Alex Smith

On replacing Frank Gore

With every day that passes after losing the NFC Championship in overtime, it seems like our 49ers Wish List gets longer.

First, they just needed a wide receiver or two. Sign some receivers (whaddya mean, “Dwayne Bowe is never motivated”?), draft at least one, too — and preferably make one of the receivers a guy who can return punts without letting the ball bounce off his knee.

Then Peyton Manning became the hot ticket item, until sources told Yahoo they were fearful he’d never play again. But Manning responded by telling Trey Wingo, “I feel really good.” Peytonites, have no fear — your favorite pitchman isn’t going anywhere! (Except the CBS Pregame/Postgame studio … sorry.)

Come to think of it, the right side of the Niners’ offensive line isn’t all that great either. Throw one of those guys into the cart, too. Grab a Carl Nicks, someone like that — just remember to lift with your knees. Hey, if the Niners sign both Nicks and Marques Colston, do you think they could get some sort of club discount since they both used to play for the same team?

Oh, and don’t forget all of the 49ers’ own free agents they need to bring back, like Carlos Rogers. Throw in Dashon Goldson and Ahmad Brooks too, while you’re at it. Can’t let the defense slip from greatness to above-averageness.

Are you ready for another item to add to the list? I’ll let Matt Barrows do the honors:

When Gore had the ball in his hands, he seemed to fine. But he often removed himself from games at the end of the season and in the playoffs. During a critical fourth-quarter drive against the Giants in which the 49ers ground attack appeared to be gaining the advantage against the New York defense, it was third-string runner Anthony Dixon who entered the game. He was tripped up on a potentially big run on 2nd and 4, and ended up gaining three yards. On third and 1, he was stopped for no gain.

What occurred in 2011 points to the 49ers adding a runner in the offseason.

Looks like Boobie’s rap career might be his primary income source sooner rather than later. He’s a decent special teams player, but the 49ers need a better runner, particularly in short yardage situations. Actually, they probably need someone to replace Frank Gore outright if he can’t handle the duties of being a primary back, since Kendall Hunter — while pretty good — is small and fast. He’s more of a 10-touches-per-game guy than someone who can anchor the 49ers’ rushing offense.

Gore’s probably nearing the end, which isn’t surprising given he’s played in 100 regular season games and touched the ball almost 2,000 times in his 7-year career. He bounced back from a hip injury rather well with five straight 100-yard games in 2011, then hurt his knee against the Giants in Week 10 and was never really the same.

In today’s NFL, which is slanted more toward passing than ever, is it worth it for the 49ers to spend precious cap space or utilize a high draft pick on a running back? Even the 49ers found themselves passing more and more as the season went on, although Barrows and others have pointed out that the team’s lack of late-season balance might’ve been based more on the health and skill of their running backs than a desire to follow the latest offensive trends.

While a guy like Mike Tolbert would be an incredible addition, and James Brady called for the 49ers to look into signing Peyton Hillis over on Niners Nation, the 49ers’ resources are finite. They have cap room, but that should quickly evaporate once they re-sign Rogers, Alex Smith and others. If they truly want an elite FA receiver or offensive lineman, that’ll be the end of their off-season shopping spree.

Running back is currently thought of as perhaps the most replaceable, interchangeable position in the game. With a desire for improved depth at several other positions, San Francisco’s more likely to go bargain-hunting instead of making offers to any of the guys at the top of this list. Bet on the 49ers to bring in unknown running backs — guys available either in the later rounds of the NFL Draft or as undrafted free agents. The Niners were a very good team in 2011, but they have too many other areas to focus on before finding Gore’s replacement.

How they approach the task of making an NFC Championship loser better will be fascinating. As the Niners enter their most intriguing off-season in years, every move Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh make will shed light on what their 2012 wish list looks like.


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