49ers like Frank Gore as No. 1 back

SANTA CLARA -- General manager Trent Baalke said the 49ers' salary cap is in "good shape," so much so it won't heavily factor into how they shape their backfield for 2014 and at what price Frank Gore returns for a 10th season.

"We can move forward exactly as is if that's what we choose to do," Baalke told reporters Friday at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

As it stands, the 49ers remain enamored with Gore as their do-everything running back. But they also must figure out how Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James factor into the mix with a rehabilitated Marcus Lattimore, as well as practice-squad gem Jewel Hampton.

James, a 2012 second-round draft pick from Oregon, apparently isn't on the trading block despite rushing for only 184 regular-season yards in two seasons. Baalke, in a separate interview with the Sacramento Bee, said there have been no discussions to unload James.

Gore is poised to carry a $6.45 cap figure in the final year of his contract, including $3.3 million in base salary. He averaged a career-low 4.1 yards per carry last season while eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark (1,128) for the seventh time in nine seasons.

While Gore played nearly 75 percent of the snaps, his understudies saw their chances diminish, particularly because of Gore's pass-protection proficiency.
"All I can say is it's a crowded backfield. Frank had an awfully good football season," Baalke said. "Coach (Jim Harbaugh) mentioned yesterday it was A-plus-plus, and it was that kind of year.

"It's tough. There's certain game plans LaMichael was meant to play bigger role than he ended up playing. But that's the game. Every game you go in with a plan and sometimes that changes based on what you're doing and what the other team is doing. You've got to be flexible. It's up to LaMichael and every one of our players, we tell them up to you to earn time on the field."

Lattimore, the former South Carolina standout, did not play his rookie season while recovering from knee reconstruction. Hampton has not taken a snap since signing in 2012 as an undrafted free agent from Southern Illinois.

Anthony Dixon, a short-yardage back and part-time fullback last season, is scheduled to become a free agent next month. He has rushed for 458 yards and eight touchdowns in four seasons while also serving as a core special-teams player.

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