Run over the rookie: Iupati leads improved line

Frank Gore said it twice. Maybe it was “60 Power.” Maybe it was “60 Counter.” Maybe it was both. After endlessly rewinding my tape recorder, I still don’t know. But the name of the play – or plays – isn’t the primary point.

Gore’s point was this: They Niners repeatedly ran Monday night directly over rookie left guard Mike Iuapti and the first-round pick repeatedly resembled an earthmover.

“The (offensive line) did great,” Gore said. “All five of them. But Iupati, man. We probably called (those plays) almost the whole game. And big 77, he did a great job. Especially from the first game until now.”


Iuapti wasn’t alone. The line was leaky in the season-opening loss to
Seattle. And with right guard Chilo Rachal out against the Saints,
prospects for a turnaround looked dim.

The Niners had two starters out and two rookies in against a defense
known for its exotic and aggressive fronts, trademarks of Saints
defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

But Alex Smith wasn’t sacked for the first time in six games, Gore
averaged 5.6 yards carry – 3.4 more than his average in Seattle – and
the Niners rolled up 417 yards, their most in four years.

Asked if his two-minute drive in the fourth quarter was fun, Smith
didn’t really answer the question. He was too busy praising the front
five.

“I thought our protection there in that two-minute drive was great,”
Smith said. “I thought the guys up front – we hit all the calls. They
were trying to overload us a few times, and we picked it up and were
able to take shots. I was able to get out there and run a little bit
because the guys up front picked all that stuff up. I thought all those
guys did a great job. We communicated well.”

After the loss in Seattle, tight end Vernon Davis said the communication
up front was spotty, particularly with the rookies, Iupati and right
tackle Anthony Davis. So it will be interesting to see what happens
Sunday in Kansas City, a place veteran quarterback David Carr ranks
above Seattle for its ability to generate rock-concert decibels.

The heartening news for the Niners is the line functioned brilliantly at
home, a scenario that seemed unlikely after Gore’s game-opening runs up
the middle netted five yards and converted center David Baas hurled a
shotgun snap to Burlingame.

But they clearly settled down. And Iupati, whose impressive training
camp had many envisioning a Pro-Bowl career, looked the part.

Based on Monday, I guess you can expect to see plenty of 60 … plenty of runs over Iupati this season.