One of the biggest position competitions will be at running back. Frank Gore is more or less entrenched as the starter, but there is some serious quality behind him in the form of Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore, Carlos Hyde, and LaMichael James. I still think James ends up focused on his return work, but he is still an option at running back.
Frank Gore is entering the final year of his contract, and odds are pretty good the 49ers will look to move on from Gore after this coming season. Naturally that means the team will see what the talent behind him can do. With so much depth, we can all recognize that Gore is going to see a reduction in carries. He had 276 carries last year, which followed seasons of 258 and 282. With some combination of those running backs behind him, it is only logical to reduce Gore's workload.
Earlier this month, Bill Williamson answered a Gore-related question in a mailbag. He was asked if Gore could get 200+ carries this season. Williamson responded, "Right now, I'd probably guess Gore would get about 220 carries." Although Williamson has been in Santa Clara throughout the offseason, and does have sources, a "guess" doesn't really help us.
Last week, John Clayton put together a an article on 10 under-the-radar camp battles. Clayton said, "The early word out of San Francisco is that Frank Gore might get 50 fewer carries this year." Clayton has his sources as well, so it is possible he heard something. Of course, given Williamson's previous article, it is entirely possible Clayton was only just referencing that comment.
Most of us would agree that Gore will see fewer carries this year, but to say he'll get X amount of carries, or will see a reduction of X amount of carries seems like nothing more than guess work. There is nothing wrong with guess work, but given how games evolve on a week-to-week basis, it's hard to say you'll reduce his carries around "this amount".
Furthermore, the 49ers have improved their pass game, with the addition of Stevie Johnson, and a full season of Michael Crabtree with Anquan Boldin. In In 2011, Kendall Hunter had the most carries a backup has had behind Gore, finishing with 112. At the same time, Gore finished with 282 carries, the second highest total of his career. The 49ers were a run heavy team, and that showed it as much as anything. This year, they have a mobile quarterback in Colin Kaepernick to cut into those carries, they've got a huge haul of running backs, and they have more weapons in the passing game.
There are a lot of factors to consider in how much Gore's workload will decrease, but also how much the other running backs workloads will increase. It's kind of complicated, but at the very least I can say that barring injuries, it would be a surprise if Gore rushed for anywhere near his 2013 total.