SANTA CLARA -- The numbers say Frank Gore is done.

He's 31, old for a running back. He's coming off a season that saw a dip in production. He's being challenged by a few hungry youngsters, one of whom -- Marcus Lattimore -- openly said he has his eyes on Gore's job.

Gore's response to it all: "I'm going to do what I do."

That's Gore, his cup running over with confidence, reality be damned. It's what has made him special for nine seasons with the 49ers, what has him 33 rushing yards shy of 10,000, what enabled him to overcome serious injuries to both knees in college.

Many are expecting Gore to fade into the history books. The 49ers' all-time leading rusher is supposed to be on his swan song. Don't buy it.

As long as he stays healthy, Gore will be pivotal for the 49ers this season as they pursue the Super Bowl ring that has eluded them three straight years.

Gore isn't likely to recapture his dominance of yesteryear. But he isn't done.

He still cares too much not to put in the work. He still has elite vision and patience. He still has the kind of heart that makes Ronnie Lott smile.

And he hears the doubters.

"For him to have younger guys say they want his spot, for guys outside of this organization to count him out, say that he's over the hill ... that's real motivating to him," 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin said before Wednesday's practice.


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An improved passing game, owing to upgrades in the receiving corps and the anticipated growth of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, should create more space for the running game. In the end, though, the 49ers run on toughness, on grind, on will. And that's Gore.

His defiance of the odds fuels the spirit of this team. The immovable chip on his shoulder gives the 49ers a rock in trying times. If he can be preserved so that he's fresh late in games, it borders on insanity to think Gore won't produce.

Eventually, time will catch up to Gore. Certainly, it is gaining on him. Last season, he posted a career-low 4.1 yards per carry, and his 70.5 yards per game was his lowest since his rookie year, when he started just once. According to Pro Football Focus, which grades how ball carriers perform in open space, Gore ranked 46th among NFL backs in elusiveness.

Running backs over 30 don't tend to get better. But Gore has gotten good at beating back age. He had 276 carries last season, third-most of his career, and still fumbled only three times, same as in 2012.

Anyway, he's past the point of being justified by numbers. Gore's worth isn't measured in total yards as much as it is in clutch yards.

"Frank gets football," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Frank keeps himself in tremendous shape. When you're with him hourly, daily over the course of three years ... you see the way he takes care of himself, the way he understands the game. This is a man who comes in at 6, 6:30 in the morning doing cardio and studying film."

The 49ers are smart enough to know they need a strong backup behind Gore, a guy with the potential to start. That's why the season-ending injury to Kendall Hunter hurts. It's why Niner Nation hopes Lattimore is as good as he thinks.

But if he, or anybody, is going to knock Gore off the top of the depth chart, he will have earned it. Because Gore says he isn't ready to pass the torch.

"He doesn't look any different to me," Boldin said. "He looks explosive. He's still one of those rare backs that can find the smallest hole and get through it. Out of all the guys that I've played with, he's that guy."

Contact Marcus Thompson at mthomps2@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ThompsonScribe.

NO SIGNS OF SLOWING
Frank Gore's productivity over nine seasons with the 49ers:
Position: RB Age: 31 Ht: 5-9 Wt: 217 College: Miami
Year GP Car Yds TD Rec Yds TD
2005 14 127 608 3 15 131 0
2006 16 312 1,695 8 61 485 1
2007 15 260 1,102 5 53 436 1
2008 14 240 1,036 6 43 373 2
2009 14 229 1,120 10 52 406 3
2010 11 203 853 3 46 452 2
2011 16 282 1,211 8 17 114 0
2012 16 258 1,214 8 28 234 1
2013 16 276 1,128 9 16 141 0
Totals 132 2,187 9,967 60 331 2,772 10