This isn’t your dad’s San Francisco 49ers.
Gone is the legendary Bill Walsh, and extinct is the West Coast Offense in the City by the Bay.
Mike Singletary is the new sheriff in town and he prefers to do his trailblazing on the ground. In 2009, expect to see an offensive attack from the Niners similar to that of the Tennessee Titans a season ago.
Former offensive coordinator Mike Martz was relieved of his duties last year because of his pass-first mentality. So now Singletary will play to the team’s strengths by executing what he knows best—defense.
This side of the ball took a big hit when cornerback Walt Harris suffered a season-ending torn ACL to his right knee last week. The 49er brass quickly acquired free agent Dre’ Bly to fill the gaping hole.
The performance of this defensive grouping could determine the success of the franchise next season. This is an aging secondary that will be tested, and will need to be off the field for large chunks of the game.
In order to give the defensive unit as much recuperation time as possible, the ground attack for the 49ers will be asked to eat up as much time as possible. Fortunately, San Franciscohas a stable of studs to execute this gameplan.
Frank Gore finished tied for eighth in the league last season after averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Even with fewer than 250 attempts, he managed to eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau.
This offseason Gore denied the notion of splitting carries with rookie back Glen Coffee, but with the expectation of 35-40 called run plays per game someone will have to shoulder a portion of the load.
Former 49er fullback Tom Rathman was hired as running backs coach in early January. He should be able to speed along Coffee’s learning curve concerning the blocking schemes of the NFL. The organization is excited about Coffee’s potential and will look to utilize his skills almost immediately.
It’s no secret Singletary wants an offense based around the running game. But new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye is attempting to mask that philosophy in the meantime.
"I don't see it as run-oriented or pass-oriented," Raye said on the team’s official website. "What we are doing is installing both run and pass equally. Ideally, when we get to the point where we are playing football, we would like to determine what our best facet is."
Raye has also hinted that the “Wildcat” formation will not be tossed out the window.
This is an area the Niners could really have some tricks in the bag. Michael Robinson quarterbacked Penn Statefor three seasons, and ran the Wildcat with Gore a handful of times last season. Wide receiver Arnaz Battle was a quarterback at Notre Dame so he can also handle the ball out of the shotgun.
Throw Michael Crabtree in the mix—who played quarterback exclusively in high school— on some end-arounds and sweeps, and opposing defenses will be scratching heads.
An established running game will open the field for Raye to experiment with his fresh corps of wide receivers. With the addition of Crabtree and Brandon Jones, the 49ers actually have a grouping of serviceable wideouts.
If tight end Vernon Davis can mature into the talent he could be, San Franciscans could finally have an offense to be excited about. Raye has groomed big men with immense success in the past and Davis could blossom into one of the finest.
The 49ers playbook began to transform last season, but will be completely overhauled by the start of the 2009 campaign. Only 16 games will be enough to gauge whether or not the transition was the right move.