NFL: Niners draft insurance for Gore
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) – Frank Gore is considered San Francisco’s star running back for the long haul, even if his contract expires after next season.
The 49ers plan to re-sign their offensive centerpiece if all goes well – and the team brass has told Gore how much he means to the franchise.
“Frank is a 49er,” general manager Trent Baalke said. “He’s a guy we love.”
On Saturday, San Francisco found another young runner for Gore to help groom.
The Niners added depth to their depleted backfield Saturday, taking Oklahoma State running back Kendall Hunter with the 115th overall pick in the fourth round of the NFL draft – the first of eight selections by San Francisco on the draft’s final day.
Gore might even get a kick out of the kid’s pregame routine: a regular 10-minute power nap leading up to kickoff.
“I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, a little 10-minute nap before every game and just relax,” Hunter said. “When I wake up after the 10-minute period, I’m just ready to play.”
In another move to upgrade the offense, the 49ers traded up to select guard Daniel Kilgore out of Appalachian State with the 163rd overall pick that had belonged to Green Bay. San Francisco sent its sixth-round pick at No. 174 overall and a seventh-round choice at No. 231 to the Packers in return for that fifth-round spot.
The 49ers selected seven of their 10 new players Saturday, making for an entertaining, jam-packed day as Baalke concluded his second draft in charge of the 49ers with new coach Jim Harbaugh as his right-hand man. Baalke did his job finding a quarterback Friday night in getting Colin Kaepernick, then rounded out the roster with a handful of players for both sides of the ball and special teams.
The 49ers certainly were looking to boost the running back position, where they were lacking without Gore late last season. He went down with a season-ending fractured hip in a Monday night game at Arizona on Nov. 29 and is still rehabilitating the injury.
Baalke made one thing clear: this move isn’t about replacing Gore but rather complementing him.
“You always have to plan for the future,” Baalke said. “We look at Frank as a 49er, a guy we’d like to have here for his career.”
Anthony Dixon, a rookie in 2010, has shown he is a reliable backup for a San Francisco team that lost second-year running back Glen Coffee to retirement in a surprising decision last training camp. Hunter, who visited 49ers headquarters leading up to the draft, could be another immediate contributor for Harbaugh.
Hunter is eager to get to work alongside Gore, a seventh-year pro who has run for 6,414 yards and 35 touchdowns.
“The sky is the limit because he’s a Pro Bowl running back and he knows everything you possibly could know to help the team get back to where it needs to be,” Hunter said.
Considered an explosive playmaker, Hunter ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at the scouting combine in February at Indianapolis. He carried 271 times last season for 1,548 yards and 16 touchdowns while also making 20 catches for 101 yards. The 49ers will be eager to add a productive player to a team that hasn’t reached the playoffs or had a winning season since 2002.
San Francisco on Friday traded up in the second round to take Nevada’s Kaepernick with the 36th overall pick. The Niners, 6-10 last season after a surprising 0-5 start, chose Missouri linebacker Aldon Smith with the No. 7 overall pick Thursday night.
While Hunter was chosen a couple of rounds lower than he had envisioned, he is used to having to prove himself at 5-foot-7 and 200 pounds.
“Ever since I started playing the game people doubted me, saying I couldn’t do this or do that, (because of my) size,” Hunter said. “I played every game with a chip on my shoulder. I use it as motivation.”
Hunter broke his right ankle during high school in Tyler, Texas, and needed a metal plate inserted. He also had a stress fracture in the ankle as a junior for the Cowboys and was limited to eight games and two starts.
The 6-foot-3, 305-pound Kilgore, who first met with 49ers offensive line coach Mike Solari last week for 2 1/2 hours via Skype, played both guard and tackle during college. The Niners are interested in him as a center.
Kilgore – due to graduate next Sunday – can be encouraged by two of his future offensive linemates, even if they were much higher picks.
Last year, San Francisco picked right tackle Anthony Davis at No. 11 and then left guard Mike Iupati six spots later. Both started every game.
“That’s a good sign for guys when you come into a team and see two rookies start,” Kilgore said.
Another new addition to the offense will be Southern California receiver Ronald Johnson, selected with the 182nd overall pick in the sixth round. With their second sixth-round choice, the 49ers took Texas Christian safety Colin Jones with the 190th pick.
Central Florida fullback Bruce Miller was chosen with the 211th pick in the seventh round.
Miller played defensive end in college but worked out for teams as a fullback leading up to the draft. The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Miller was the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, so he expressed being “shocked” about making the position change – but is eager to take on the challenge.
The 49ers drafted Montana State offensive tackle Mike Person with the 239th pick in the seventh round, then wrapped up the draft by choosing Florida A&M cornerback Curtis Holcomb with the 250th overall selection.