Notebook: Gore still wants to carry load

The 49ers saw what happened when running back Frank Gore missed two games late in the season last year with an ankle injury. The ground game virtually came to a halt. So the club was determined this offseason to add a young running back to take some of the workload off Gore throughout the year. But that doesn't mean Gore necessarily agrees with those intentions.

The 49ers selected running back Glen Coffee of Alabama in the third round to spell Gore and keep him fresh throughout the season. But Gore is not going to willingly step aside to let Coffee get his carries, either.

"I haven't heard that they're going to take some of the load off of me," Gore said. "I know the coach has been telling me that I have to be in tip-top shape, and I have to be ready to take that load, so that's what I'm going to do."

Gore said he is the kind of running back that gets stronger when the game progresses, so he fears if he takes prolonged breaks during a game it might have a negative effect.

"I feel like the more I'm in the game, the more I touch the ball, the better player I am," Gore said.
Gore said his initial reaction to Coffee through the offseason program has been positive.

"The back they've got here is a pretty good back," Gore said. "He's working very hard and he's learning the offense. I like him. Whenever they feel they want to put him in, I feel that he'll be all right."

Gore and Coffee should fit into new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye's vision of a tough-minded, power-running team. Neither running back spends much time dancing, as their focus is on advancing the ball up the field as quickly as possible.

When asked to describe his style, Coffee was succinct, "Hard-nosed. Physical. One-cut runner."

He added, "I try to get up the field in a hurry. I try not to lose any yards. I don't like negative plays."

***** ***** *****

Linebacker Patrick Willis did not lead the league in tackles as a second-year player, unlike his rookie campaign, but he said he was a better all-around player. He benefited from the tutelage of respected veteran Takeo Spikes.

Spikes signed a one-year deal in 2008. After the season, he said he wanted to return to the 49ers, and Willis campaigned for Spikes' return, too. Spikes signed a new deal with the 49ers early in free agency. Spikes might be one of the vocal leaders of the defense, but Willis is taking over more and more as the captain of the unit.

"When he (Spikes) calls me captain, it feels good to me because here's a guy who's played in the league for 11, going on 12 years, and he's calling me captain," Willis said. "It means I've earned that respect from an older player."

After his auspicious rookie campaign during which he led the league with a franchise-record 226 tackles, Willis didn't exactly slack off last season. He finished second in the NFL behind Cleveland's D-Qwell Jackson with 185 tackles. Spikes finished second on the team with 122 tackles.

***** ***** *****

Wide receiver Isaac Bruce kept a low profile this offseason after contemplating retirement for the first several months of the offseason. So why did he return?

"To play in the playoffs again and win a Super Bowl," he said. "So that was it."

He said past experience has proven to him that the 49ers are capable of such a turnaround.

"I know the parity in the NFL," he said. "I was 4-12 one year and the following year I won a Super Bowl."

***** ***** *****

Long-snapper Brian Jennings, a seventh-round pick in the 2000 draft, signed a long-term contract extension this offseason and is not going anywhere. His photo will soon be going up on the 49ers' 10-year wall, a space in the organization headquarters devoted to players who spent at least a decade with the club.

"The 10-year wall, to me, is an accomplishment," he said. "For a position like mine, longevity is one of your only accomplishments because I play a don't-screw-it-up position."

Jennings rarely screws it up. He has established himself as one of the NFL's premier players at his specialty position, and evened was named to the Pro Bowl in 2004, when he was the 49ers' only representative.

***** ***** *****

The 49ers signed four of their draft picks quickly. The club also has reached agreements in principle with third-round pick Glen Coffee and fifth-rounder Nate Davis.

It has been awhile since the 49ers did not have a draft pick signed for the first day of workouts. At this point, the club is not too anxious about getting a deal done with receiver Michael Crabtree, chosen with the No. 10 overall pick, for the first day of training camp. They're confident it will get done.

***** ***** *****

The 49ers claimed Brit Miller off waivers from the Carolina Panthers. Miller (6-foot, 250 pounds) played linebacker at Illinois, but the 49ers plan to convert him to fullback. The club has tried the same thing in the past with young players, including Zak Keasey, who made the team last season.

***** ***** *****

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it comes down to the players making plays and us putting them in the right situation to make those plays. It can go as far as they want to take it. Would I like to have a top-5 defense? Of course." -- 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky on the possibility of the 49ers improving from their No. 13 ranking last season.