Notebook: Gore on verge of 2,000-yard odyssey

Frank Gore is going after not only a 49ers rushing record Sunday, but also can surpass another historic barrier; Bryant Young doesn't want to end his career on a sour home note; an update on the 49ers' compensatory draft picks; going after big free agents; Alex Smith's struggles throwing to Antonio Bryant; returning to Denver with Thomas Herrion in mind: It's all here and more in Niners Notebook.

Running back Frank Gore needs 29 yards rushing against the Broncos on Sunday to break Garrison Hearst's franchise single-season record of 1,570 yards set in 1998.

That's a record the 49ers want to see Gore get.

"Very much," coach Mike Nolan said. "Whatever the top of the meter would be, I'd like to see it. Not only for him, but for the line, for the team, I think it would be a good thing."

Gore also is chasing down another milestone entering Sunday's season finale in Denver.

By gaining five yards rushing or receiving, Gore can become the 53rd player in NFL history to gain 2,000 yards from scrimmage in a season.

Gore now has 1,542 yards rushing and 453 yards receiving for 1,995 combined yards. He needs 111 combined yards against the Broncos to break Hearst's single season record of 2,105 total yards, also set in 1998 when Hearst had 535 yards receiving.

Gore can become the fourth San Francisco player to finished with 2,000 combined yards in a season. Besides Hearst's record-setting output in 1998, Roger Craig twice surpassed 2,000 yards from scrimmage in his Pro Bowl seasons of 1985 and 1988.

Craig was named the NFC's starting running back in the Pro Bowl both years, as Gore is this season. Craig became the first back in NFL history to have 1,000 yards receiving and rushing in 1985, when he finished with 1,050 yards rushing and 1,016 receiving. Craig had 1,502 yards rushing in 1988 - the team record before Hearst broke it 10 years later - to go along with 534 yards receiving.

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Linebacker Derek Smith took part in only individual drills Thursday and remained questionable on San Francisco's injury report with a hamstring injury, though he could be upgraded to probable on Friday.

Starting strong safety Mark Roman, who did not practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury, returned to practice and is probable to play against the Broncos on Sunday. On the down side, left tackle Jonas Jennings again didn't practice because of a shoulder injury suffered in last week's game, and Nolan said he would be downgraded to doubtful on Friday, making it unlikely he'll play in the season finale.

If Jennings doesn't play, it will be the third different injury to keep him out of a game this season. Jennings also has missed parts of other games this season because of previous injuries.

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Veteran defensive lineman Bryant Young said he can't imagine ending his 49ers home career with last week's deflating 26-20 loss to the Cardinals. Young said last week that he would decide at the end of the season whether to return for a 14th season, but he sounded after the Arizona loss like a guy determined not to go out on that kind of note.

"I don't want to walk off that way, not in my last home game," Young said. "That's what I'm feeling right now. If that's my last game, it wasn't a good feeling. Right now that's the way I feel. I wouldn't want it to end like that."

Young was credited with just one tackle on Sunday. He said he will make his decision at the conclusion of the 49ers' season, which ends Sunday in Denver.

With two voidable years remaining on his contract, Young is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, but he said he will either play for the 49ers next season or not at all. He said he felt a lot of love from the fans Sunday, despite the frustrating result at the home finale.

"It was pretty cool," Young said. "They (the fans) were very supportive. They've been great over the years. I've just been blessed to be able to play in San Francisco with great fans."

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The 49ers expect to receive third- and fourth-round compensatory draft picks for losing linebacker Julian Peterson to the Seahawks and defensive end Andre Carter to the Redskins. The 49ers' signing of receiver Antonio Bryant will cancel out the loss of offensive lineman Anthony Clement, who has started every game at right tackle this season for the New York Jets.

The 49ers expect to have a total of eight picks in the first four rounds of the April draft. The have three other fourth-round picks, including picks from the Jets (in the Kevan Barlow trade) and the Redskins (Brandon Lloyd trade).

In addition to all those draft picks, the 49ers also begin the offseason with a league-high $41.2 million in salary-cap room.

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The 49ers head into the off-season with hopes of making significant roster upgrades after four consecutive losing seasons.

Although Nolan seems generally pleased with the progress the 49ers have made in his first two seasons as head coach, there is still a lot of improvement for the club to make.

The 49ers finished 4-12 last season, and improved by at least two games this year. But an area of concern for Nolan is that the 49ers failed to produce any kind of consistency this season, and they could not hold their serve in home games against teams they figured to beat late in the season.

The 49ers had must-win games against the Packers and Cardinals as their final two home games and responded with poor showings in the losses.

"Yes, it's disappointing," Nolan said. "Typically, we play better at home and certainly better than we did in those two games. That's something I thought about. It does bother me a little bit.

"I know on the road or at home, our wins and losses look the same. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad. It's become more about our team than where we play."

Nolan cited the team's lack of consistency in preventing turnovers on offense and stopping explosive plays on defense. If the 49ers can do better in those two areas Sunday against the Broncos, they believe they have a chance to pull the upset as the spoiler.

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Quarterback Alex Smith's passer rating when Antonio Bryant was the intended target was a lowly 43.7, which includes completions on just 40 of the 91 passes thrown his way with a whopping 10 interceptions.

Arnaz Battle, the target on 81 passes, is the receiver who has yielded the highest passer rating for Smith. When Smith has tried to get the ball to Battle, his passer rating is 107.5.

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The 49ers return to Invesco Field for the first time since last August in the preseason when offensive lineman Thomas Herrion collapsed in the locker room just minutes after a game and was later pronounced dead.

The 49ers' ownership, players and coaches helped Herrion's dream come true, as they provided financial support to build his mother a house in Fort Worth, Texas. The club has also established the Thomas Herrion Award, which goes to the rookie or first-year player who has taken advantage of every opportunity to make his dream come true.

Offensive lineman Harvey Dahl was named the winner of the award this year at the end of training camp.

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When it comes to the draft and free agency, look for the 49ers to go after big players. Coach Mike Nolan made his preference for big players known after the 49ers were swept by the Cardinals this season. The 49ers compiled in a 3-1 record in games against the Seahawks and Rams.

"Arizona is one of the bigger, more physical, teams," Nolan said. "That's the way we want to build our football team."

The 49ers believe their ability to run the ball on the Seahawks and Rams was a result of them being able to wear down their small-but-quick defenses.

But the Cardinals were able to use their size against the 49ers, especially in the passing game. The Cardinals' receivers - Anquan Boldin (6-1, 223), Larry Fitzgerald (6-3, 226) and Bryant Johnson (6-3, 216) - were able to use their size to wrestle the ball away from the 49ers' defensive backs, as well as break tackles.

"I'm big on big players," Nolan said. "You want good players first, but the game of football is a physical game and a big man's game. Every once in a while a little man will slip in, but it's a big man's game."

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