INDIANAPOLIS ? Frank Gore has been the 49ers? workhorse the past three seasons. This offseason, the 49ers will try to find a running back to share the carries.
Coach Mike Singletary and general manager Scot McCloughan expressed a desire Friday to bring in a young running back who will enable Gore to stay fresh throughout the season.
?Frank is a special running back,? Singletary said Friday at the NFL scouting combine. ?I?m very excited about the way he runs, his running style and what he brings to our team.
?But I think it would help to have someone come in and share that load, maybe someone who has a different style ? someone who adds another dimension to our running game.?
Gore, a 5-foot-9, 217-pounder, fits well with Singletary?s vision for the offense under new coordinator Jimmy Raye. The 49ers expect to return to their 2006 offensive philosophy under Norv Turner.
?We would like to have a bigger back that can take some of the workload off of Frank,? McCloughan said. ?Frank needs to be on the field the majority of the time. But we also understand that our plan is not to have a 16-game season. It?s to have a 19-game season.
?We have to keep Frank healthy for us to be as good as we can be late in the year.?
In 2006, Gore rushed for 1,695 yards on 312 rushing attempts ? both franchise records. His production fell off the past two seasons. Gore sustained an ankle injury that limited his play over the final four games of 2007, and he rushed for 1,036 yards.
Backup running back DeShaun Foster had just 21 rushing attempts through 12 games last season. After Gore?s injury, Foster carried 55 times over the final four games.
Foster, 29, is scheduled to be a free agent, and the 49ers are in no hurry to re-sign him. They figure to find his replacement with one of their nine scheduled draft picks in April.
?I?m not talking about a 235-pound guy that?s going to run 4.4 (in the 40-yard dash),? McCloughan said. ?I?m talking about a football player that has some special-teams value but also can go out there and carry the ball 10 to 15 times a game and be a starter at any time.?
Other issues facing the 49ers? offense this season include:
* The 49ers expect to sign quarterback Alex Smith to a reduced contract, setting up an offseason competition with Shaun Hill for the starting job. Singletary spoke as if the 49ers would not add another veteran or draft pick to enter the competition for the starting job.
The 49ers do not seem receptive to the idea of using the No. 10 overall pick on USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. But they could be in the market for a quarterback in the later rounds.
?Maybe we get somebody in the draft on down somewhere, if there?s a guy there we think we can bring in and develop,? Singletary said.
* Veteran Isaac Bruce has yet to decide whether he plans to return for a 16th NFL season. Singletary has told Bruce to take his time in making a decision. Bruce led the 49ers with 61 receptions for 835 yards and seven touchdowns.
?I?d like to know sooner than later, that?s basically it,? Singletary said. ?He?s earned that right. I?m thankful for what he?s done to our team and the effect it will have on our receivers and our team. Whether he?s back or not, he?s done a lot already.?