Posted: 10:20 a.m. Thursday, March 21, 2013
By Steve Busichio
In just a couple months, Frank Gore will celebrate his 30th birthday. Yes, the dreaded 3-0: the ominous age pundits and fans often proclaim to be the beginning of the end for NFL running backs. There's certainly some validity to the notion, running backs take a beating more than any other position and there are several examples of players who slow down significantly at that age (LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander, Brian Westbrook, etc.).
There are, however, plenty of other instances where running backs enjoyed some of their best seasons at ages 30 and beyond. In 2004, Curtis Martin rushed for a career high 1,679 yards at age 31. This also shouldn't be seen as an anomaly considering Martin rushed for 1,308 yards (the third highest total of his career) the year prior at age 30.
Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Ricky Watters, Garrison Hearst, and Thomas Jones are a small sample of others that churned out great seasons in their early 30's. In fact, all of those backs eclipsed the 1,200 yard-mark at age 30 and, in some cases, older than that. So with a field that spans from the immortal Barry Sanders to the simply solid Thomas Jones, great success post-30 might not be as unattainable as everyone thinks it is.
Beyond that precedent set by the aforementioned players, there are several other factors that stand in Gore's favor:
So while I highly doubt Gore will have any reservations about his age, there's another spring happening that will demand some concern-the league's latest rage-inducing rule change.
This past week, the NFL announced a new rule in which ball carriers will no longer be able to charge forward with the crown of their helmet. Doing so will land perpetrators a 15 yard penalty and possible fine. As a running back, let alone a physical one, this directly affects Gore and will warrant some adjustments this offseason... or will it? That's the real question in San Francisco and every other NFL city: Will this rule change affect running backs' instincts and playing style?
There seems to be an underlying consensus that it won't. Matt Forte has already announced on Twitter that he's creating a "lower the boom" fund in anticipation of fines. On ESPN radio NY, Arian Foster intimated that players are instinctual and their style is second nature, so changing that (whether one truly commits to it or not) would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. The commitment aspect of that statement also bears some thought. With each new rule, Roger Goodell seems to make more and more enemies in the locker rooms and among NFL fans. There's a sentiment that Goodell is indelibly changing the game of football and eradicating the physical elements that made the game what it is (or once was). Animosity toward these changes could be met with a significant lack of compliance, but that lack of compliance could potentially cost teams and alter outcomes, so it will be a very precarious situation for players.
Gore is the ultimate team player and doesn't strike me as a personality that would get too riled up over something like this, but he's also not going to change what's in his blood, heart, and brain as a football player. The 49ers all-time leading rusher has built his career upon hard-nosed running and finishing runs hard, so how strict and how often officials enforce this rule will play a huge role in its impact. Also keep in mind that Gore doesn't quite punish defenders as much as he used to. He more so tends to anticipate his blocks, stiff arm, and stave off arm tackles. As far as age goes, Gore stands a good chance to do so gracefully. His work ethic, drive, skill set and talented supporting cast should lend to continued success.
Still, these are two significant developments to follow in 2013.