49ers 2009 Season Preview: Quarterbacks, Running Backs Edition

The San Francisco 49ers finished their first training camp and preseason under new head coach Mike Singletary with a 3-1 record.  Last year Niner players got a taste of what Singletary expects from his team and after enduring their first Camp Singletary the regular season awaits a team with a new identity: physically wear down the opponent.  Singletary is trying to install a winning attitude that has been missing in the Niners locker room since Eddie DeBartolo Jr was forced to give up ownership of the 49ers.  Players on both sides of the ball have bought into Singletary’s vision of the team.  Here is how they will accomplish bringing back the winning attitude to the Red and Gold on offense.

Offensive Coordinator:

Jimmy Raye knows a thing or two about running an offense.  He was been a coordinator in the league for 11 years on six different occasions: Los Angeles Rams (twice – 1983-84, 1991), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1985-86), New England Patriots (1990), Kansas City Chiefs (1998-2000), Washington Redskins (2001) and the Raiders (2004-2005).

While Raye never led an offensive juggernaut that is anything to brag about, the fact that he has been hired again and again as an offensive coordinator and has 29 years of coaching experience shows he knows a thing or two running an offense.  Singletary took a long time to name his offensive coordinator and interviewed what seemed like 100 candidates so you have to think Raye will be effective calling plays.  He will install Singletary’s vision of running the ball 60 percent of the time which will be hard because the running game will need to be effective each game if you are going to rely on the running attack that much every week.  He has the workhorse players in Frank Gore and rookie Glen Coffee to lead the way so it is within reach.

What stands out the most to me is Raye’s time spent with the Chiefs 1998-2000.  Raye is known to make use of his tight end in the passing game and used TE Tony Gonzalez very effectively.  In the three years under Raye as the offensive coordinator Gonzalez each year averaged 76 receptions, 891 receiving yards (1,203 yards in 2000, second best in his career), 11.5 yards per catch, 57 yards receiving per game and seven touchdowns.  If this is the year Vernon Davis breakouts he has a coordinator known to use his tight end unlike last year’s catastrophe with Mike Martz.

Quarterback:

We learned this past off-season that Singletary likes to take his time making a decision.  Not only with hiring a new offensive coordinator that seemed to never end, Singletary also took his time naming the starting quarterback even though he owed being named the head coach to one of the men in competition.  Singletary named Shaun Hill the starter on August 24 after the second preseason game.  Everyone knew, probably even Singletary himself, that Hill would ultimately be named the man under center to start the season not because he is anything spectacular but that he can lead the 49ers to wins and limit his mistakes which J.T. Duh!Sullivan and Alex Smith could not do.

Shaun Hill: With a 7-3 record as a starter, 5-0 at home, Hill was the best option the 49ers had at quarterback.  He is experienced and has shown he can lead the 49ers to wins even in pressure situations.  But for the first time in his career Hill will be starting the season as the number one quarterback.  I think Hill has the skills and ability to make up for his lack of arm strength especially now that he is in an offensive that does not rely on the QB to make plays.  Expect a lot of short and quick passes to receivers and not a lot of down the field throws that we saw last year in the Martz offense.   The 60% rush-40% pass tempo Raye wants to install will be good for Hill.  Now if he can only figure out his footwork.  He looks like he is standing on hot coals every time he drops back to pass.

Alex Smith: After restructuring his contract in the off-season with the 49ers, Smith saved his playing career not only with the 49ers but most likely in the NFL.  I doubt Smith would have signed with another team or even given a shot at a starting job if he was not on the team.  The 49ers are finding out what the rest of the league knew in 2005, Smith is not an NFL starting quarterback, he is a backup at best.  He has shown promise but with the endless cycle of new offensive coordinators and Mike Nolan shattering any development he had made as a QB in the NFL when he called him out for being soft has stalled his progress.  I believe Singletary was always going to name Hill the starter and wanted to boost Smith’s confidence that had been shattered.  Also Singletary has been with the 49ers since they drafted him in 2005 so he might still hold out some hope that Smith can be that future QB they envisioned when he was selected number one.

Nate Davis: The rookie quarterback has shown he has learned the game quickly despite a learning disability however he has still a lot to learn to become a starting quarterback in the NFL.  He and the 49ers have time to see what he develops into so there is no pressure.  Davis showed great leadership in the three preseason games he played, in two of which he lead the 49ers to come from behind victories over the Raiders and Cowboys.  Davis in not the heir apparent at QB for the 49ers but because he has shown so much promise in such little time and with there being no pressure on him to become the savior quarterback we have been looking for all these years.  It will be interesting to see how he develops.

Running Back:

Frank Gore has been the only positive thing offensive for the 49ers since he joined the team in 2005.  Everyone else has just been offensive (in a bad way).  Gore will have his biggest rushing season of his career this year.  I think he can top 1,800 rushing yards.  Yes, that is a lot of yards and not too many backs have been able to accomplish that feat in a season but with the run, run, run style of offense the 49ers will attack with, Gore will be getting plenty of carries and along with fellow rookie running back Glen Coffee sharing the load  he should be able to top that rushing mark.

Frank Gore:  He has and always will be the 49ers main man on offense.  I wonder how Gore would fare on a team with a winning record?  His numbers would be much better than he has rushed for in his short career that is for sure.  And Gore’s number has been great on the 49ers.  With an improved offensive line, a new game plan to run more and with Moran Norris back at fullback and leading the way for Gore he will get 1,800 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, all career highs.  Gore is the leader of this team and carries on his shoulders the responsibility of every loss.  Have you ever seen him in interviews after a loss?  He looks like he just been told he has cancer.  Showing emotions is not a bad thing, but with the Singletary identity instilled in all of the players, in which Gore is to play a big part,  you will see a much happier running back at the end of games…so long as the 49ers win.

Glen Coffee:  He was picked in the third round of this year’s draft but he is quickly showing he should have been a second round pick or maybe even first round…okay that may be pushing it but you get my point, Coffee was under the radar and the 49ers are happy to have found him.  Coffee is a sleeper on the 49ers and he showed he can play in the NFL leading the preseason in rushing with 249 yards.  He also is great at pass blocking so he has tremendous versatility.  He will get a lot of carries filling in when Gore rests as the 49ers run the football down the defenses throat.  The 49ers might have rushing combo that will make defenses shake in their cleats which will hopefully open up the passing game.  For those that picked him in your fantasy league I don’t think he will disappoint either.

Moran Norris:  The importance of Norris not only to the 49ers but more specifically to Gore was evident last year.  Norris was cut in training camp last year after he lead the way for Gore for two years in which Gore had a career year in 2006 with 1,695 rushing yards.  Gore was asked in the off-season whom he would like to see the 49ers sign in free-agency and he said Norris which stuck with Singletary as they started signing players.  Gore knows he is only as good as those who are blocking in front of him.  With the Martz offense last year Gore did not see as many runs as he was used to but also when he did run he had Zak Keasey at fullback who had never played the position before.  Norris is a valuable asset to this team’s success.  I am happy he is back with the Red and Gold.

Five Keys to Success:

1.  Shaun Hill needs to limit his turnovers and manage the game effectively.  Hill will make mistakes, let’s hope they are not in crucial parts of the game.

2.  No matter how successful new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye will be, he needs to stay with the team.  Even though he has spent many years in the NFL I doubt any team would offer him a head coaching position at his age, but if he is successfully this year another team might try to pry him away from the 49ers.  Something we don’t need next year is our eighth coordinator in eight years.

3.  A healthy Gore, means a healthy and possibly winning season for the 49ers.  So goes Gore, goes the rest of the team.

4.  Glenn Coffee needs to continue his preseason rushing attack.  Without Coffee the 49ers are short at running back and will be ineffective.

5.  There is no guarantee Shaun Hill will be successfully.  Alex Smith better be ready to take over the team at any point.  If this happens it will be Smith’s last chance to show he can be a big name QB.

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Tags: 2009 Free Agency 49ers 49ers 2009 Season Offense Preview: Quarterbacks Running Backs Edition 49ers 2009 Training Camp 49ers Offensive Coordinator 49ers Preseason 49ers QB 49ers Quarterback 49ers Season Preview 49ers Training Camp Alex Smith Frank Gore J.T. O'Sullivan Jimmy Raye Mike Martz Mike Nolan Mike Singletary Moran Norris Nate Davis San Francisco 49ers Shaun Hill

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