Under offensive coordinator Mike Martz in 2008, the San Francisco offense seemed to improve from legally dead to frisky.
With only the addition of Isaac Bruce at wide receiver, Martz helped transform the Niner offense from one of the worst units of all time in 2007 into a middle-of-the-pack team in 2008.
However, Martz's system wasn't well-suited for the 49ers in that it caused way too many turnovers and sacks. Martz used seven-step drops and had receivers criss-crossing all over the field. So while the Niners were more explosive, they were also too mistake-prone.
Enter Mike Singletary and new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, who are looking for a much more balanced approach.
With a relatively inexperienced starting quarterback in Shaun Hill and a top-5 running back in Frank Gore, the Niners have to be a run-first team if they are to creep into the upper third of offenses in 2008.
Raye and Singletary have both already said that the Niners will look to establish the running game as a means of controlling the pace of the game and wearing down the opposition, so Gore will have quite a workload.
Third round pick Glen Coffee and veteran Michael Robinson will occasionally give Gore a breather, but the Niners will be relying heavily on Gore's surgically repaired legs to jump-start the offense. Gore missed a game against Miami in 2008, a 14-9 Niner loss, and it was plain to see that they aren't even close to the same offense with their best player on the sidelines. Gore's unique combination of power running, pass catching and pass blocking will be a vital cog in San Francisco's gameplan.
After leading the team in catches and yards in 2008, Isaac Bruce is likely to see a reduced role in 2009. With Martz out of the picture, Bruce is unlikely to get any favoritism as far as targets are concerned. Still, Bruce is an excellent veteran presence to keep on the roster, and it was clear to see that his teachings had a positive effect on the likes of Jason Hill and Josh Morgan last season.
The Niners are convinced they got a sixth-round steal in Morgan, who is going into his second year with the team. Morgan has an uncanny ability to angle his body, shielding the defender away from the ball when receiving a pass, thus creating a tiny window for Shaun Hill to get him the pigskin. Jason Hill has an intriguing blend of size and speed and could emerge as a downfield threat. The Hill-to-Hill combination appeared to click towards the end of last season.
Brandon Jones, signed away from Tennessee, is coming off of a career-best 41-catch season and could compete for a starting job. The 49ers got the gift of the draft as Michael Crabtree slipped all the way to No. 10, and after dazzling college football audiences, he looks primed to make an immediate impact in the NFL.
It remains to be seen as to what receiver will have what role, but one thing they have going for them as a unit is that none of them stands out from the pack, thus defenses won't know who to target.
And then there's Vernon Davis. Which Davis is going to show up this year? He's always flashed signs of brilliance but often appears to run lazy routes or the wrong route all together. Look for Singletary to be all over Davis throughout training camp and into the season and for Davis to finally emerge into the dangerous pass-catching threat Niner fans have been hoping he would become.