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2011 49ers Grades: Frank Gore

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Today we get to a player that will raise an assortment of opinions as the 49ers continue looking to build for the long term future. The 49ers rushing attack had its ups and downs in 2011 with dominant performances some days and next to nothing on other days.

Frank Gore surpassed the franchise NFL rushing record and had a strong run of big games, including five straight 100+ rushing performances, four of which were 125+ yards. There were times where Gore looked like the back of old, cutting and slashing through defenses with relative ease.

Of course, there were also the early season struggles, the late season struggles, and the injuries mixed in that resulted in Gore occasionally pulling himself from games for a breather. There have been times we have proclaimed the need for a bit more balance in the rushing game with a solid backup, but at the same time there was something funky about Gore's struggles at times.

It is worth noting that Frank stepped his game back up come playoff time. He rushed for 89 yards, averaging 6.8 per carry against the Saints, and then rushed for 74 yards, average 4.6 per carry against the Giants. It is also worth noting that he had 13 catches for 83 yards in two playoff games after a regular season total of 17 catches for 114 yards. Given how little the 49ers were going to Gore in the passing game during the regular season, it was interesting to see them pick it back up in the postseason.

As the 49ers head into the offseason, the running back position remains a question mark. Frank Gore had his second best season in terms of total rushing yards and touchdowns, and had only his second complete 16-game season. Of course, he missed some time in games with a variety of ailments as he wore down a bit this year.

How will Frank the Tank bounce back in 2012? Will we see the team look for some additional running back options via free agency or the draft? We know the 49ers are not going to be pursuing a starting option like Ray Rice or Matt Forte. While most anything is possible, it would be stunning bordering on ludicrous to expect the 49ers to make a run at them.

Instead, the 49ers would seem likely to look for some short yardage options. Anthony Dixon was utilized a bit in that role, but he has not found any sort of sustained success as a running back in the NFL. Maybe the 49ers make a run at a Mike Tolbert type of running back? Tolbert has indicated he would like to return to San Diego, but he has said he will do what is best for his family. I could see the 49ers getting in on that discussion, but if the bidding gets too high for Tolbert, the 49ers have shown an interest in fiscal responsibility.

Frank Gore will likely remain the lead back in 2012, but with Kendall Hunter's solid rookie season and the potential addition of some kind of short yardage option, we could see Frank's workload decline. How do you see it playing out?