Gore getting ready to shoulder the load

Nobody is talking about Frank Gore's knees anymore. However, now the concern has shifted to his shoulders. But Gore does not count himself among the concerned. After all, he said he is feeling about as good as he has in several years.

Gore has not been cleared to take part in team activities during the 49ers' organized team activities, but he is running in individual drills and promises he will be on the field when the 49ers hold their first practice of training camp on July 28.

Gore underwent extensive surgeries on both shoulders early in the offseason, requiring approximately four months of rehabilitation.

"It didn't bother me during the season," Gore said. "In training camp it (right shoulder) kind of popped. They X-rayed it and told me what it was. I used to feel it in college, but I didn't know I'd have to have surgery."

Gore led the 49ers in rushing as a rookie, totaling 608 yards and three touchdowns on 127 carries for a 4.8-yard average. He ranked ahead of starter Kevan Barlow, who gained 581 yards on 176 yards (3.3 average).

"I think I did what the coaches wanted me to do," Gore said.

It was a big rookie season for Gore, who entered the NFL after seeing knee injuries derail his college career at the University of Miami (Florida). Gore tore his right anterior cruciate knee ligament during spring drills of 2002. He tore his left ACL during the 2003 season.

Gore will again compete against Barlow for playing time, and has a chance to earn the job as the featured back. Barlow, like Gore, has not participated in offseason team work. Barlow underwent arthroscopic knee surgery this offseason.

"I want to get 1,000 yards and do whatever it takes to help the team win games," Gore said. And that might mean helping the running game shoulder the load for the entire offense.

"That's what I'm hoping for," Gore said. "We have to stay consistent and keep our offense on the field and control the ball. ... We had a lot of young guys last year and now we know what to expect. Everybody got their feet wet."

--- The 49ers owned one of the worst pass-rushes in the league last season, and arguably their two top threats from a year ago are gone.

Although outside linebackers Julian Peterson and Andre Carter came nowhere close to living up to the expectations the 49ers had for them, both had shown ability to rush the passer earlier in their careers.

Aside from 34-year-old defensive end Bryant Young, this 49ers defense has nobody who has experienced NFL success in getting to the quarterback. So coach Mike Nolan is relying on rookie Manny Lawson, a first-round pick from North Carolina State, to be among the team's top sack artists.

"I can't say later who it's going to be because that's why we're going through this process now," Nolan said when asked whom he believes will be the team's sack leaders. "But I would like to think that Manny Lawson would be one of them."

The 49ers last year recorded just 28 sacks. Their average of one sacks every 21.6 attempts ranked 31st in the league. Young led the team with eight sacks, doing all of his damage in the first seven games of the season. Brandon Moore was second with five sacks, but he is expected to return to his role as a reserve this season with a healthy Jeff Ulbrich.

Nolan said he is expecting Young and his other defensive linemen in the club's 3-4 scheme to contribute some sacks this season.

"Bryant Young is a good pass rusher, and Anthony Adams does a pretty good job," Nolan said. "We need Isaac (Sopoaga) to push the pocket a little bit more on the pass rush."

At the outside linebacker spots, Lawson will team with Corey Smith and fellow rookie Parys Haralson at a spot that is severely lacking in players who have experienced NFL success.

Lawson, the No. 22 overall pick in the April draft, will fill the role vacated when Carter signed with the Redskins. Carter had 4.5 sacks last season. Meanwhile, Peterson signed a lucrative deal with the Seahawks this offseason. Peterson recorded just three sacks last season, including 2.5 in the first game of the season.

"If somebody else shows up that'd be good," Nolan said. "And we have quite a blitz package on third down that we use as far as the way we try to do it."

--- The 49ers hope their offensive line can actually build some cohesion this season after a season in which the club started five different combinations and the unit that practiced during the week played in only six games.

"It'll be important that we all practice together because continuity is really important to be good," Nolan said.

Left tackle Jonas Jennings returned to the practice field this week after starting just three games last season after signing a lucrative deal with the 49ers as a free agent.

And veteran center Jeremy Newberry, a two-time NFC Pro Bowl selection, is optimistic that he will be cleared to practice in training camp and then regain his starting job for the regular season. "I'm going to have every intention in the world to play a lot of training camp and then play every single game," Newberry told The Oakland Tribune.

Newberry rarely practiced last season because of a bothersome right knee that required extensive surgery. Newberry started 10 of the first 11 games of the season but went on injured reserve in late November when it became unbearable for him to play.

--- Tight end Vernon Davis, the team's No. 6 overall pick, is making quite an impression already. He got in an on-field tussle with linebacker Brandon Moore during an OTA practice one day. Two days later, he spiked the ball at the feet of safety Chad Williams after catching a touchdown pass, drawing the ire of the team's defensive players.

--- Nolan offered this blunt assessment of rookie tight end Onye Ibekwe: "Certainly, he's not a very good football player, yet."

But Nolan's review of Ibekwe was generally positive and uplifting for the former Long Beach State basketball player who has not played football since his sophomore year of high school.

"He's doing well," Nolan said. "He's a big, good-looking guy who weighs about 260. And he can put on another 10 in time. He's very raw. What I like about him from what I've seen so far is he's very eager to do well and make the team in some capacity. He catches the ball and he sprints another 20 yards, he runs back and gives the ball to the ball boy. He does all the things you like to see from somebody who's trying to make your club.

"He's got ability and with a little practice, maybe he can become a better football player. He has a lot of athletic ability but it's not a track meet as we all know. He's got my eye. Right now he's at the developmental stage, but I certainly respect and appreciate his work ethic."

--- Backup quarterback Trent Dilfer, acquired in a trade from the Browns for Ken Dorsey and a seventh-round draft pick in 2007, has not been cleared to take part in team work. Dilfer does throw in individual drills, though. He underwent surgery in February to repair a partially torn patellar tendon in his right knee. Dilfer passed a physical with the 49ers shortly after he was obtained. He appears on pace for a full recovery, but the 49ers have until June 15 to back out of the trade. It is highly unlikely the 49ers will void the trade.

--- The 49ers might keep four quarterbacks on their roster this season if third-stringer Cody Pickett adapts to a role in which he plays some receiver and special teams, Nolan said.

Pickett turned down an opportunity to hone his quarterback skills in NFL Europe this spring. He believes the decision has paid off because the 49ers later lost offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy, who became Packers head coach, and installed a new offense with coordinator Norv Turner.

Pickett is competing for the No. 3 quarterback job with Jesse Palmer, behind starter Alex Smith and backup Dilfer. But Pickett might have a lot more on his plate this season.

"We've met with him (about an expanded role)," Nolan said. "Some of the passing days, he went out and played a little wide receiver. We're trying to give him a role of 'slash.'"

Nolan said about the only way that Pickett will get a chance to play this season, barring injuries to the players in front of him, is if he can become a contributor as a spot player on offense and special teams.

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