Frank Gore and Justin Smith vastly improve their respective units while playing with the San Francisco 49ers. The two veterans open opportunities for their teammates to acquire easy sacks, or fool the defense with play action plays.
In the last two seasons with consecutive NFC Championship berths, the Cowboy and Gore proved to be integral components of the team.
Both players are excellent characterizations of the smash mouth style of the 49ers. Justin Smith’s pass rush opened up holes for Aldon Smith to complete 19.5 sacks last season. Torn triceps took Justin out of the last games of the regular season, but he played through the pain in the playoffs.
Nobody questions his grit and determination. However age matters, and the 33-year-old defensive lineman recently underwent surgery for his torn triceps. Smith should be healthy to start next year’s campaign.
Tank Carradine, the apparent heir to Justin Smith, is coming off a different surgery, one to repair a torn ligament in his knee. Tank claims to be fully recovered. The 49ers will be sure to ease him into the NFL, and if healthy he will backup Smith next year.
Gore — with six one thousand-rushing-yard seasons — drives the offense, yet he is old for a running back at age 30. While he plays through most injuries, his entire career has been plagued by toe, foot, ankle, shin, knee, hip, rib, shoulder, wrist and hand injuries. The 49ers drafted Gore in the third round after a college career shortened by two ACL injuries. But in the midst of a potential Hall of Fame career, Gore demonstrates that knee injuries can be overcome.
Lattemore, who dropped in the draft almost identically to Gore, will be with the team for four seasons. He would have been the first running back taken in the draft, had he not been injured.
With ample time to recover given the 49er running back situation (Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James available to run the ball behind Gore), the team was able to make an investment and will sit him out all year to get him healthy if need be. Some good news: team doctors said his knee looked “real good” according to Jim Harbaugh, and one can only hope his NFL career is as successful as Gore’s.
I think this year will be Justin Smith’s last year as a 49er. He is the second highest paid player on the team next year and his contract runs out in the 2014-15 season; thus, his age and price tag will make next year his last season as a 49er.
Gore will be around for two more seasons. Gore is under contract for the 2014-15 season and should transition smoothly to a third down back. Starting as running back has battered him over the years and he will stay healthier by reducing his playing time. Trent Baalke intended to make Gore a “49er for life” and I envision him retiring as a 49er after the 2014-15 season.
With 49ers’ knack for developing home grown talent in recent years, it could be that both players’ replacements were chosen by the 49ers in this year’s draft in Carradine and Lattimore, but only time will tell.