49ers' Gore kept hope through all the adversity

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49ers' Gore kept hope through all the adversity

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Ray Rice has known nothing but winning since he came into the NFL.

For Frank Gore, it took a while.

Two running backs with contrasting styles and story lines will be on display at this Super Bowl, but they have one thing in common - plenty of respect for each other.

``To battle through what he's been through? He's a warrior,'' Rice said Monday evening, shortly after the Baltimore Ravens arrived in the Big Easy. ``Hats off to my man Frank.''

Gore, the leading rusher for the San Francisco 49ers, also was generous with the praise.

``He does it all. I love to watch him,'' Gore said of his Ravens counterpart. ``When I saw him in college, I knew he was going to be a pretty good back in the league.''

They both are.

But, boy, they sure took different paths to get here.

The 29-year-old Gore has endured plenty of losses, personal heartache (losing his mother to kidney failure) and a startling string of injuries that might've broken a lesser man. He tore up both knees in college at the University of Miami, prompting him to wonder if ``football wasn't for me.'' Shaking off the doubts, he was drafted by the 49ers, but needed major surgery on both shoulders after his rookie campaign. Later, he lost part of another season to a hip injury.

Even harder to take, Gore played on a series of bad teams. Really bad teams. His first six years in the league, the 49ers failed to post a winning record - which was especially hard for him to take, considering he had known nothing but winning with the Hurricanes.

``It was tough, real tough,'' Gore said. ``I would see some guys - who are not here anymore - after we lost, and they would just be like, `Whatever.' I was not used to that. If we lost one game at Miami, it was like our season was over.''

One of his teammates, fullback Bruce Miller, has noticed the determination in Gore's eyes as the team prepares to face the Baltimore Ravens in the title game Sunday.

``It means a lot to him,'' Miller said. ``In meetings and at practice, you can see how intense and focused he is. He's worked hard for it.''

For Rice, the road has been much smoother.

Since he was drafted in 2008 out of Rutgers, the Ravens have made the playoffs every season, including three trips to the ACC championship game. This season, they got over that hump with a major upset at New England.

``I've been blessed and fortunate,'' Rice said.

Rice is a slasher of a back, darting through the smallest of openings to break off big gains. He's rushed for more than 1,000 yards four years in a row and is just as valuable in the passing game, recording more than 60 receptions each of those seasons, as well.

In a November game at San Diego, he provided one of the most memorable plays of 2012. With the Ravens down by three and facing fourth-and-29, he hauled in a pass just past the line of scrimmage, swerved away from three defenders, broke a tackle that would have clinched the victory for the Chargers and lunged just beyond the first-down stripe for a 30-yard gain.

The Ravens kicked a tying field goal, then won the game in overtime.

Gore is a power back, someone who can churn out the tough yards between the tackles. That style has served him well; he's run for more than 1,000 yards six of the last seven seasons and become San Francisco's career leader in rushing touchdowns.

``We always credit Frank with the tough yards,'' Miller said. ``He doesn't get the easy runs. It's up the middle, three or four yards a carry. But he just continues to move the chains. That's why we're here.''

Despite their lofty numbers, both running backs are a bit overlooked heading into the title game.

In San Francisco, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the pistol offense are all the rage. For Baltimore, much of the attention is focused on retiring linebacker Ray Lewis and quarterback Joe Flacco, who has finally escaped his playoff demons.

``When you look at the criticism that Flacco has been through, and you see what a young quarterback like Kaepernick is doing, I would make them the headlines, too,'' Rice said. ``I'm just being honest.''

But, chances are, Rice and Gore will have a significant impact on the outcome Sunday, especially since their rookie backups - LaMichael James in San Francisco, Bernard Pierce in Baltimore - emerged as major threats late in the season and playoffs, taking some of the load off the two starters.

``It keeps me fresh,'' Gore said. ``Early in my career, I probably wouldn't have liked it. Now, it gets me ready for the fourth quarter. When the defense is wearing down, that's when I get going.''

All the warm and fuzzy feelings will be put on hold in the Super Bowl.

But no matter who's hoisting the trophy at the end of the game, Gore and Rice will remain fans of each other.

``We don't have to hit each other,'' Rice quipped. ``I'd like to win on Sunday. I don't want to see him do good on our defense. But any other time I watch Frank Gore do well, I'm happy for him.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry 1963

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Harbaugh zings Tomlin over handshakes, Jacoby Jones

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Harbaugh zings Tomlin over handshakes, Jacoby Jones

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin are normally adversaries, but they were on the same side last week. Both coaches were in attendance at a charity event on Thursday to support the There Goes my Hero Foundation, but even when it comes to a good cause it soon became clear that rivalries never take a break.

During his address to the crowd, Harbaugh took the opportunity to take a few jabs at his Steelers counterpart.

"For 3-and-a-half hours, we're battling each other," Harbaugh said. "And then for about 30 seconds on the walk across the field, sometimes we're still battling each another, right? This guy's got a great handshake."

Over the years, Harbaugh and Tomlin have shared some heated handshakes after some intense games. The comment brought some laughs from the crowd and Harbaugh still had another zinger ready.

"I suspect he's a pretty good tackler, too. We never exactly saw the tackle," Harbaugh said. He then turned has back in imitation of Tomlin before saying, "But he thought about it."

The joke was a reference to the infamous Jacoby Jones incident in 2013 in which Tomlin was caught standing on the field blocking the path of Jones on a kick return. Jones looked like he had a clear lane for a touchdown, but had to take a step back towards the middle of the field allowing a tackler to catch him from behind. Tomlin had his back to the play and tried to jump out of the way when Jones approached, but many Ravens fans, including Harbaugrh evidently, are not quite so sure Tomlin was as innocent as he claimed.

It's good to know rivalries never take the summer off.

RELATED: THREE REASONS WHY FLACCO CAN FINALLY TOP 4,000 YARDS PASSING NEXT SEASON

Three reasons why Flacco can finally top 4,000 yards passing next season

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Three reasons why Flacco can finally top 4,000 yards passing next season

Is a 4,000-yard passing season finally in the cards for Joe Flacco?

Though eight NFL seasons, Flacco has yet to throw for 4,000 yards in any year. He has come close – 3,986 yards in 2014, and 3,912 yards in 2013. And Flacco was on pace to pass throw for more than 4,000 yards last season, before his season-ending knee injury in Week 11.

Here are three reasons why I think Flacco will finally break the 4,000-yard barrier in 2016:

1. The time Flacco misses during OTA’s won’t matter.

Flacco is still not ready to participate in this week’s OTA’s after surgery, but the Ravens hope he will be on the field when training camp begins in late July. That should be plenty of time for Flacco to build chemistry with targets he has never lined up with like wide receivers Mike Wallace, Chris Moore, and Breshad Perriman, and tight end Ben Watson. By Week 1, Flacco will have more than enough practice reps to be ready.

RELATED: LOOKING AT THE RAVENS ROSTER LOCKS HEADING INTO OTA'S

2. The Ravens’ passing attack should be more explosive.

If they stay healthy, Wallace, Moore, and Perriman will give the Ravens big-play capability. Last season, the Ravens were forced to be methodical, and Flacco’s ability to throw deep was often wasted. Now he has more legitimate deep weapons.

3. Having the same coordinator should help the offense evolve.

The switch from Gary Kubiak to Marc Trestman as offensive coordinator was an adjustment last year, and there were some growing pains. Trestman and Flacco will begin the 2016 season with a comfort level they didn’t have last season. While the Ravens are committed to improving their running game, Trestman is not shy about throwing the football. Twelve quarterbacks threw for more than 4,000 yards last season. I think Flacco will join that list in 2016.

MORE FOOTBALL: BRADY TO PETITION FOR REHEARING ON DEFLATEGATE SUSPENSION

Looking at the Ravens roster locks heading into OTA's

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Looking at the Ravens roster locks heading into OTA's

With 90 players on their roster, the Ravens need plenty of trimming to reach the 53-man limit by Week 1 against the Bills. Heading into OTA’s that start on Tuesday, and before some unfortunate injuries that are bound to occur, here are the players I see as locks to make the roster:

Offense: (21)

Quarterback (2) – Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett

Running back (3) – Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon

Fullback (1) – Kyle Juszczyk

Tight end (3) – Crockett Gillmore, Ben Watson, Maxx Williams

Wide receiver (5) – Steve Smith Sr., Kamar Aiken, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore

Offensive line (7) – Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Jeremy Zuttah, Rick Wagner, John Urschel, Ryan Jensen, Alex Lewis

It’s going to be an interesting battle at running back, with Lorenzo Taliaferro, Terrance West, and Trent Richardson vying for a spot, and Forsett being pushed to keep his starting job. I don’t see the Ravens cutting Forsett, even if he doesn’t start. If Dennis Pitta is cleared for contact, I would expect he’d make the roster at tight end. If the Ravens don’t release or trade Eugene Monroe, he’ll likely be the starting left tackle, with Stanley playing left guard. Maybe I shouldn’t make Lewis and Moore locks, but it would surprise me to see either fourth-round draft pick getting cut. The wide receiver competition will be intense. Michael Campanaro, Kaelin Clay, and rookie Keenan Reynolds are also part of a crowded wide receiver field.

RELATED: BRADY TO PETITION FOR REHEARING ON DEFLATEGATE SUSPENSION

Defense (20)

Defensive line: (7) - Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Lawrence Guy, Brent Urban, Bronson Kaufusi, Carl Davis, Willie Henry

Linebacker  - (7) C. J. Mosley, Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith, Kamalei Correa, Zach Orr, Albert McClellan

Defensive back (6) – Jimmy Smith, Eric Weddle, Shareece Wright,  Lardarius Webb, Tavon Young, Jerraud Powers

I think pass rusher Matt Judon (fifth-round pick) will make it, but too early to call him a lock. The defensive backfield will be most interesting. I’m tempted to call safety Kendrick Lewis a lock, but I won’t this early. The same holds true for safety Terrence Brooks and cornerback Kyle Arrington. Matt Elam is fighting to win a spot at safety, but he has been major disappointment so far as a former first-round pick.

Special teams (3)

Justin Tucker (K), Sam Koch (P), Morgan Cox (LS)

That makes 44 roster locks by my count, leaving nine spots wide open. Get ready for an interesting spring and summer. Coming off a 5-11 season, playing time is up for grabs at many positions.

MORE RAVENS: HOW PRODUCTIVE WILL THE RAVENS' TIGHT ENDS BE IN 2016?