SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- These are supposed to be the dog days of NFL training camp, but San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore must not have received the memo.
Gore is having a blast in the summer heat, learning new offensive coordinator Mike Martz's high-voltage scheme. What's more, he's just happy that the 2007 season is behind him.
"It's very fun," Gore said after Wednesday morning's practice. "Last year was tough on the field and also off the field. I'm a stronger man, especially with accepting and dealing with the passing of my mom."
A year ago, Gore still had a cast on his right hand protecting a bone he broke on the second day of training camp. He didn't play a single down during the exhibition season.
Things only got worse.
Four days before the 49ers' Week 2 game against the St. Louis Rams, Gore's mother, Liz, died at 46 after a long battle with kidney disease. After watching her go to dialysis since his junior year in high school, her death hit Gore extremely hard.
On the field, there was more bad news.
A nagging ankle injury plagued Gore for most of the season and cost him one game. As the losses mounted and the offense continued to rank at the bottom of the NFL charts, Gore's frustration grew.
"It was a tough year, man, a very tough year," Gore said.
This year, though, could be a big turnaround for him. In Martz's scheme, Gore will play the multi-dimensional role that Marshall Faulk played when the Rams boasted the Greatest Show on Turf.
"I think it's going to exploit the versatility he has and the things he's able to do," 49ers wide receiver Arnaz Battle said. "Running the ball, trick plays, mismatch opportunities. He has a great opportunity in this offense to do a lot of the things Marshall Faulk did for a lot of years."
Gore had a breakout year in 2006, rushing for a team-record 1,695 yards and catching 61 passes for 485 yards. Last year he rushed for just 1,102 yards while catching 53 passes for 436 yards.
But with Martz calling the shots on offense, Gore's numbers should improve.
"When Coach Martz came in, he told me the more I understand what he's trying to do, the more I'll like it," Gore said. "I see it. I see it. It's going to be fun this year."
Gore should be better prepared to hit the ground running when the regular season begins. Unlike last year, Gore has been able to practice full-speed, and he's getting some game action, too.
According to coach Mike Nolan, Gore should play as much as a quarter Saturday night against the Green Bay Packers.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press