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September 27, 2010
Johnson's challenge is to get playmakers involved

One of the complaints 49ers players had about ousted offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye is that the game had ceased to be fun with him calling the offense. Raye, 66, had an encyclopedic knowledge of the game but the day-to-day operations of the offense were neither lively nor quick. Meetings dragged on forever and the 49ers wasted time going over minutia that didn't affect the upcoming game, said one player who spoke on the condition of anonymity last week.

Now Raye is out and quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson is in at offensive coordinator. Johnson, 43, is a former college quarterback (Arizona State, Mesa Community College and Akron) who has been an NFL assistant for 10 seasons. He previously served as quarterbacks coach in Atlanta (2003-05) when Michael Vick was the quarterback there. After that he served two seasons as the Ravens receivers coach.

He was out of football in 2008 but spent his time studying the spread attack that had taken over college football at that time. Two of his prominent current players, Alex Smith and Michael Crabtree, excelled in a spread system in college. Johnson joined the 49ers early in 2009 when Mike Singletary hired Raye to coach the offense. The plan always has been for Johnson to take control of the offense. But it happened faster than expected.

After scoring just 38 points in three games and beginning the season winless, Singletary fired Raye this morning. Singletary, who on Sunday afternoon had said Raye would be the offensive coordinator the rest of the season, today said he spent the night going over the game film of his team's 31-10 loss to Kansas City. When he was finished, he concluded he had to make a change. He said the decision was his and his alone.

"One thing I want you to understand is if I make a decision, it's my decision," Singletary said. "The thing that I have control over is the 53 man staff, the 53 man roster and the staff, who is on my coaching staff. That is my decision."

A number of the players at the 49ers facility today hadn't even heard the news. Practice-squad quarterback Nate Davis - who is a favorite of Johnson's but not of Raye's - described Johnson as a detailed coach who makes things fun for his pupils. Davis said Johnson challenged his quarterbacks with games on the practice field, such as a target-practice competition whereby the quarterbacks, coaches and even equipment managers take turns firing the ball at nets suspended from the crossbar.

"He's always trying to challenge you - trying to make things fun for you," Davis said.

Said tight end Vernon Davis, who was one of the main beneficiaries under Raye last season: "He's a little different than Jimmy Raye. He's a little more ... He's seems when I talk to him and when I'm around him, he seems to be creative. He seems like he's a creative guy, and he seems like he'll take chances, a lot of chances. And ... he's young and he's hungry. And I think it's a great opportunity for him."

Vernon Davis said he hoped more players would get involved with the new offense. "That's the dream for me - getting everybody involved. Every playmaker we have. And I think that will be a key. If you look at other teams, they're taking advantage of the talent. And that's one thing we need to do here, we can do more of...."

Who specifically? "I don't know, but we have a lot of guys. We have Westbrook. We have Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan. We have a ton of guys. We just need to use everybody."

Westbrook has one carry for zero yards and two receptions for six yards on the season. Crabtree has caught six passes so far, one more than Dominique Zeigler.

Singletary hinted that there will be other changes this week, perhaps to the starting lineup. Alex Smith, he said, will remain the starting quarterback. Smith was in a meeting with Johnson during the team's open locker room session. He should be available later today. Johnson will be available later in the week, according to a team spokesman.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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