New San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Johnson's first press conference is in the books. How did he do? It is somewhat difficult to say.
It was great to see the offensive coordinator finally publicly address the real issues that have plagued the 49ers through their first three games, as Johnson proved he has a much better understanding of how to utilize the diverse weapons on the 49er roster than did Jimmy Raye.
Of course, optimism must be metered by the realization that just about anyone would be an improvement over the bumbling Raye.
Whereas Raye looked thoroughly confused in his press conferences and often hid behind esoteric and circuitous explanations in answering media questions, Johnson came across as sharp, knowledgeable, and direct.
Johnson acknowledged the issues the offense has faced to date and articulated a clear plan for better utilizing the 49ers many offensive weapons while still working within the framework of head coach Mike Singletary's ultimate vision for the team.
Even more encouraging was Johnson's discussion of not only a willingness, but an explicit plan to adjust the offensive approach based on the scheme employed by each opposing defense. Raye's refusal to adjust his offensive approach when it failed to work early against Seattle and Kansas City was a critical impediment to the 49ers' chances of competing in those games.
If Johnson follows through on his stated intention, the team could see marked improvement.
It seems an obvious solution to a simple problem, but Raye never seemed to figure it out. The big question is whether Raye was average and Johnson is great, or Johnson in average and Raye was terrible. The answer is likely somewhere in the middle.
Perhaps Johnson's most interesting response was his answer to a question about how another change at offensive coordinator would affect the team.
So much had been made of Alex Smith finally having consistency at offensive coordinator in 2010, only to see the 49ers undergo yet another transition three weeks into the year. Certainly a legitimate concern.
Johnson likened it to two women wearing the same dress to a party, saying two women can wear the same dress, but look completely different in it. Personally, I would pass on the option of seeing either Johnson or Raye in a dress, but the logic is sound.
Johnson will work from the same system that Raye had established, but use the plays in different ways and feature different weapons than did Raye. The players will not need to learn a new system, there will just be a difference in how their numbers get called.
Why then should fans expect any difference? Just because the offense was largely ineffective in the first three games does not mean the system itself was broken. Two painters can create portraits of vastly disparate quality using the same paint brush, and two women can indeed look very different wearing the same dress.
A more even and less predictable distribution of passes and runs, and a less deliberate focus on particular players (like the confusing fixation with Delanie Walker) could go a long way toward righting a unit that has been downright offensive (though not in the right sense) in the first three weeks of 2010.
We can only hope that Johnson's dress reference was purely metaphoric, and he does not choose to wear one to a game as a motivational tool.
Keep the Faith!