49ers running back Frank Gore.
On Monday, Bill Belichickwent into great detail in discussing Mike Martz' offense, focusing primarily on the deep passing game and the big plays it creates. Today, the coach was quick to point out that not all of those big plays are the result of San Francisco's air assault.
That's because the Niners possess one of the more underrated backs in football in Frank Gore. The former Miami Hurricane has struggled through a difficult early part of his career dealing with injuries and personal tragedy off the field, but when he's healthy he's an extremely dangerous runner.
Vince Wilfork knows all too well how talented Gore is because he not only played with him at The U, as former Hurricanes like to call it, but the two are quite close off the field.
"Knowing him personally and what he's been through in his life with the death of his mother and the injuries, off field issues with his family and everything, he's still looking the way he did at the University of Miami," Wilfork said. "He's pretty tough to tackle, he's elusive and he has good speed. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, too. Being that small he can actually block pretty well, too.
"It's going to be very important for us, especially up front, that when we have him we have to make sure we have him. Guys think they have him and he'll pop out. We have to do a good job of wrapping up."
Wilfork said he and his wife, Bianca, are very close with Gore and his family. Because of that relationship he expects to take part in some trash talking in the coming days but said that would cease on Sunday. In the meantime, Belichick pointed out that the 49ers offense is second in the NFL in plays of 20 yards or more. Martz' group turned in 20 such plays in September, trailing only the 22 posted by Dallas. Gore has been a big part of that, and not just in conventional ways.
"There are a couple run after the catch plays but most of them are down the field," Belichick said. "They have had a couple screens and Frank Gore is capable of going 20, 30, 40 yards. He has caught a couple down the field on seam routes coming out of the backfield. In fact he had one against New Orleans and he went for about 35 yards right down the middle coming out of the backfield – it's not all screen passes to him either.
"He's pretty good at everything. He is a complete back. He catches the ball well. He does a good job in pass protection. He's a strong guy. He's hard to bring down and he breaks a lot of tackles. He breaks tackles with his quickness but also breaks them with his lower body strength, running through them. He has a lot of different tools in the bag. He can do a lot of things – run outside, run inside. He has good patience. He has a good burst. He's strong, catches the ball well [and] blocks. They are taking him off the field less and less. I can see why. He's a good player."
Gore has been the centerpiece of a Niners offense that has been pretty consistent thus far in 2008. San Francisco has topped the 30-point park twice in the first four games and red zone miscues were largely responsible for their 31-17 defeat at New Orleans in Week 4.
Gore leads the club in rushing with 369 yards on 76 carries (4.9 yards per rush) with three touchdowns. He also is tied with Arnaz Battlefor the team lead with 15 receptions, good for another 156 yards and a healthy 10.4 yards per reception, an exceptionally high total for a running back.
"It starts with stopping the run and trying to get them in long-yardage situations so we can get after the passer," Wilfork added. "If we don't stop the run we're going to have a long day and I think everybody understands that."