Archive for category 49rs

San Francisco 49ers’ Offseason Analysis: Running Backs

When last we visited our off-season analysis of the current roster for the San Francisco 49ers, we took a look at the quarterback position. Today we move to the folks who line up just off and behind the quarterback: the running back.


Including Moran Norris at fullback, there are just four players at the position on the roster.

Frank Gore, rookie Glen Coffee and special teams specialist Michael Robinson fill out the rest if the backs, with Gore/Coffee receiving the bulk of the work.

Many believed that the arrival of Offensive Coordinator Jimmy Raye meant that ground and pound would be the order of the day. However, the 49ers offense passed far more than it ran—of the 899 offensive plays the team ran, 528 were pass plays.

It’s likely that this remains the same for 2010, assuming Alex Smith continues to play well enough to keep it effective.

It also begs the question as to whether the Niners will feel they need another running back.


Gore is the center of this group-but not the offense

Frank Gore

This has been Frank Gore’s team for four years now. While several backs have come and gone (Thomas Clayton, DeShaun Foster, Kevan Barlow) this team’s ground game is all Gore, all the time.

Despite being the lead back for a team which ran far less than it threw, Gore posted his fourth straight 1,000 plus yard season. In fact, he posted better yardage totals and scored more touchdowns on less carries than either of the previous two seasons.

All this is pretty impressive, especially when you factor in his two missed games. Three really, since he only carried the ball once against the Minnesota Vikings before he left due to injury.

Of course, this brings up a constant question which has plagued Gore off and on for his career—is he injury prone?

My thought is, no he isn’t. Does he get banged up? Yes—and so do many other backs, especially when they carry the majority load for their team.

Of course, it would help Gore if they could portion out a greater share of the carries to someone else. This year, he took about two-thirds of the the carries for the 49ers.

On the other hand, that percentage is from a lesser overall total which helps to keep his general wear and tear from being to severe.

Gore also achieved the second highest yards-per-carry rating of his career, hitting 4.9 ypc—a big improvement on the 4.3/4.2 from the previous two seasons. Sure, that was helped by several huge touchdown runs.

Keep in mind though, even those big runs were behind an inconsistent and underwhelming offensive line—one of the likely focal points for the 49ers improvements for the 2010 off-season.

Frank Gore will continue to be the lead back in this offense. While it will probably not shift much more focus onto the ground game, Offensive Coordinator Jimmy Raye and Head Coach Mike Singletary will need the run game to keep defenses honest and help likely starting quarterback Alex Smith.

If Gore can stay relatively healthy and if the team can improve it’s offensive line, he should continue to be a very productive portion of the 49ers offense. One which they can—and will—rely on.

Glen CoffeeAs I stated earlier, when the season began the thought was that the 49ers would feature the run game prominently. As that was the case, a fair amount of people assumed that rookie Glen Coffee would see a significant number of carries.

This didn’t happen and if it wasn’t for the injury to Gore, he’d have carried the ball even fewer times.

Even with the minor amount of carries Coffee got, he ended up missing just over a game due to concussion and part of the Week 15 game against the Philadelphia Eagles due to a hamstring injury.

It’s difficult to determine how effective Coffee can be based on the very insignificant amount of opportunity the rookie received.

He did show good burst, some nice open field moves and the ability to effectively block during pass plays. However, during his time as starter he failed to establish the run game, had problems breaking free of tackles and getting yards after first contact.

For the most part, Coffee looked like what he was—a rookie with a long way to go to become a consistent weapon in the offense. Still, he was effective enough as a back-up and will continue to function largely in that capacity as he improves his overall game.

Michael Robinson

Robinson has remained the number three back off and on for several seasons, never doing much when he gets the opportunity to show his ability. His chief duty is as a kick returner and honestly, he’s not terribly effective in that capacity either.

I believe Robinson’s time could be running short on the team. They desperately need a good returner and unfortunately Robinson has not been it.

Moran Norris

Norris has tooled around the league for seven years now, almost exclusively as a blocking fullback. More and more teams are moving away from utilizing the fullback in this way—often teams are moving a second tight end into formations instead.

Norris is very good at what he does though. While he isn’t a back who will ever get many carries, I feel as though a portion of the credit for Gore’s season lies with Norris. Behind an offensive line a injury-plagued and underperforming as this was, a solid run-blocking fullback like Norris is a huge asset.

It’s entirely possible the 49ers will draft a solid blocking tight end, in which case Norris’ role may become more marginalized. Until then though, Norris will remain a quietly effective part of this offense.


Given that both Frank Gore and Glen Coffee were hurt at various points throughout the 2009 season, one might think that the team would be worried about adding another back for 2010.

It’s clear to me though that the 49ers feel no great need to add another player merely for running back duties. Gore is still very productive, Coffee will have another camp under his belt and in an emergency Robinson can serve.

They were able to patch the lineup to cover for the injuries pretty effectively, even if the transitions weren’t seamless.

This is not to say they won’t add a back for depth later. It’s just not a priority.

What is a priority, though, is a kick and punt returner. As I mentioned above, Micheal Robinson is not getting the job done.

According to a report on Special Teams Units by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News (via Matt Maiocco’s Twitter feed), the 49ers rank 21st in the NFL in effectiveness.

That ranking—as middle of the road as it is—is largely because of the punt and kick coverage units though, not because of the return units.

The team ranked 23rd in kickoff returns, averaging just 28.1 yards per return. They were atrocious in punt returns—ranked dead last in the league with a woeful 4.4 yards per return.

If the team does indeed draft a running back early, it will be one with a very good set of return skills. This makes players like Clemson’s CJ Spiller, Cal’s Jahvid Best and Ole Miss’ Dexter McCluster possibilities with the team’s picks either late in the first round or second round.

It’s possible however that the team may grab a wide receiver or cornerback to fulfill the same need. They may also make a trade or sign a free agent to meet this need.

If that happens, then I don’t foresee the 49ers coming away with a running back from either the first or second round in the 2010 draft, nor via free agency.

Fans may feel a little shaky with just two real running backs on the roster (and perhaps a returning Thomas Clayton, though he never amounted to much either), but it’s clear to me the team feels it can make it with what is on staff and wait to grab an upside back later in the Draft this April. 

Coffee played like a rookie his first year—he needs to improve for year two

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday Morning Stampede

So FAVREWATCH 2008 is far from over, but we knew that would be the case.

All that and some running back news below for the Morning Stampede…

Green Bay Packers
As was reported yesterday, Favre is probably close to being traded and soon. Both the Jets and Bucs are allegedly interested – the Tampa Tribune says Favre will be a Buc be days end, with Brian Griese heading to Wisconsin to back up Aaron Rodgers (which as I wrote last night, only made sense). Not so fast says Jay Glazer of FoxSports – the NY Jets have offered a much better trade package. Apparently, Favre currently prefers the Bucs, though he is talking to the Jets, and supposedly feels that the Packers are asking too much from the Bucs just because they are a NFC team.

I think this will clear up by Friday, maybe before, but it continues to be somewhat ugly between the Pack and their once favored son.

Both the Bucs and Jets would be good, not great fits, for Favre and neither is a Super Bowl contender though the Bucs seem closer on the surface. Favre may help them make a run while he merely makes the Jets an 8-8 team with Wild Card aspirations. That’s not a slam on Favre – the Jets are just farther away. But you never know.

Either team would put Favre back on the Fantasy radar and make him – at the very least – a #2 QB.

Chicago Bears
Kevin Jones is definitely healing well and while he might still open the season on the PUP list, he is supposedly running close to full speed. He’s been in pads, though sporting a heavy knee brace. It’s the brace that reminds you he is still coming back from a nagging injury and is a guy who the Bears probably picked up more for later in the season. Jones could be a pick during the last half or third of your draft, but you shouldn’t draft him for anything but bench depth. Matt Forte is still the starter and will be for some time, barring him struggling mightily.

San Francisco 49rs
Frank Gore could have a huge season if he is involved in the pass game the way I (and others) suspect he might, yet I still see him slipping late in the 1st round of drafts. Gore has worked hard to get into better shape, including dropping wieght. With the concerns for just about every running back pick after #3 (Westbrook or Peterson, depending on who you ask), Gore is someone to look at closely and consider for your #1 back.

Most of the 49rs have a long way to go to prove themselves fantasy worthy and Gore could still face 8 man fronts if Martz’s offense struggles. But Gore has faced them before and done well. Dropping the weight and getting into better shape will hopefully keep him healthier and get rid of nagging injuries that have plagued him for his career.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Just when we thought Fast Willie Parker had lost his goal line touches for good with the drafting of Rashard Mendenhall – not so fast. According to HC Mike Tomlin (by way of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ), Parker is once again under consideration for goal line duties. Now, I need to look into this but this may be a sign Mendenhall is struggling a little in camp. I’ll see what I can find out. Parker will get you the yards – but his touchdowns were completely absent last year and it killed his owners. If he can get even a few more goal line touches, it would really help his value to you. I have been, and still do, assume that the rookie Mendenhall will get a ton of short yardage looks, including in the red zone. Parker hasn’t got the size for it and concern still is he might wear down. But he has been effective on occasion and could be again if the offensive line is back on it’s game. That was the biggest problem last year – the Ol-ine struggled as much as he did.

He’s your rock solid RB2 – with a ton of upside if this plays out.

That’s all for now – more later.

More Training Camp Notes – now with 50% less Favre

Let’s get this out of the way:

  • Favre to Jets looks dead (rumor is Favre no likey Gang Green)
  • Favre to Bucs looks possible
  • No Favre at Packers Camp today

Now on to more stuff not Favretastic -

MRIs Around the NFL

Asante Samuel had one – the injury to his hammy looks ‘Mild’. (Philadelphia Inquirer & Daily News) Good news for Philly – a ‘push’ for Lito Sheppard. Again, Samuel means better numbers (or more opportunity for Sheppard) but no Samuel means leverage in contract talks.

Deuce McAllister’s was negative – but like I said yesterday, it’s bad that he needs one already. Once again, I invite you to hop on board the Pierre Thomas Train before it leaves the Station!

I think that’s it for MRIs today – maybe we can do another turn tomorrow?

Bears Lock Hester Up
According to the Chicago Sun Times Da Bears have signed kick return monster and unproven wide receiver Devin Hester to a 4 year 30 Million dollar extension, $15 mill of which is guarenteed. Now, as I said the other day, they HAD to make him happy – right now he’s the whole offense. BUT – and this is critical – he has yet to prove that he’s worth the money they just gave him. I mean, on the one hand, he is, as he’s the most dynamic kick returner maybe ever. But on the other, what if he sucks out loud at receiver? Like the last phenomenal kick returner who was mediocre as a pass catcher – Dante Hall?

They had to pay him – but I don’t know this was money well spent. Hester has to put it together as a pass catcher now.

Of course if he does – will he back with his hand out again?

BTW – for Fantasy purposes, let me reiterate that no Bear WR is worth more than a flier, unless you get good points for kick returns in which case, Hester is your man.

Ashlie Lelie Does What he Does Best – Gets Hurt
For those of you hoping Lelie would be the #3 guy in SF and end up with some Sleeper value – the Santa Rosa Press Democrat is reporting that Lelie is Day-to-Day with a left calf sprain. The guy has never been sturdy and with Battle looking to be the guy behind Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson, Lelie had a huge hill to climb. Looks like he fell off it.

Every day is a day he loses ground. You want a sleeper, try looking at Jason Hill, who has done some damage in Camps. Of course, rumor has it the 49rs will not be using a lot of 3 WR sets (utilizing Frank Gore and Vernon Davis as targets instead) so looking for a productive #3 wide reciever in San Fran might be a little like spitting in the wind.

That’s all for now – -

Comment below or email at

A few notes of the Day

Just got back in from watching several pro players training with Travelle Gaines at Elite Athletics in Westlake Village, CA. I know I’m not in great shape, but watching these guys work made me think I have to hit the gym again, soon. It was also great to see veterans like Lorenzo Booker, Billy Miller (who owns the joint) as well as rookies like Bruce Davis, working their tails off. Lots of effort goes into the off-season, believe you me.

More from those guys in the next week or so.

A few notes -

The thought has been – and this is most discussed in Fantasy Football Circles – that with Mad Mike Martz on the job is San Fran, every WR in the area might get some good numbers. The debate has been who will get more catches – venerable Isaac Bruce or upstart Bryant Johnson. Arnaz Battle has been a whisper as someone who might have a Shaun McDonald/Mike Furrey-esque explosion under Martz. Well, now Matt Barrows has reported on his Sacremento Bee blog that the team might not be featuring a 3rd WR, as Marrtz has in the past. This could significantly alter Battle’s possible value and as someone in the middle of a Fantasy Football auction right now, has knocked down on my list of values. Keep watching, and I’ll keep you informed.

Every year someone has to make some kind of guarentee regarding how good their team will be and as we near training camps, we’ll see more of it – this week’s entry is from Donte Whitner, DB for the Buffalo Bills. I hate guarentees, they always come back to bite you in the rear end. But look at the Bills – they added not 1 but 2 good WRs in James Hardy and Steve Johnson (I’m telling you, Johnson will be a 7th round success story) to pull pressure off of Lee Evans. Added Leodis McKelvin to work with Whitner. Are saying they will involve Marshawn Lynch in the pass game more. The AFC East is open for business – the Jets are struggling, Miami is a disaster – the only sure thing is the Pats and if everything clicks, I’ll go on record as saying the Bills might give them two very hard games.

A wild card birth is not out of the question at all.

With all the drama at the WR position this off-season – Ocho Cinco, Terry Glenn, Houshmandzedah, Engram – it’s nice to see a franchise and a player do something ahead of time. The New Orleans Times-Picayune (what is a Picayune?) reports that the Saints and top WR Marques Colston are talking about an extension. Colston (as well as Guard Jahri Evans) are already talking about extensions with the club. Of course, after they sign extensions, he might up and complain about them a year later when WR X gets paid 3x as much. But I think actually it’s as much about appreciating these guys and what they do as the money. And it’s smart to lock up your team’s dominant WR and a solid guard while you can. Make them feel appreciated. Keep them happy.

Always good policy.

I’ll be back later to keep YOU happy (see what I did there?) with another update tonight.

Please feel free to email questions or comments to I have a few emails already – if I get enough I’ll add them in a post for all to see.