SANTA CLARA, Calif. — San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said Saturday that he expects holdout Frank Gore to play with the team this season but is prepared to move forward without the two-time Pro Bowl running back.
Baalke said that he wasn't surprised by Gore's absence in training camp. He declined to talk specifics about the contract dispute or how long the stalemate could last.
"I think you always have to be prepared for everything that comes up. So are we prepared to (play without him)? Certainly," Baalke said. "There are other players that are going to have to step up. But at the same time, we fully expect Frank to be back."
Gore, the heart of the 49ers offense, is in the final year of his deal. He has been deemed healthy by his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, who hasn't responded to phone messages or emails.
Gore went down with a season-ending fractured hip in a Monday night game at Arizona last Nov. 29. Gore, who avoided surgery on the hip, ran for 853 yards and three touchdowns in his sixth NFL season and caught 46 passes for 452 yards and two TDs.
He can be fined $30,000 for each day of camp missed under the new NFL labor agreement. Of course, Gore could make that up and more if he gets his wish.
"Certainly, we'd like to have Frank here. He's not here," Baalke said. "So the only we can do is move forward and get the other guys ready to play. You can look at the positives and the negatives. Like I always say, the positive of it is the young backs are getting a lot of work."
While Gore's no-show has put a major dent in Baalke's plans, he hasn't been the only one.
Michael Crabtree is wearing a boot on his left foot and that could force the receiver to miss the preseason for the third straight year, and quarterback Alex Smith can't practice until Thursday under the NFL labor agreement for free agents.
San Francisco also has watched two major players — linebacker Takeo Spikes (San Diego) and guard David Baas (New York Giants) — held elsewhere in free agency, and they released leading cornerback Nate Clements.
Baalke defended his lack of a splashy signing, preaching patience for a team that hasn't had a winning season or made the playoffs since 2002. He didn't confirm nor deny a report that the 49ers will meet with receiver Plaxico Burress, allowing only that the team is taking a conservative approach to filling out the roster.
"There are going to be years when maybe we are ultra-aggressive. But this isn't one of them," Baalke said. "We have a plan, we're going to execute it."
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