NFL: Roger Craig advises 49ersí Gore to share the load
By Daniel Brown
San Jose Mercury News
Roger Craig, who made the playoffs in all eight of his seasons with the 49ers, has some advice for Frank Gore, who has yet to taste the postseason:
It's OK to share the load.
With the NFL draft looming next week, Craig embraces the idea of the 49ers moving to a multi-running back approach. He noted the wave of successful backfield committees around the NFL, including the three-headed approach the New York Giants used to win Super Bowl XLII
Gore has been reluctant to share carries, arguing that the more he runs the better he gets.
For a counterargument, Craig pointed to his three Super Bowl rings.
"I think (Gore) needs to take a step back and realize it's about the team," Craig said. "I could have run for 1,000 yards a lot of years, but we were not going to win that way. There's no point in running for 1,000 yards if you're not going to be in the playoffs.
"You do what it takes to win. There were times when the most important thing I could do was selling a play-action fake so that Jerry Rice or John Taylor could get open and make a catch."
If the 49ers agree with the idea of a backfield committee, they're not tipping their hand. Director of Player Personnel Trent Baalke, who will call the draft day shots in replace of departed general manager Scot McCloughan, offered no hints during a half-hour session with reporters Thursday.
But during a previous session last month, Baalke pointed to the Dallas Cowboys' successful trio of Felix Jones, Marion Barber and Tashard Choice. "They all different sets of skills but they're all high-level guys and it's very difficult to defense," Baalke said. "I think the more you have complementary styles, the harder it is (for a defense) to prepare."
But at last month's OTA session in Santa Clara, Gore reiterated his belief in the status quo. "I feel I can play first, second and third down," he said. "If I can't get in a rhythm, I'll speak up and tell my coaches."
Some mock drafts have the 49ers taking Clemson running back C.J. Spiller, a small, speedy back with return-game ability, with one of their two first-round picks.
Gore, a hard-pounding downhill runner, has four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, a franchise record. As he often says, he's not aiming for individual accomplishments. Gore's argument is that he wants the ball because the offense tends to operate best when he's in the flow of the game.
The 49ers are 11-4 in his career when he rushes for 100 yards.
But Craig said Gore ought to be willing to take a breather, too, because it could mean staying stronger and healthier over the course of the season. He pointed to the wave of tailback duos in the NFL, noting that even a superstar like Adrian Peterson had Chester Taylor pitching in.
Craig knows that Gore wants to say active but he encouraged him to "look at the big picture."
"That means embracing the guys that they bring in, like the kid from Alabama (Glen Coffee)," Craig said. "That's what (Tom) Rathman and I did. That's the kind of mentality we had.
"It might take some readjusting, but if Gore wants to really establish himself, it's about getting to the playoffs and winning the Super Bowl. That's how you want to be remembered."
Craig, a recent Hall of Fame finalist, played for the 49ers from 1983-90 before finishing up with the Raiders (1991) and Vikings ('92-93). He is best known for his contributions as a dual threat, once racking up 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.
These days, he is still on the move. Craig has eight marathons under his belt and is an instrumental force behind the annual Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon in San Jose.
Still, Craig will find time to sit down for a few hours and watch the draft. And as much as he endorses the idea a running back by committee, he would still use his top pick on something else.
Craig wants a lineman.
Offense? Defense? It doesn't matter.
"Just get me a beast up front," he said with a laugh.