In remarks this past week, 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman hinted that San Francisco’s offense in 2014 might be far different than it has been the past three seasons.
Since head coach Jim Harabaugh and his staff took over the team, it’s been a run-first, power offense in an age of wide-open passing games. But the throwback-style offense has succeeded, helping the 49ers reach three straight NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl.
Yet now with the best group of wide receivers the team has had in years, Roman says the Niners offense will be “different.”
“We went through everything we’ve done and really stripped it down to its most element, basic parts and start over at square one,” Roman told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group.
So, it’s possible in 2014 that quarterback Colin Kaepernick will be throwing the football 30 or more times per game, looking for wideouts Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, Quinton Patton and rookie speedster Bruce Ellington.
But some 49ers observers are skeptical about such a sudden change – including Matt Barrows, who covers the team for the Sacramento Bee.
“Can a leopard like Jim Harbaugh change his spots in one offseason?” Barrows asked in a recent story. “His offenses always have featured a strong rushing attack, and most have been notable for their use of multiple tight ends, not the output of the (wide) receivers.”
What Barrows sees is more three-wideout sets, but not necessarily more throwing.
After three seasons emphasizing two-wideout sets and power formations, Barrows believes the 49ers may indeed switch to more lineups with three wide receivers to give defenses a different look – and give Kaepernick more options at the line of scrimmage – but may continue to run the ball just as often with Frank Gore, Marcus Lattimore, Carlos Hyde and Kendall Hunter.
That seems like a more accurate projection than for the 49ers to suddenly become a pass-first team. In Harbaugh’s years as a head coach at the University of San Diego, Stanford and with the 49ers, he’s always emphasized the running game to establish tempo, control the football, set up the passing game and set a physical tone. And, the former Michigan quarterback is a disciple of his head coach there, Bo Schembechler, who believed in running the football.
So, despite the deeper and more talented wide receiving corps, it doesn’t seem likely that the Niners will now throw on first, second and third downs. It’s probably far more likely that San Francisco will use different sets and some new plays and approaches to make the passing game more effective when Harbaugh does want to throw the ball. And, with new receivers such as Johnson, Lloyd and Ellington, to take advantage of their playmaking skills.
But there’s no way he’s going to abandon the run with a great group of running backs and a proven offensive line.