It will be announced Monday or Tuesday whether Peyton Manning will play for the 49ers or not. My guess, made without any verification, is that he will. I would be surprised if he made any other choice.
So, how does the quarterback and receiver additions change the 49ers offense? Following is the nuts and bolts of what you, as a fan, can expect.
First, a bit of history and explanation:
The skill that made Jerry Rice the best NFL player in history, by NFL.com’s account in their “Top 100 NFL Players” show was more than sticky hands. To be sure, he had glue on his palms, metaphorically speaking. He learned to catch as a boy catching bricks being thrown up the wall to him by the sod guy so he could hand them to his father, a bricklaying mason by trade.
But his secret skill was that he had an accurate to the millisecond metronome in his head. He could run a route while counting the tick-tocks of that metronome knowing full well his quarterback had the same metronome in his head.
He could accurately run a route and arrive at a spot predictable in both space and time, turn around his head, reach out his hands and know the ball would be there. It would arrive exactly on the millisecond and in the square foot of space where he expected it to be. Turn, reach, catch, and run. He invented the Run After Catch statistic and made it look easy. It wasn’t.
That is the essence of an accomplished receiver, and it is also the secret of an accomplished quarterback. When the announcer says, “Joe and Jerry were on the same page,” that is shorthand for both knowing exactly the time and space where that ball must be in order to be successful.
I once had the honor of discussing this over dinner with a quarterback from Denver, way back in the old days. In his last year with the team, he was the first to clue me in that he threw to a spot based on a fast metronome kind of timing, not by seeing where the guy was and where he might be going. He had a speedy tick-tock, tick-tock kind of metronome. It was not enough to practice throwing it through an old tire on a swinging rope. It also had to be there on the exact tick of the metronome. As he explained I understood how he was successful even though he could not walk to the table without using two canes.
The concept changed the whole football experience for me. It made the NFL interesting, and not just a bunch of big guys running into each other on a grassy meadow.
Peyton Manning and Mario Manningham already have that skill down, which is why his quarterback could throw to Manningham while he was still running his route and he could turn, jump and catch the ball 38 yards downfield without the corner having a chance at even knowing where and when to block the ball. It was why they won the Super Bowl.
He had a quarterback for whom that skill is second nature, really just a habit. And, in San Francisco, he’ll have that quarterback’s elder brother, who is famous for having that skill.
And now he has competition, true competition. The kind of competition that already has national recognition and that will impel him to work more diligently, try even harder and strive to make those catches he missed in 2011.
With Manningham, Moss, Davis, Crabtree, Delanie Walker, Williams, Gore and Hunter, Manning will have all the weapons he can ask for.
Add to that the ability to recognize defense formations and to then predict how they will react, and the ability to counter that with a previously agreed upon change of play, called an “audible” at the line just as the ball is about to be snapped to counter the defense’s plans, and 49er football will become a whole lot more interesting.
Yeah, fans; 49er football is about to get a whole bunch more interesting.