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There is no denying Frank Gore's talent. Even more so, there is no denying his ability, history of on-field production, and his value to the San Francisco 49ers' offense.
But what Frank Gore has been denied of, is something of which he is most deserving. A quality supporting cast that is capable of sharing the load offensively, that can aid Gore in carrying the 49ers to their first winning season and trip to the playoffs since the 2002-03 season.
Sure, his numbers speak for themselves, but they also speak for the 49ers team as a whole. In 2006 - Gore's first season as a starter - he rushed for a franchise-record 1,695 yards, while also leading the team in receptions with 61. But consistency and production elsewhere offensively was scarce, resulting in a 7-9 record to conclude the season.
In 2007, the 49ers were forced to hire their 5th offensive coordinator in as many years, after Norv Turner bolted for the San Diego Chargers following one season with San Francisco. The team went with Jim Hostler, who served as the 49ers' quarterbacks coach in 2005 and 2006. Under Hostler, the team - and Gore - struggled immensely. A drop in numbers for Gore mixed with a fatal plunge in overall offensive production due to injuries and less than poor offensive line play resulted in two fewer wins than the previous year.
Gore rushed for 1,102 yards with a career-low 4.2 yards per carry average in 2007, but led the team in receptions for the second consecutive year with just 53. It is more than a coincidence that when Gore struggles, the team doesn't have as good a chance to succeed. It is apparent that the 49ers will only go as far as Gore can take them, that is unless they can surround him with the help he needs to reach his full potential and for the team to finally climb from the depths of NFL mediocrity.
As soon as Mike Martz was hired, he quickly pointed to Gore as being the centerpiece of his plan of attack as offensive coordinator.
"The potential to build that offense around Frank Gore is pretty exciting," Martz said. "He's really a complete player, and that's hard to find in this league anymore. I think you can put him as the centerpiece and build around that."
That sentiment alone should give 49er fans hope, and give the team a sense of direction. But it also gives a realistic perspective that cannot be ignored.
Gore is a dynamic, explosive weapon on the gridiron, with the potential to be one of the best running backs in 49ers' history if he is given a fair shake. No single player can catapult a team to greatness, but Gore can easily be the key cog for a team in contention. But with the career expectancy numbers of NFL tailbacks, along with Gore's history of medical attention, it is a necessity that the 49ers get the most out of their fourth year pro while he is still one of the premier runners in the league, or even more immediate, while he is still content to don the Red and Gold.
This season will go a long way in determining Gore's potential legacy with the team. If Martz can fully tap into Gore's repertoire while getting the rest of the offense on track, the faithful fans of the 49ers will begin to see a payoff from years of inconsistency. There are plenty of other factors that will completely determine the 49ers' success in 2008, such as the play at quarterback and the continued development of the defense, but it all boils down to Gore.
If the former Miami Hurricane can put up similar numbers to his 2006 campaign, the light at the end of the tunnel will start to shine. If not, then everything could be lost.
*Martz quote is from SFI*, and James Darnell can be contacted at James@49ersWebzone.com