With one Tuesday transaction -- poof! -- the 49ers said goodbye to more than a third of their offensive production. As expected, there will be no quick fixes for running back Frank Gore's fractured right hip, and the 49ers ended his 2010 season by placing him on injured reserve. Gore was leading the team in both rushing yards and receptions when he left Monday's game against Arizona early in the first quarter. He has accounted for 1,305 of the 49ers' 3,523 offensive yards this year.
Coach Mike Singletary was careful not to give a prognosis pending further tests, but Gore's injury is not believed to serious enough to linger into the 2011 season. Gore, 27, is signed through 2011. Gore has been the unquestioned focal point of the offense since running for a franchise-record 1,695 yards in 2006. Former offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye dubbed him the "bell cow" of the offense. Both Raye and his successor, Mike Johnson, have been reluctant to give another running back any playing time this season.
"I'm just trying not to take Frank Gore off the field unless he gets tired," Johnson told reporters last week. "You look at him -- he is a good running back. He is a good pass-receiving back out of the backfield, probably one of the best. He is the one guy out of our entire offensive group that is probably the soundest on our protection schemes."
Now the 49ers will turn to an odd-couple duo at running back, Brian Westbrook, the serious and soft-spoken veteran whom many thought should have retired last year when he suffered two concussions in a short span, and coltish rookie Anthony Dixon. Joked Raye earlier this year when talking about Dixon: "He's young, and you know how they say -- youth is wasted on the young," The team also promoted a third running back, DeShawn Wynn, 27, from the practice squad.
Though the 233-pound Dixon has the frame to fit the 49ers' power-based style on offense, it was Westbrook who mostly filled in for Gore against the Cardinals. He carried the ball 23 times for 136 yards, his first 100-yard game since 2008. Singletary, however, said the 49ers would have to assess whether 23 carries was too much for Westbrook, 31, who battled an array of injuries last year in Philadelphia and played in only eight games.
"Frank is a big part of what we do -- heart and soul, everything," Singletary said. "He brings what you want. But thankfully Brian Westbrook is a mature, experienced leader and you know, we just have to be careful about how we use him and how much exposure we allow him to see. I think there will be a good mixture between Brian Westbrook and Dixon. We'll just have to see how we want to do that."
The question moving forward is whether the offensive philosophy, which has been built on Gore's ability to run between the tackles, will change with a new cast at running back. Westbrook, who played in a West Coast offense in Philadelphia, is an accomplished receiver who caught 90 passes in 2007. Dixon, meanwhile, showed exceptional wiggle for a man his size during the exhibition season. He led the league in rushing - 300 yards - in the preseason and also scored two touchdowns.
Singletary, however, said the offense would be predicated more on whom the 49ers are facing rather than who is in their backfield. "I think you should expect us to do whatever we need to do to try and win the game," he said. "You saw (Monday) night it worked, that's what we did, and created a win by it. However we have a chance to win the game, we're going to do that."
-- Matt Barrows