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Previewing The 49ers Starters: RB Frank Gore

We continue our run of looks at the projected starters for the San Francisco 49ers - we're getting through them before the start of the regular season. Today, we'll take a look at running back Frank Gore, who spent most of his career suffering as the best player on a hopeless team. He's been the bell cow of the 49ers' offense for years, and now, seemingly at the tail-end of his career, his hoping to win a Super Bowl with a team that's better than it's ever been since he's been a pro.

Last Season: Gore had a down year in 2010, missing five games, but he bounced back with a vengeance in 2011, finishing with his second-highest yardage total for his career. How's that for a running back in "decline"? Gore rushed for 1,211 yards with eight touchdowns, and about 100 yards receiving as well. He played big in big games and got his yardage in chunks, but it was a strong season, regardless.

Big Question: How much can he possibly have left at this point? People were talking trade and decline in 2009, and yet he delivered a 1,000-yard season then. It's all about whether or not a wrench is thrown in the works for Gore, who needs to avoid an injury. He's not necessarily brittle, but he does appear to be a little injury prone. How much does he have left heading into his eighth season, approaching 30 years of age?

Projection: Gore will need to avoid injury like never before. It's hard to imagine him playing behind another player, but if there was ever a 49ers roster in which he has to worry about losing his spot, it's this one. Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Brandon Jacobs and Anthony Dixon are all hoping for roster spots and playing time. They likely won't out-play Gore to take his job, but if he falters through injury, someone else could get a chance to shine. Still, Gore looked great a season ago and most signs point to him having another strong year.

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