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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Why Ravens feel they made right call with Stanley over Tunsil

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Why Ravens feel they made right call with Stanley over Tunsil

Here are three reasons why drafting left tackle Ronnie Stanley with the No. 6 pick made sense for the Ravens:

1. They need a left tackle they can count on, and Eugene Monroe hasn’t been that guy. 

Monroe has been injury-prone the last two seasons, and it’s clear his future with the team is uncertain. Perhaps a healthy Monroe spends another season with the Ravens, and Stanley can play left guard if he struggles during offseason workouts and training camp. But the Ravens drafted Stanley with the intention of him being the starting left tackle. Listen to what coach John Harbaugh had to say when asked about Monroe, and the left tackle position.

“It pans out how it pans out,” Harbaugh said. “May the best man win. We’ll see who that is.” 

2. The Ravens believe they can trust Stanley, both on and off the field.

The Ravens couldn’t miss on this pick, which means they couldn’t risk someone who carries off-the-field baggage. That made the choice between Stanley and Mississipi left tackle Laremy Tunsil easier. Harbaugh is close friends with Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. Harbaugh and Hiestand had a long conversation about Stanley that helped sell Harbaugh.

“He couldn’t speak enough to his character, to his intelligence, to his toughness, and to what kind of football player he was going to be Harbaugh said. 

3. All the Ravens’ plans for next season go down the drain if Joe Flacco suffers another season-ending injury. 

“We just invested a lot in Joe (Flacco ) for the next six years,” said general manager Ozzie Newsome. “We feel like Ronnie comes in with an opportunity to compete, and at some point will be a starter and a starter for a long time for the Baltimore Ravens.”

MORE RAVENS: CHARLEY CASSERLY GIVES A REPORT ON STANLEY

Newsome on Stanley: He was our top-rated guy at time of pick

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Newsome on Stanley: He was our top-rated guy at time of pick

OWINGS MILLS -- After watching two of their top defensive targets go off the board – defensive end Joey Bosa to San Diego at No. 3 and defensive back Jalen Ramsey to Jacksonville at No. 5 – the Ravens went on the offensive, selecting Notre Dame tackle Ronnie Stanley with the sixth overall pick in the draft.

The move gives the Ravens a potential long-term anchor on Joe Flacco’s blind side, but in picking Stanley, the Ravens chose not to immediately address their defensive concerns, bypassing Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner – who went No. 7 overall to the 49ers — and also opted against Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil, who many considered a potential No. 1 overall pick.

General manager Ozzie Newsome said Stanley was the Ravens top-rated player when they picked and dismissed concerns about not drafting defense first.

“Well we got eight picks,” Newsome said, “and we got a good board.”

Assuming the Ravens do not trade back into the first round, the Ravens will next pick at No. 36 overall.

As for Tunsil, he became one of the stories of the draft when, minutes before the draft began, a video surfaced on his Twitter feed that appeared to show him wearing a gas mask and smoking something from a bong. The Twitter account was deleted. 

Tunsil fell out of the top 10 and was selected by the Dolphins at No. 13 overall.

Newsome implied the Ravens already had concerns about Tunsil.

“Our scouts get a lot of information and when things happen, a lot of times we’re not surprised,” Newsome said after the Ravens selected Stanley. “So, we took the best player, the player who was rated highest on the board at that point.”

MORE RAVENS: VIDEO POSTED MINUTES BEFORE DRAFT HURTS TUNSIL

Ravens get offensive - select Notre Dame tackle Ronnie Stanley

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Ravens get offensive - select Notre Dame tackle Ronnie Stanley

With the sixth pick in the draft, the Ravens selected left tackle Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame. Stanley will be expected to become a starter as a rookie, protecting quarterback Joe Flacco’s blind side. The addition of Stanley further clouds the Ravens future of left tackle Eugene Monroe, who has struggled to stay healthy the past two seasons.

Strengths: Stanley was an excellent pass blocker in college, and was improving as a run blocker. Scouts thought he was good enough to turn pro a year ago, but Stanley returned for his senior year. That should help him be NFL-ready by Week 1, and Stanley also impressed teams at the combine with his aptitude and demeanor during interviews.

Weaknesses: Stanley is not the most physical offensive lineman, and could be overpowered at times early in his career. If he has a rough day in training camp, or once the games start, does Stanley have a short enough memory to bounce back quickly?

Bottom line: This was a smart pick for the Ravens.  Stanley is a safer choice at left tackle than Tunsil, and all of the Ravens’ plans for next season go up in smoke again if Flacco suffers another serious injury. Taking a player who can help keep Flacco healthy next season and beyond, and is step toward the Ravens reestablishing themselves as consistent playoff contenders.