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June 7, 2012
Odd man out? Dixon undaunted by running back competition

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All apologies to Frank Gore, but the most dominating running back performance I've seen since I've been covering the 49ers came courtesy of Anthony Dixon.

Sure it was the preseason. And it was just the second half. But during an Aug. 15, 2010 game against the Colts, Dixon made his opponents look as if they were made out of straw. He stiff-armed them, ran past them and bowled over them for 100 yards and a touchdown. He ended the preseason as the league's top rusher and won a spot on the 49ers' roster.

The promise that game held, however, never has been fulfilled. Dixon has received scant carries in the last two seasons and he's done little to earn more chances. Now he seems like the odd man out in the competition to land one of the 49ers' running back positions. After all, the team that carried three tailbacks last season currently has seven on the roster, including franchise-leading rusher Gore, second-round draft pick LaMichael James and up and comer Kendall Hunter.

But Dixon says he's accustomed to competition and didn't seem at all bowed by his prospects. "I grew up with three brothers," Dixon said. "All we did was compete - all day, every day. So, it's nothing to me. I'm enjoying it. I'm having fun with these guys. This is my family for right now."

Dixon said he never went home this offseason. Instead, he stuck around the team facility and worked on his game, including what he called his biggest shorting - being sound on his assignments. He says he weighs about the same - between 235 and 240 pounds - as he did last year but he's dropped his body fat percentage.

"Just from what coach (Tom) Rathman and the other guys are saying, you can see it," he said of the work he's put in. "My burst looks better, my weight's better. I'm definitely happy with that decision."

Dixon didn't get many carries last year -- 29 to be exact. His most memorable run occurred in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game. The 49ers had driven across the 50-yard line when they were faced with a third-and-one situation. Gore came out of the game; Dixon went in.

As he got the ball, it looked as if Dixon would pick up the first down and a lot more. Instead he was tripped up short of the first down marker and the 49ers were forced to punt.

"I did a lot of thinking about that whole game, even on special teams," Dixon said. "That was a tough one to swallow. Even that carry -- I just hope I could have seen him (the tackler) or something. He barely got me by the foot. That type of stuff hurts. But at the same time you've got to move on. That's in the past."

Dixon is one of the few big running backs who has the wiggle of a smaller runner. And that's perhaps been his curse. While breaking runs to the outside worked against the Colts' second- and third-team defenders back in the summer of 2010, it has not been effective in the regular season and has exasperated his coaches.

Still, Dixon said the dominating performance he showed in Indianapolis was not an aberration. But he knows he must win over the coaching staff to get another chance to prove that.

"That's definitely still in me," he said. "I still have that capability. ... I'm just trying to work. Hopefully I can get that trust and they'll put me out there again."

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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