Gore welcomes Westbrook into 49ers backfield

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Before San Francisco added free agent Brian Westbrook to its backfield this week, the 49ers made it a point to consult with Frank Gore first.

The two-time Pro Bowl running back, who has led the team in rushing each of the past five seasons, quickly gave his blessing.

"I thought if he could help my team get better and help us go to another level, I'm fine with it," Gore said Tuesday after San Francisco's single practice. "He's been a great back in this league for a long time. I already started asking him questions, but I feel he can help me get better."

Westbrook signed a one-year deal with the 49ers on Monday and was greeted by a loud applause from 49ers fans attending the team's open practice Tuesday as he trotted onto the field for the first workout with his new team.

The former Philadelphia Eagles star took part in individual drills and did some light running but spent much of the two-hour workout as a spectator while Gore and rookie Anthony Dixon handled the reps on offense.

"The hardest thing to do is sit on the sidelines and watch but that's probably the best way to learn," Westbrook said. "Hopefully it's quick, and I'm gonna do everything I can to make it as painless and as quick as possible."

San Francisco needed help in its backfield after the surprisingly abrupt retirement of Glen Coffee after one year.

Even when Westbrook is up to speed with the power-based running game the 49ers employ, he'll remain an understudy to Gore. Coach Mike Singletary made that point clear when San Francisco announced the Westbrook signing.

Gore, a third-round draft pick in 2005, likes leading the 49ers' ground game but welcomes the addition of a back with the experience of Westbrook.

Westbrook led the NFL with 2,104 yards from scrimmage in 2007 but his production dropped dramatically last season when he missed eight games with a pair of concussions and an ankle injury.

"I know that we needed another back and he was the best one out there, and we feel that he can help our team," Gore said. "I watched him a whole lot, especially when he was in Philly because he was a guy I had to compete against for yards and receiving yards. He watched me in practice (today) and I asked him to help me with the things he sees that I can carry over on the field."

Singletary didn't rule out the possibility of using both Gore and Westbrook in the same backfield. In addition to 5,995 career rushing yards, Westbrook also has 426 receptions for 3,790 yards in eight seasons.

Gore, who already ranks fourth on the 49ers' career rushing list with 5,561 yards, is averaging more than 52 catches over the past four seasons. The potential explosiveness that he and Westbrook present should pose a significant challenge for defenses.

"A lot of weapons," Gore said. "We do have personnel like that, with two halfbacks in the game. Both running backs out of the backfield can catch the ball well and I think that's going to be great."

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