SANTA CLARA — For Frank Gore, the hardest part of a hard season was checking his cell phone on game days. That's when Mom used to call.
Liz Gore had always checked in with some last-minute coaching. Remember to do this. You'd better not do that.
"You know, just little things," Gore said Monday.
Liz Gore died of kidney failure on Sept. 12, 2007. She was 46.
Her son, meanwhile, kept checking messages anyway. He couldn't stop. "Even after practice, I look at my phone," Gore said. "I don't even see a phone call from her."
That was his heartbreak of 2007. There was also frustration: An injured ankle. A lousy offense. A losing season.
Gore made the Pro Bowl as an alternate, but it felt like a letdown.
Gore is smiling again. He's laughing easily and roaring around the practice field — a happy new year. Gore still misses his mom. "I'm dealing with it. I will never get over it," he said. But everything else has him revved up for '08.
At the top of his list is new coordinator Mike Martz, who has the offense singing in 11-part harmony. The 49ers' 425 yards of total offense against the Chicago Bears last week marked their highest total in an exhibition game since 1996.
"We have a new leader, man, a new leader on the ship," Gore said of Martz. "When he stands up in the room, and you hear him talk, you know that he knows what he's talking about. Everything is going to change this year."
Gore said he likes this offense even better than the one Norv Turner ran — the one in which Gore set the 49ers' single-season rushing record with 1,695 yards.
If he prefers Martz's system to Turner's, you can imagine how much better he likes it than Jim Hostler's. Last season, the 49ers looked like they were trying to move a boulder uphill.
"It had to take the whole half to get across the 50-yard line," Gore recalled.
Hostler's schemes lacked imagination — but not common sense. At least he was smart enough to get the ball to Gore as often as possible. Gore had 40.5 percent of the 49ers' net offensive yards last season, the highest percentage in the NFL, according to Stats LLC.
LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers was second at 38.6 and Brian Westbrook of the Philadelphia Eagles was third at 36.7.
The problem for Gore was that his carries became too predictable. Defensive coordinators, as well as fans, reporters and beer vendors, knew when Gore was going to get the ball. Opponents lined up eight-man fronts and dared the 49ers to pass.
"They can't do that anymore," Gore said. "Even when we played Chicago, you saw other guys — guys you never heard of — getting open and making good plays. That's a big thing."
Gore noted that the 49ers racked up 37 points that night even without receivers Arnaz Battle and Bryant Johnson. Plus, he added, Josh Morgan is a rookie still learning how to play in the NFL.
"When everybody is on the same page," Gore said, "it's going to be crazy."
With the arrival of Martz, there are frequent comparisons of Gore to Marshall Faulk, the do-everything back who thrived with Martz and the rollicking St. Louis Rams.
Gore is honored by the talk but said he and Faulk are "two different players, two different guys." Martz, though, will probably use Gore the same way he used Faulk.
"Anytime you can take somebody like Frank and put him out on the perimeter, or get him one-on-one with someone, that is what you want," Martz said. "You want to put Frank in an environment where he can get the ball away from the pack, because his open-field running is pretty special."
Even after a so-called down year, Gore trails only Tomlinson and Westbrook in yards from scrimmage since 2006. Gore's 921 receiving yards during that span rank fifth among running backs, and his 5.4 yards-per-touch rank sixth overall, according to Stats LLC.
Gore did all that as a marked man.
So imagine what he can do as a Martz man.
"No matter what you did in this league, Coach Martz can still make you feel like you have to prove yourself," Gore said. "That makes you want to play hard. I have a couple of great years in this league, but if I'm messing up, he's going to get on me. That's what I like about him.
"I'm going to be all over the place. I'm going to have fun."
Contact Daniel Brown at email@example.com.