49ers game plan: Keep Gore fresh for playoff run

During the second half of the 2011 season, there was a better than 50 percent chance that a 49ers running play went to someone other than Frank Gore. After handling more than 65 percent of the team's carries through the first eight games, Gore - nicked by injuries -- slowed down significantly in the final eight games.

From a Nov. 13 showdown against the Giants onward, Gore took 123 of the 252 regular-season carries, which is 49 percent. Through all 16 games, he handled 57 percent of the his team's total carries, which ranked 11th among NFL running backs.

Still, the 49ers ran the ball so often in 2011 - 498 times, the most in the NFC - that Gore ended up with 282 total carries, the fifth most in the NFL and the second-most of Gore's career. All of this suggests that while San Francisco's rushing attempts may be divided more than ever in 2012 among Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and others, there is still an opportunity for individual rushers to get a significant number of carries.

The goal this year, running backs coach Tom Rathman said, is to be wise in how the carries are divided. The 49ers obviously leaned heavily on Gore early last year while Hunter and the passing game were developing following the lockout.

The Faustian bargain they struck was that they didn't have Gore, their Pro Bowl tailback, at full strength at the end of the season and in the playoffs. "We need to keep him healthy," Rathman said this week. "We need to keep him fresh so he's an impact player for us."

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