SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Mike Singletary wants to see what the 49ers offense can do with Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore on the field.
So does Gore.
"I'm itching to get at it," Gore said early Tuesday evening after the 49ers returned to practice after an off day Monday. "I want to get out there and play with my team. I'm ready to hit."
The 49ers have held out their star halfback in preseason victories over Indianapolis and Minnesota. But Gore may finally get some action in Sunday's exhibition at Oakland, along with some of San Francisco's other top offensive performers who have yet to play in the preseason.
With rookie first-round draft picks Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis working as starters along the offensive line, the 49ers need to get some work for Gore behind them before the regular season begins Sept. 12.
"We know what Frank can do, so you want to be careful," said Singletary, the 49ers' coach. "At the same time, you don't want to limit him too much. With our offensive line not really having had the opportunity to feel the timing of Frank, to really feel his quickness and the way he makes cuts and things like that in a live situation. ... We'd like to give our line a chance to see it."
Even with Gore, Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis and starting receiver Michael Crabtree watching from the sidelines, Singletary said the highlight of Saturday's 15-10 victory over Minnesota was the play of San Francisco's first-team offense.
That unit sputtered during the team's preseason opener at Indianapolis, but it was crisp behind quarterback Alex Smith on a game-opening touchdown drive that paved the way to victory over the Vikings and a 2-0 start to the preseason.
"The execution of the offense in that first series, that's the No. 1 thing that jumps out from the game," Singletary said. "I think everything was clicking. The execution was at a premium."
With Smith completing his first four passes and 5 of 6 on the drive, the 49ers went 70 yards in 12 plays to record the first points produced by the first-unit offense during the preseason. Smith and other starters had watched from the bench as reserves rallied San Francisco to a 37-17 victory against the Colts on Aug. 15.
Smith and the first unit had early success against a Minnesota defense that ranked No. 6 in the NFL last season. But with most teams typically giving their starters extended work in the third preseason game, the 49ers want to give Smith game time to get in rhythm with his top three weapons as well as newcomer Brian Westbrook, a two-time Pro Bowl running back who was signed as a free agent last week.
Davis sustained a knee strain in the first half against Indianapolis and hasn't played since. Crabtree has yet to appear in the preseason due to a neck strain.
Singletary said Tuesday that both players are day-to-day and he's "not sure" if either will play against the Raiders. Davis continued to work on the sideline with trainers Tuesday, but Crabtree returned to full practice for the first time since being injured. He made several nice catches, including a touchdown reception from Smith to complete a two-minute drill near the end of practice.
The 49ers are looking for major improvement this year from their offense to help end a string of seven consecutive non-winning seasons. San Francisco hasn't been to the playoffs since 2002 and has finished 26th or worst in the NFL rankings for total offense five times in the past six seasons. The 49ers ranked 27th last year.
San Francisco ranked 25th in rushing offense last season, prompting the team to draft 331-pound guard Iupati and 323-pound tackle Davis to add more power up front.
Gore, coming off his team-record fourth consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season, said he has been excited working behind those two youngsters in practice and now wants to do it in a game.
"It takes a lot of practice to get everyone on the same page," Gore said. "It doesn't start in games, it starts in practice. But practice is not like the game. So I'm gonna play this week, and I want to go out there and do what we do. And that's move the ball and put points on the board."
NOTES: Singletary said he didn't think LB Ahmad Brooks, who suffered a lacerated kidney in practice Aug. 6, would miss any of the regular season. Brooks has been cleared for running, lifting and light exercise with no contact, but he did not practice. ... Singletary said there is no timetable for the return of rookie Kyle Williams from a sprained toe. Williams, the 49ers' sixth-round draft pick, was in the lead to be the team's punt returner before he was hurt in the exhibition opener. Rookie Bobby Guillory handled all of San Francisco's kickoff and punt returns against Minnesota, but he averaged just 4.8 yards on five punt returns and fumbled a punt. Guillory, Ted Ginn and rookies Kevin Jurovich and Philip Adams were given turns handling punts during Tuesday's practice.