For an NFL player with incredible think-outside-the-blocks field vision, Frank Gore certainly has a narrow way of looking at things.
The San Francisco running back is constantly comparing himself with his old University of Miami teammates, and he can't seem to see past the eyes of the Hurricanes.
But it's time for Gore to think bigger. Buffalo's Willis McGahee and Washington's Clinton Portis, both far bigger stars in college, can't measure up to him this season. Nor can any of the running backs selected before Gore in the 2005 draft -- among them, top-five picks Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams.
Through 10 games, Gore ranks second in the league with 1,043 yards rushing, two yards fewer than Kansas City's Larry Johnson, and six yards more than San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson.
"It's getting harder and harder to find a weak spot in his game," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said of Gore. "His running style continues to amaze me. He can go inside for the tough yards, or he can turn the corner for a big gainer.
"And it's not like he's one-dimensional. He's a great blocker and has great hands as a receiver too."
In a memorable miscalculation before the 2005 draft, Sports Illustrated called Gore the most overrated running back in that class. He wasn't chosen until the third round, No. 65 overall.
"I don't want to say Frank wears a little chip about it, but he's trying to prove something all the time," 49ers Coach Mike Nolan said. "That's not in a bad way, and not in an 'I've been slighted' way, but I think he was put in the back and forgotten about. People just kind of dismissed him."
Portis is out for the season because of a hand injury. McGahee, nursing sore ribs, has rushed for 579 yards in eight games with two runs of 20-plus yards compared with Gore's 12.
There are obvious reasons Gore didn't make a more dramatic splash with the Hurricanes. First of all, he suffered ligament tears in both of his knees. And then there's the fact that he's not a big talker, an egregious sin for a player surrounded by high-octane Miami motormouths.
In fact, there's some doubt as to whether Gore has a life outside of football. He frequently pesters Nolan on his cellphone mere hours after a game because he's too impatient to wait for film review to hear what he's doing right and wrong. In his free time at home, Gore likes to pop in a highlight tape from his high school games in Coral Gables, Fla.
Recently, after a staff meeting, Nolan bumped into him at the team facility.
It was 10 p.m.
"He said, 'I came back because I was at home and didn't have anything to do,' " Nolan told reporters.
No wonder the 49ers (5-5), once known for Bill Walsh's passing attack, are now so blissfully ground-bound. They have won three in a row and are surprise playoff contenders. Nolan said Gore is "showing what we expected of him when we drafted him."
And maybe a lot more. After all, even the most optimistic of scouts would have had a tough time seeing Gore set a franchise single-game rushing record the way he did last Sunday in a forehead-slapping victory over Seattle. He torched the defending NFC champion Seahawks for 212 yards in 24 carries, bumping him over 1,000 yards for the season.
Gore already has five 100-yard rushing games this season, putting him one shy of the single-season club record held by Roger Craig and Garrison Hearst.
Still, Gore can't resist comparing himself with Portis and McGahee, both eventual first-rounders, who rumbled past him at Miami as the highly touted Gore recovered from the ligament tears.
"Now," Gore told reporters this week, "I just kind of show people that they messed up by not taking me."
A Christmas Carroll?
The Arizona Cardinals are the latest team believed to be eyeing Pete Carroll, whose coaching success at USC continues to make him the hottest prospect on the horizon. There are strong indications, informed sources say, that the Cardinals are poking around on Carroll, should they decide to fire Coach Dennis Green after this season.
But the Cardinals, among the losingest franchises in all of pro sports, surely know this: Luring Carroll from the Trojans probably would take more than a truckload of money and the prospects of a reunion with quarterback Matt Leinart. He almost certainly would want full control over personnel decisions and the overall direction of the franchise. Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill has been resistant to that in the past.
A more realistic fit for Arizona could be Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who drew up plays for Leinart at USC and, before that, Philip Rivers at North Carolina State.