The San Francisco 49ers offense depends heavily on the performance of their strong corps of running backs.  The threat of the run has enabled Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick navigate their offenses through opposing defenses, put points on the board, win games, and make deep playoff runs the past two seasons.

We’ll take a look here at the Niners backfield and get a better understanding of how the men that take handoffs, pitches and screen passes contribute to one of the NFL’s most dynamic options.

Frank Gore

Gore continues to hold the title of the heart and soul of the 49ers backfield and one of the offense’s most crucial pieces for the past decade.

Even at age 30, Frank Gore believes he still has a lot to offer the 49ers.  At a phase in his career when most feature running backs start to break down, Gore still appears to have plenty left in the tank.Gore was quoted as saying, 

"They said he's turning 30 and he might not have (any) more left,"  "I like that type of stuff. Whenever (the 49ers) let me get on the field, I'm going to go hard and prove everybody wrong again."

The Niners have limited Gore during this year’s OTAs to help him save his legs for the season, and they’re making sure that he has plenty of help.  Still, as goes Frank Gore, so goes the 49er offense.  Look for Gore to make big plays out of the backfield as he looks to put up another 1,000 yard rushing season and try to crack the 10,000 career yard mark this year.  As the veteran leader out of the backfield, also look for him to show tremendous support and heap praise and advice on the younger backs that are backing him up.

LaMichael James

James has worked hard this off-season to improve his game, build muscle mass, and getting himself stronger so that he can play a role in the Niners backfield and on special teams this season.  NFL Draft Insiders talked about James in earlier article this off-season.  James failed to score a touchdown last season, but showed flashes of his speed and his weight training regimen this offseason has him ready to do some serious straight-ahead and side-to-side running while spelling Gore. 

James has also had the benefit of a season’s worth of experience and an offseason’s worth of learning how to improve his game.  It’s just a matter of time before James finds himself in the end zone with his first NFL rushing touchdown.  A solid season from James could help the Niners repeat as NFC West Champions and poise them for another deep playoff run.

Kendall Hunter

Kendall Hunter will be battling for snaps with James this season, but the friendly competition to spell Frank Gore could be a winner for all involved as Hunter and James push each other to be better. 

Hunter was a significant figure in the 49er offense last season, and Frank Gore’s numbers suffered somewhat when Hunter went down with a season-ending Achilles injury. The short, shifty runner with breakaway speed reports that he will be “ready and sharp” for the 2013 season and has resumed doing drills with the team as he’s recovered from his injury and gotten healthier.  A healthy Kendall Hunter will give the 49ers great backfield depth and allow the team to pump fresh legs into games whenever needed.

Marcus Lattimore

While it is unlikely that Lattimore will play this season due to a knee injury that he continues to recover from, the big back will benefit from the training facilities and medical staff that the 49ers have.  Lattimore’s injury recovery is not unprecedented in San Francisco.  In fact, Lattimore’s story is similar to that of Frank Gore, who suffered a serious knee injury in his final season at Miami and has gone on to be one of the best running backs in the NFL the past ten years. 

Lattimore’s impact on the 49ers will be in his dedication to rehabbing and getting healthy.  Even if he doesn’t play a snap in 2013, he could be the future and take over as the feature back when the day comes that Frank Gore begins to decline.  He’ll have some big shoes to fill, and his attention to detail in learning the team’s offense and his physical recovery will be where Marcus Lattimore finds himself having his biggest impact in San Francisco both this season and going forward.

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