Niners running back Gore geared up for big season

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Frank Gore walked around shirtless after practice the other day showing off his sculpted physique, confident as ever.

Gore feels so good, in fact, that San Francisco's star running back keeps referencing his career-best Pro Bowl season of 2006 — because he believes he's primed for a sequel.

It sure can't hurt that Mike Singletary is pushing a power-run offense in the coach's first training camp.

"I feel strong. I feel fast, quick and ready," Gore said. "I put the time in. Every time on the field, I visualize myself in the game."

Gore hasn't taken a day off through the first 10 days of camp and hasn't asked for one, either. That effort and energy is catching on with his offensive linemen and others. The coaches are closely monitoring Gore's workload to make sure he stays healthy and fresh, and he will be limited in Friday's exhibition opener against Denver.

"Frank is a workhorse out there," center Eric Heitmann said. "I've never seen Frank take a play off. He's always running down hill, trying to get the right cuts, blowing up the hole. He's working tremendously hard this camp. He's taking a ton of reps and looking extremely good. It's a tremendous motivating factor for us to have a running back with that much intensity and enthusiasm about the game. It really fires us up and it's fun to block for a guy like that."

Monday was a scorcher — the hottest day yet for the Niners during camp — with the temperatures reaching the low 90s with no breeze. Yet play after play, there was Gore adding an extra 10 to 20 yards to every run, channeling a tradition established in the days of Jerry Rice and Roger Craig and their extraordinary work ethics. Those two made plays in practice, then ran a little further just for the fun of it.

"Good job, Gore!" one teammate hollered.

"Go get 'em, Frank!" yelled another.

Gore charges up the middle and high-fives a lineman, then makes another nice run and slaps hands with running backs coach Tom Rathman. He pats linemen on their helmets, too — and they sure appreciate those gestures of support.

"We're very lucky to have a guy like Frank in our backfield," Heitmann said.

On Monday, in an 11-on-11 drill featuring the starting lines on both sides of the ball, Gore broke through and ran right into the arms of observing injured linebacker Patrick Willis for an embrace.

"I think Frank has a tremendous attitude this training camp," Singletary said after the day's first session. "I think a lot of that has to do with his coach, Tom Rathman. Tom has developed a good rapport with all the running backs and getting to know who they are and coaching them hard. At the same time, being that father figure when you have to listen and help them work through things. So there's a trust that's there between Frank and Coach Rathman that only enhances what Frank can do."

In the best of his four NFL seasons, Gore ran for 1,695 yards and eight touchdowns in '06 and also caught 61 passes for 485 yards and a TD. He carried the ball 31 times at Denver that season and rushed for 212 yards against Seattle, both career highs.

The 26-year-old returned to the University of Miami for his offseason regimen this year, rededicating himself to the kind of training that worked so well for him in 2006. He turned himself over to Hurricanes strength coach Andreu Swasey, the same man who helped Gore during his college days and early years in the NFL.

"I wanted to go back to him since '06 was one of my best years. I went back to all my old ways, like when I first got in the league," Gore said. "I feel so strong right now. I just go on the practice field and visualize myself in the game. That's why I like to get the reps and why I go so far."

Gore decided he needed to do something differently because he didn't finish the past two seasons the way he would have liked and has dealt with a bum ankle that kept him out two games in 2008. He still finished last year with 240 carries for 1,036 yards and six TDs and another 43 catches with two touchdowns.

He has missed only three games in three years despite the constant pounding his body takes.

"I think he has the eye of the tiger this year," said new Niners offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. "From what I've seen, his work ethic has been outstanding and he's looking forward to a good year — and we are looking forward to him having one."

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