continues to improve in the passing game, it will only open up more holes for Gore to exploit. With the potential Gore and the 49ers’ offense have, it is possible to see many more Pro Bowls in the running back’s future.
Not bad for a risky second-year running back on an average team, with two reconstructed knees, wouldn’t you say?