It's full speed ahead for rejuvenated Frank Gore

After talking with Jim Harbaugh in the offseason, 49ers running back Frank Gore began to believe that, finally, all that other talk would disappear.

For starters, his family members would stop openly dreaming about him playing for the Colts or Patriots, teams with elite quarterbacks directing visionary offenses.

And the NFL defensive players with whom he trained in Miami would stop telling him about their Gore-centered game plans from that past season: "They would come up to me and say, 'Man, that's all we talked about - you, you, you,' " he said.

And, best of all, Gore never again would line up in the backfield and hear defenders yelling out the 49ers' play before the snap. Gore says that happened in last year's 31-10 loss to the Chiefs and during the ill-fated tenure of offensive coordinator Jim Hostler three years earlier.

"In '07, when we had Jim Hoss," Gore said, shaking his head wearily, "yeah, that was tough."

Gore is the only back in franchise history with four straight 1,000-yard seasons, and he needs 931 yards to become the Niners' all-time leading rusher. Those are particularly impressive feats considering he hasn't been surrounded by a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard receiver or an offense that has ranked higher than 23rd in the league.

"Like I told (Harbaugh), it's been tough out there, man," Gore said. "It's been tough in my career here facing defenses that knew what we were going to do. That's what's made me really think - would another running back be able to do what I did? In the position I was in?"

Gore, 28, is confident he'll be in a far better position this season thanks to the arrival of Harbaugh, the first offensive-minded head coach he has had.

Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman were known for their creative use of formations, motion and personnel groups at Stanford, where the Cardinal scored a school-record 524 points last year.

In contrast with former offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, who announced his intention to run on 60 percent of San Francisco's plays, Harbaugh and Roman have been tight-lipped about their West Coast offense and kept the preseason play-calling vanilla - but what Gore heard from Harbaugh in the offseason had him, in effect, salivating. Gore has said those conversations contributed to his decision to end his contract holdout after four days at the start of training camp.

"Even though football should be simple, you don't have to make it look simple," Gore said. "And the coaches here now don't make it look simple. That's what I like."

And after signing a three-year, $21 million contract extension last week, he can envision playing until he's 31. He believes the creative use of other personnel will add years to his career by taking the bull's-eye off his back.

"We've got all the talent," Gore said. "And I think we have the right coaches now who can use all the talent. ... Now I can see myself playing this last contract out just because of how they get the ball to everybody. People won't be able to just come in here and be like, 'They're running power.' "

For his part, Harbaugh appears to be just as taken with Gore, whom he calls one of the NFL's best running backs. Gore is fully recovered from a hairline hip fracture he sustained in November, but he has missed nine games over the past three seasons because of injuries as his 5-foot-9, 217-pound frame pays the price for 1,371 career carries. Still, Harbaugh has said he doesn't anticipate Gore, who excels as a pass-catcher and blocker, coming off the field often.

Beyond his respect for Gore's on-field ability, Harbaugh loves the life story of an athlete who grew up in extreme poverty in Coral Gables, Fla., and overcame a learning disability.

"Frank is a true 49er," Harbaugh said. "I've said that from when I first got here, that's how I thought I would feel about Frank Gore. Now I know how I feel about Frank Gore. The guy is awesome. Somebody should do a movie. Somebody should do 'The Frank Gore Story,' because it's an awesome story."

The respect for Gore runs throughout the organization. His teammates voted him the offensive captain last week.

Gore is acclaimed for his football smarts and eye for talent - former head coach Mike Nolan used to call him to get his evaluations of teammates and players around the NFL. And general manager Trent Baalke and Gore have talked, somewhat jokingly, Gore says, about him filling a similar role in his retirement.

When Gore was sidelined by his hip injury last year, Baalke brought him upstairs to watch video of two Pac-10 running backs. It was an experience that might have given Gore second thoughts about getting into the talent-evaluation business.

"At first, I thought you've just got to watch one game," Gore said. "But, man, I had to watch like five games with one person. I told Trent, 'Man, you should know once you've seen one game or two games of a guy, you should know what type of player he is.' But, no, he told me I had to watch like five games. That's the tough part right there."

Gore was laughing. And with good reason. As a running back with a target on his back, he has experienced the toughest part of football.
But his toughest days, he believes, are finally behind him.

Click here to order Frank Gore’s proCane Rookie Card.

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