(Eds: Adds details, quotes. Should stand. With AP Photos.)By CRAIG MASSEIAssociated Press
No matter that opponents are stacking extra defenders next to the line of scrimmage. The San Francisco 49ers are determined to run the football successfully, a key element of their offense that has been missing through the first two weeks of the season.
But offensive coordinator Greg Roman doesn’t believe in forcing the issue.
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Roman is taking a patient approach with a rushing attack that ranked fourth in the NFL last season but has struggled so far this year to get Frank Gore and the team’s other running backs untracked.
”Our guys take a lot of pride in running the football and it’s an important part of what we do,” Roman said Thursday. ”There is a time, though, where if they overplay it, I don’t know that we’re just going to bang our head into a brick wall all day. We want to give our guys a chance to be successful.”
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has rushed for 28 more yards than the rest of his teammates combined, but the Niners expect to start getting more conventional results on the ground this week when they host the Indianapolis Colts and the NFL’s 29th-ranked run defense.
Nobody is more anxious to see this happen than Gore, the four-time Pro Bowler who became the franchise’s all-time leading rusher last season with the sixth 1,000-yard rushing season of his career.
Gore is off to his worst start to a season since becoming the team’s featured back in 2006. He has just 60 yards rushing on 30 carries during San Francisco’s 1-1 start after being limited to 16 yards rushing in last week’s 29-3 loss at Seattle.
”People are playing the run real hard, but we still have to find a way to get it done,” Gore said.
With Gore leading the way, the 49ers have been among the NFL’s top rushing units since Roman and coach Jim Harbaugh revamped the offense after taking control of the team in 2011.
But there was little room on the ground for Gore in the season opener against Green Bay, and even less last week at Seattle. The 49ers produced just 207 yards of offense against the Seahawks, their fewest since 2011. Their running backs gained 13 net yards rushing.
”It’s been a focus now for three weeks,” said fullback Bruce Miller, who has been instrumental in opening holes for Gore. ”It’s tough on Frank. Because that’s our guy. That’s our workhorse. He puts the team on his back and he carries us most of the time. To be struggling right now as a group … it’s not Frank. It’s more us guys up front. We just have to execute better and start winning one-on-one battles and then we’ll get it going.”
San Francisco ranks 17th in the NFL in rushing offense mainly because of the 109 yards Kaepernick has gained on scrambles outside the pocket. Gore’s longest gain so far is eight yards, and his top backup also is off to a slow start. Kendall Hunter, coming back from a torn Achilles tendon that ended his season last year, has just 17 yards rushing through two games.
Last season, Gore was fifth in the NFC with 1,214 yards rushing and his 4.7-yard average ranked sixth in the NFL. Gore also was the league’s leader in rushing (319 yards) and rushing touchdowns (4) during the postseason. Hunter had 371 yards rushing and averaged 5.2 per carry before he was injured against New Orleans in Week 12.
The early results this year are way off that pace, and Roman hasn’t called many of the read-option plays that were so effective last year after Kaepernick took over as the starting quarterback in November.
”But that could change,” Roman said. ”And we definitely want to get Frank going. Frank Gore is one of the best backs in the league and one of our leaders. Frank Gore churning out those yards is going to be a big part of what we do this year and is very important to our success.”
NOTES: Tight end Vernon Davis missed practice again with a left hamstring injury, but Roman expects him to be ready to play against the Colts. ”I don’t know what kind of blood he has going through his body, but it heals really well,” Roman said. … Rookie free safety Eric Reid, who left last week’s game with a concussion and did not return, said Thursday he so far has passed the NFL’s protocol for concussions and expects to play Sunday.