Out with Mike Martz, in with Jimmy Raye. That was the shakeup this offseason and the hiring of Raye as the new offensive coordinator means that the pass-happy offense Martz installed will no longer be in effect. In fact, the 49ers will expect just the opposite this upcoming season: more run.
Raye was hired after working with the New York Jets in 2008. In that season, Raye produced a top five running back in Thomas Jones. For the 49ers and their star running back Frank Gore, they hope that they can reproduce such success.
The 49ers struggled with their offensive identity last season with a quarterback battle that lingered all the way into the preseason. With the favoritism of Martz’s protégé, J.T. O’Sullivan, the 49ers struggled to find any offensive rhythm.
It was after head coach Mike Nolan’s firing and the quarterback switch to Shaun Hill that the 49ers strung together a more balanced attack.
As the 49ers will still feature another quarterback battle this offseason, the clear choice will be Hill under center. However, the offense will be run-oriented. The success to last season’s 5-2 finish came at the hand of Hill’s short passes and a better management of the clock.
This season, newly hired head coach Mike Singletary will look to do just that to start the season. The 49ers will not work into a lot of passes, but rather establish a hard-nose ground attack.
Offensive coordinator Raye will definitely provide the team more schemes to run the ball. The 49ers were in need of a right tackle this offseason and they fixed that problem with the signing of free agent Marvel Smith. The 49ers also added running back Glen Coffee from Alabama in the NFL Draft to help complement Gore in what the team envisions as a new “two-back system.”
As Raye installs a more run-oriented offense, the most pressure will now be put on the shoulders of Gore and whoever ends up as the quarterback. Much like the 2000 Ravens, the responsibility of the quarterback may not be to throw the deep touchdown passes, but rather simply to help the offense move the chains.
Let’s assume that Hill wins the quarterback battle. Deep, 40-yard passes will not be required of him, but rather swing passes and simple check-down passes would work just fine. Every now and then the team might call for a deep ball, but the running game is where the 49ers will make the biggest splash.
Gore will be expected to get at least 300 carries this upcoming season. He has been held under that mark the past two seasons. Gore reached 312 carries in 2006, his Pro Bowl year, with a total of 1,695 rushing yards.
With this many carries, Gore should be able to reach the 1,000-yard rushing plateau for the fourth consecutive season. This time, I expect him to reach it way before the team’s final regular season game.
Raye’s new offense will probably require Gore and Coffee to split the duties in the backfield. Gore will still get the majority of the rushes, but we could certainly see Coffee get a chance to get possibly 150 carries.
The 49ers did bolster their passing game with the return of Isaac Bruce, the signing of Brandon Jones, and the selection of Michael Crabtree in the NFL Draft. But as the old saying goes: “A successful running game opens up a good passing attack.”
That’s the approach the 49ers will have this year under the new offensive of Jimmy Raye. And for all we know, it may just be the right offense for a team searching for a new offensive identity.