Raye of Light: Newest San Francisco 49ers O.C. Needs Staying Power
Well, at least San Francisco made it 7-for-7.
After going through six offensive coordinators in the previous six seasons, what was another for the 49ers? A few things are certain: Norv Turner was the answer, Jeff Hostler and Mike Martz weren't it. It's unfortunate, too.
The 49ers spent their No. 1 draft pick on a 21-year-old wunderkid who graduated college in two years and also helped the first non-BCS conference school run the tables and bust open the flawed system.
Now, five seasons later, Alex Smith, alongside incumbent Shaun Hill and the new-look 49er front office, coaching staff and offense have a new dream to rest their laurels on.
Flash back to January 29 and you'll find it, or what head coach Mike Singletary found to fit his wants and needs. The eclectic offensive playbook of Martz was out the window and in was Jimmy Raye II, the 63-year-old former running backs coach for the New York Jets.
Raye, no stranger to the offensive coordinator position, was at the helm of the 2004-05 Oakland Raider offense—a crew that finished in the top 10 in passing yards in his two seasons in the driver's seat.
January 29 brought a day of confoundment for 49er fans. No one had really heard of Raye or realized that he was on the top of Singletary's list, but credit to the newly-minted head coach, he found the guy he wanted and put the pen to paper.
With the arrival of Raye, an offensive aficionado, Singletary stated in the offseason that he wanted the offense to be a full-fledged potent unit, to go coincide with a rushing-based attack that featured one of the best running backs in the league in Frank Gore. That's where the the decision was obviously made. Singletary went with a safe and thorough pick rather than a risky, sexy choice as the Niners made the year before with Martz.
In a May 2nd interview with Tim Kawakami of The San Jose Mercury News, Raye was put on the spot in terms of what his 2009-version of the 49er offense would look like and most importantly, the much-heralded quarterback race.
When asked it would be "wrong to assume" that his offensive playbook would be strongly run-oriented, Raye didn't shy away, answering, "It’s a matter of interpretation by you people, the media and the public perception. I don’t see it as run-oriented or pass-oriented. What we’re doing is, we’re installing both run and pass equally. We would have a plan."
With the arrival of Raye, comes a seasoned-veteran of the NFL and most importantly, a teacher of a variety of positions. Raye tutored and ushered in one of the game's best tight ends in former Kansas City Chief, now Atlanta Falcon, Tony Gonzalez during Raye's eight seasons in Kansas City.
That could speak volumes for a certain San Francisco tight end that hasn't quite reached the high-ceiling that so many have dubbed since his entrance into the league three seasons ago.
Vernon Davis, the former No. 6 overall pick in 2006 has had an up-and-down few seasons by the Bay, highlighted by injuries, cold showers and development.
Raye's entrance proceeds to give the 49ers a different offensive look than the previous six and with that, the playbook and play-calling will be mixed-and-matched with certain players and formations. Here are some anticipated changes for the upcoming season.
The double-tight end formation will certainly come in handy with the maturation of Davis, who Singletary mentioned last year as one of the best blocking tight ends he'd ever seen, along with rookie Bear Pascoe, who's job will typically be strictly blocking, a specialty.
Having two run-blocking tight ends strengthens touches for Frank Gore, instead of having a strict five-man front, San Francisco can load the box with seven men and have the likes of Michael Crabtree, Isaac Bruce and Josh Morgan in potential one-on-one situations on the flanks.
As Raye has mentioned the quarterback battle probably running into the pre-season between Hill and Smith, there's no question the new offensive coordinator has two types of offensive sets for each of his two quarterbacks.
As Hill did so well last year demanding a pocket presence and delivering the ball under pressure, Smiths' best season (16 touchdowns, 16 interceptions under Turner) was a multifaceted offense that had Smith running a plethora of bootleg roll-out passes, as it's quite evident that Smith's most comfortable on the move.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Smith's sets include the more athletic play-makers on the field such as Crabtree, Arnaz Battle, and Michael Robinson.
It's no secret the 49ers' bread-and-butter is Gore. He's a prototype NFL back that has endured the beatings and bruisings and despite having some injury problems, he's what the coaching staff wants to rely on. Clock management for the up-and-coming defense to get as much rest as possible.
Over the past three season's Gore's touches have gone down considerably. In 2006, under Turner, Gore had 312 rushing attempts for a career-high 1,695 yards and a personal-high eight touchdowns.
Gore's numbers dipped into obscurity last season, in terms of injury and play-calling, he had only 240 rushing attempts, his lowest numbers since his rookie year of 2005. Singletary and Raye know they have a special talent in Gore and will look to get the archetypal four-to-six yards per carries as Gore is almost guaranteed to deliver.
With Hill and Smith in an entangled battle for QB-1, the guys that will be hauling passes will be surely looked upon to contribute in Raye's system.
A setting-up-the-run type offense will leave a surplus of chances for the wideouts to make plays. Crabtree and his foot are still up in the air, but expect him to be there against a relatively undersized and undermanned NFC West secondary. He will be taking tips from one of the NFL's constants in Bruce.
I have a hard time envisioning Crabtree starting over Bruce or Morgan, the former seventh-round gem who emerged last year with an all-around-game approach.
In a run-based offense, the wideouts will be asked to do a multitude of things that include down-field blocking, on-the-line blocking and noticing cornerback blitzes and potential stunts off the line.
Expect either Hill or Smith to find Crabtree, Morgan, or former Titan Brandon Jones over the top and the likes of Bruce, Battle, Jason Hill, and Dominique Zeigler blazing across the middle.
What will be the most interesting is to see how Raye plays off certain formations to bluff defenses into running and/or passing plays, something that will surely be a plausible factor considering all the versatility and play-making ability the Niners own this season.
As aforementioned, clock management will be a massive key for San Francisco. Last year, the Niners were one of the worst teams in the league in terms of managing clock, most of the blame being pinned upon the likes of Martz and former quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan's knack for turning the ball over (20 times in four or five games was it?).
The quarterback battle is an interesting one, but the veracity of the 49er offense must fall on the shoulders of the seventh OC in seven years.
He has tools and a running back to be able to control clock, give the defense time to rest and most of all, put points up on the board, a Pandora's Box that San Francisco seemingly hasn't been able to open for the past two seasons.
It's an astounding feat to be able to hire, groom and jettison six straight coordinators, offensively, nonetheless, but with the hiring of Singletary and his bold-faced approach, Raye may be the steady hand that gets the 49ers to the next level.
I'm sure Niner fans are quite sick of 7-9 seasons, and whether it be Hill, Smith, or Gore, Raye's approach must be full of dependability and most importantly, an implementation of progress and the number six flashing on the scoreboard at Monster Park more than once or twice every Sunday.
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