49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

February 18, 2011
Stormy offseason would test Niner coaching philosophy

When the 49ers trio of coordinators sat down with the media on Wednesday, they were asked a lot of specific questions. What will your offense look like? What do you think of Patrick Willis? Does Vernon Davis make your offense more versatile?

There weren't a lot of specific answers because, well, that's the nature of NFL coaches and, more to the point, because they said they would take their cues from their players' strengths and they simply have not had occasion to assess those strengths. Here's offensive coordinator Greg Roman on the subject:

"What we did at Stanford was a direct reflection of what our players told us they could and that's kind of how we go - put a big, broad system in and then start to see what your players tell you in practice, what they're good at. At then it starts to shift one way or another. To just say, 'Here's the system. Here's what we're doing' -- we'll never do that."

And here's defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who was asked his thoughts on Willis.

"I have really not watched a lot of tape of the guys," he said. " ... Going into a new place I really try not to watch a lot of tape (because) I want to form my own opinion. I don't know what they were being told, what they weren't being told, I don't know what the circumstances were. So, I really try and form my own opinion going forward."

It's a wonderful philosophy. Rather than force players into a very specific, pre-conceived formula (see: 49ers' "Singletary smash!" offense; 2009-10), the 49ers new staff is willing to let the players dictate what the offense and defense will look like. You saw this with Fangio's Stanford defense last year. A 3-4 defense typically relies on its outside linebackers for the pass rush. Stanford's strength, however, was in its inside linebackers, Shayne Skov and Owen Marecic, and he had those two two, especially Skov, blitz often.

The giant, awkward elephant in the room, of course, is the threat of a lockout. If one occurs on March 4, it has the potential to erase all of the offseason opportunities that Roman and Fangio would have to assess their new players. In a typical year, a team with a new coaching staff would be afforded an extra minicamp to help offset the unfamiliarity factor. Roman said that in the event of a lockout, he and the other coaches wouldn't even be able to chat on the phone with players or send them into the offseason with study materials. (And, yes, I'm skeptical that teams will abide by those rules).

So how would the 49ers prepare if they don't have the luxury of a long offseason? Said Roman:

"We really haven't thought about that; we're preparing as if we are going to have an offseason. And if it doesn't we will adapt it, we will get excited about the challenge it presents and we'll go from there. Week to week during a season, as you build a game plan, very often these game plans are so specific and presenting a lot of new things -- it's a amazing how much you can get done in a short amount of time, I guess is what I'm saying. So we're really not even looking at that; if it happens it happens, it is what it is."

If you thought you were going to get to the weekend without a Jim Harbaugh-to-Alex Smith smoochy woochy session, you were wrong. Here's what Harbaugh said on the Murph & Mac radio show this morning:

"I like Alex and I like being around him and I like what I see on tape. It has come up on tape and it is really not that complicated of a thing. This is a somewhat simple thing. We are going to get the best possible quarterbacks on our football team. Then we are going to throw the balls out there and they are going to compete for it. I believe starting quarterbacks are not anointed. That is an earned position. It's about as simple as that.

You go back to football being a pure game. It is that. It shows up on the tape. It is my job to do the best evaluation for the organization and get the best quarterbacks that we can on our football team. Then we will go play and that position will be earned.

I'm not going to hide my feelings. I like Alex Smith. I like him as a football player, as a person. He is going to make the best decision for him (as a potential free agent). Some people say Alex Smith needs a fresh start, needs a new place to be. I say, 'Let that place be here.'"

-- 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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