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49ers turn to rookie with Gore injured

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) --The San Francisco 49ers are putting their offense in the hands of rookie running back Glen Coffee.

The third-round draft pick will carry the load in the team's power rushing attack the next few weeks with regular starter Frank Gore out with an injury to his right ankle.

The 49ers say they won't change a thing in their offensive approach with Gore sidelined, and that means Coffee can expect to handle the football on a regular basis.

Coffee had 25 carries for 54 yards during last week's loss in Minnesota after replacing Gore, who was injured on his first carry of the game. The rookie figures to remain the focus of San Francisco's offense until Gore is ready to return after the team's Oct. 18 bye.

We are not going to alter things one bit,'' coach Mike Singletary said.Obviously, you are missing one of the best backs in the league. But for us, we are fortunate to have Glen Coffee and we are confident he will step in and do a good job. He is a very mature young man working his tail off, and he can handle the load and be very effective.''

The 49ers have been looking for a productive backup for Gore since he became the team's full-time starter during his Pro Bowl season of 2006. Coffee was drafted this year to fill that role and is the only other halfback to carry the ball for the team so far this season.

Coffee will get his first NFL start Sunday when the 49ers (2-1) host the winless St. Louis Rams. San Francisco, which beat Arizona and Seattle to begin the season, can take command of the NFC West with a victory.

The 49ers dropped from eighth to 16th in the NFL rankings in rushing offense after producing just 58 net yards against the Vikings last week. But Coffee intends to get the ground game back on track against a struggling St. Louis defense, which ranks 27th in the NFL in stopping the run.

Coffee had consecutive runs of 12 and 13 yards to highlight a third-quarter scoring drive last week and appeared to hit his stride during the second half.

I have a full game under my belt now so I know what to expect and all that,'' Coffee said.This is what you want as a player. I hate to see Frank get injured, but a backup is supposed to look at himself as a starter. There's not supposed to be any drop-off. The coaches expect that, and I expect that of myself.''

Gore was third among NFL rushers entering last week's game and had accounted for 55 percent of San Francisco's offensive yards before being injured.

Singletary said Coffee can expect a similar kind of workload until Gore returns. The 49ers plan to have only three running backs active Sunday with reserve halfback Michael Robinson joining Coffee and starting fullback Moran Norris.

Coffee displayed he can produce in a featured role this summer. He was the NFL's leading rusher during the preseason with 249 yards on 42 carries.

His physical style fits well with San Francisco's offensive approach and the 49ers are confident he can handle such an important role.

I don't think we'll skip a beat,'' Norris said.I have faith in Glen Coffee to get the job done. He's a physical runner, and we're going to go out there and do what we do.''

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