San Francisco 49ers: How Can Jim Harbaugh Best Utilize Randy Moss?
When the San Francisco 49ers signed the 35-year-old Randy Moss on March 12, they were serious about adding a productive wide receiver. Although Moss has not been the greatest locker room presence over the last few seasons, Jim Harbaugh is just the right guy to utilize and control his talented new receiver.
In order to gain the trust of an aging, controversial receiver like Moss, a coach must make the effort to seem in control and create a system that will play to the strengths of his team. From the start Harbaugh has implemented a team-first, ground-and-pound mentality but might need to change a few things now that he has a legitimate deep threat.
How did Harbaugh gain continuity with Moss? Harbaugh threw passes to him during a tryout in Santa Clara, completing every pass except one that was completely overthrown. The ultimate success or failure of this team will depend upon how Jim Harbaugh utilizes the deep-play ability of his new wide receiver, Randy Moss.
Team First, Ego Second
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When GM Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh signed Moss on March 12 to a $2.5 million contract that had a plan all along. The 49ers under Harbaugh have prided themselves on being team first, ego second, and Moss must follow these guidelines if he wants to succeed this season.
So far this offseason Harbaugh has been very quick to praise the intangibles of his star receiver, which have been questioned throughout his tumultuous career. Harbaugh in an interview with KNBR-AM in San Francisco is quick to praise Moss.
"In the classroom, he sits in the front row, he soaks up the knowledge and also gives the feedback, too," Harbaugh said. "He's a coach. He's like a coach."
The confidence Harbaugh has in Moss—or any player, for that matter—is heartfelt and can be seen through the passion and charisma Harbaugh presents every day for his team. The ability to rally a team towards a common goal and work together as a unit has allowed Harbaugh's style of coaching to succeed with the 49ers.
Moss late in his career has struggled to remain focused for an entire season ,but Harbaugh must stay true to his team mentality in order to keep the respect he has gained with his team.
Who's got it better than the 49ers? Nobody. That's Jim Harbaugh in a nutshell, and in order for Randy Moss to integrate into the offense he must play with the mindset and passion of his head coach.
Bring out the Competitor in Moss
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Now entering his 14th season in the National Football League, Moss is still searching for his first championship. The 49ers, meanwhile, were one win away from the Super Bowl last season and post the league's second-best scoring defense featuring five Pro Bowlers. Moss is the missing piece that this team needs to win its first Super Bowl since 1994.
Moss will add the vertical threat the 49ers need, but Harbaugh must bring out the driven and dedicated Moss of 2009 with the New England Patriots, not the lost and confused player who played for three different teams in 2010.
Nothing will be guaranteed for the 14-year veteran due to the addition of Mario Manningham and A.J. Jenkins, as the wide receiver position has now become a very crowded one, which will make training camp very exciting. Moss will strive in the competition and work hard to earn every play, capitalizing on his opportunities and rewarding Coach Harbaugh for making the investment in him.
Allow Alex Smith to Throw It Deep
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Moss was signed for one reason: to improve the 49ers vertical passing game.
In the 2012 NFC Championship Game, Alex Smith only completed one pass to a wide receiver, which is horrendous. Granted, Vernon Davis scored two touchdowns and stretched the field beautifully, but in order for Davis to be more effective in the Harbaugh offense this season, Moss needs to stretch the field.
If Smith can utilize the speed and hands Moss possesses, the Niners will have a legitimate threat at all spots in their offense. When Smith was forced to throw late in games against the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants, Smith stepped up to the occasion. Teams began stymieing Frank Gore, forcing Smith to throw past them, and he responded by throwing for more than 200 yards in both games, leading the Niners to wins in both.
Harbaugh must allow Smith to take more chances down the field this season and use the plethora of new targets that were acquired this offseason to bring the offense to a new level in 2012. If Randy Moss can be utilized for his deep-threat abilities, expect the 30th-ranked passing offense from last year to rank in the top half of the league this season.
Add More Play Action
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The San Francisco 49ers are known around the league as a hard-nose, running football team. Alex Smith can use the solid running game to set up deep passes to Randy Moss. Moss is most effective when he can use his speed and leaping ability to make plays down the field, and adding a play-action element will give Moss more room to operate in the secondary.
Quarterbacks such as Matt Ryan and Mark Sanchez have done well using play action for much of their career. These QBs use their strong running games to create mismatches in the defense on the play action game. Smith has the same weapons, if not better, in San Francisco.
Combine the speed of Moss and the size of Vernon Davis with the Niners' formidable sixth-ranked rushing attack and now you can do some things offensively. The run game that Harbaugh wants can be used to control time of possession and create openings deep down the field by Moss on play action for Smith. Expect Harbaugh to use more play action this season to utilize his new deep threat, Randy Moss.
West Coast Offense at Its Finest
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The 49ers were lined up in trips formation only 11 percent of the time last season. The addition of Moss gives Harbaugh the deep threat necessary to integrate more wide receiver packages into the offense.
Last season the Niners prided themselves on using two tight ends as a way to hide the lack of big-play receiving threats outside the numbers. Moss instantly provides the Niners some credibility in the passing game, giving Harbaugh another option for Smith.
This will only help build a strong relationship between Smith and Moss, which will decrease the chances of any drama from Moss this season. Smith has thrived in throughout his career in the West Coast offense. The West Coast offense gives Smith the luxury to make quick decisions and easy reads in the short passing game.
Throwing to Moss will not only strengthen the rapport of the team, but will make defending the Niners rushing attack and complicated short passing game all the more tougher. The offense will perform well this season by utilizing the threat of Moss to create even more openings for Delanie Walker, Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree in the short passing game.
All this hinges on Jim Harbaugh's ability to integrate the 35-year-old receiver into his version of the West Coast offense.