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.
And the players seem to like the idea of sharing the touches — for now anyway. The 49ers appreciate seeing Gore on the field, too.
"It doesn't make just individuals better, it makes everybody better, and it's good for the team," Hunter said. "I think it's big (that Gore's here). Not only to the players but the organization because he's a leader and he does what it takes to win and he knows what it takes, and he can help the younger guys."
Harbaugh has described the competition this way: "It's going to get real real, and it's going to get real real, real fast."
James ran for 5,082 yards and 53 touchdowns on 771 career carries in three seasons at Oregon. That included 49 carries for 382 yards and four TDs in two games against Harbaugh's former Stanford team before the coach jumped to the NFL in January 2011.
"We envision him coming in and competing," Baalke said of James. "Like we always say, we're trying to create as much competition as we can. This does that. One thing about this football team, they're up to the challenge. They're not afraid to compete."Comment on this story
Center Jonathan Goodwin is eager to see what the Niners can do with so many options, including experienced newcomers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham in the receiving corps.
"This offense has a lot of potential," Goodwin said.
Notes: CB Carlos Rogers was on the field but didn't participate in drills. ... Manningham, TE Vernon Davis, WR Michael Crabtree, RT Anthony Davis and S Donte Whitner were among those not in attendance for the voluntary workout. ... Harbaugh met at length with QBs Alex Smith and Josh Johnson in the outdoor weight room following practice.
AP Sports Writer Antonio Gonzalez contributed.