Paul Sakuma, Associated Press
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Frank Gore took the ball, chugged up the middle and ran a few extra yards just for fun. Same 'ol Gore, always pushing, no matter the month.
It's just that usually he is doing so way down in Miami this time of year — not on the field with his 49ers teammates for everybody to see.
Gore is embracing change and competition at age 29. He is fueling himself with thoughts of how close he came to the Super Bowl back in January.
"It's real different, but change is good for everybody at times," Gore said Tuesday. "We've got a great thing going out here. We know what type of team we've got and hopefully we get back to that."
The three-time Pro Bowl running back is taking part in San Francisco's offseason workouts, arriving far earlier than usual to the Bay Area from his home in south Florida to get to work. He is part of a small group that works out each morning around 6 a.m.
Until now, Gore had stayed in Miami, where he starred in college for the Hurricanes, his entire seven-year NFL career. Now, Gore has no unsettled contract status weighing on his mind the way he did a year ago and seems as focused and confident as ever.
"As long as I'm in great shape, I'm going to be the Frank Gore I've always been," Gore declared after a practice last week.
While Gore is determined to do his part to duplicate San Francisco's special comeback season of 2011, he has other motivation, too: The defending NFC West champions already have a busy backfield, and Gore will get a daily push from backup Kendall Hunter, newly signed Brandon Jacobs and rookie second-round pick LaMichael James. Gore also has a workout bonus for his attendance that's part of the new $21 million, three-year contract extension he received last August.
He doesn't expect to slow down any time soon.
"I'm going to be Frank, and if I'm on the field I'll do whatever it takes to help my team win," he said. He has said he plans to return to Miami and get in "beast mode shape and be ready for the season."
Gore has long prided himself on being a durable, every-down back who can carry the load for the Niners year after year. Yet coach Jim Harbaugh knows Gore will need his share of breaks. The 49ers' career rushing leader, who last season reeled off a franchise-best stretch of five straight 100-yard games, took six weeks off to rest after the 49ers' 20-17 overtime loss in January to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the NFC championship game.
Gore also needed a mental break after the way the season ended. It still stings.
"It was tough. That's one of the reasons I didn't go to the Pro Bowl," he said. "It broke me down for a while. How close it was, just looking back, all the tough times we had here to be that close to going to the big dance, that was very tough. ... I took a little longer this time because we played a little longer last year. I had a few more bumps and bruises to get back together. So I took a little longer. Now my body is starting to get back."
While Gore is still the main man carrying the ball in Harbaugh's offense, Hunter made an immediate impact as a rookie. He carried 112 times for 473 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-foot-4, 264-pound Jacobs has an impressive physical presence.
Jacobs, released March 9 by the Giants after the sides failed to work out a restructured contract, ran for 571 yards and seven touchdowns last season as his role diminished behind the emerging Ahmad Bradshaw.
"He's a big guy," Gore said. "I'm happy we have him."
General manager Trent Baalke said during the draft last month that the 49ers have ample options at running back, and they like it that way.
"It's like poker, it's a full house. That's good, right?" Baalke said.
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