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While defensive coordinators around the league busily bone up on stopping the 49ers' version of the pistol offense, particularly the read option, the Niners themselves, in a small-but-subtle way, have developed a counter move, a new formation tentatively named "the derringer."
Understandably, the 49ers, as per usual, have kept this new formation a secret, with even mere hints not escaping till now, April 1st. Not the coaches, ownership, nor even the players yet know about it, though they have unwittingly been practicing it for weeks, mainly in private. Also, they plan to keep the derringer hidden until really needed, in an important game, or maybe even the playoffs, should they get that far.
In the derringer formation, the quarterback lines up two-feet eight-inches behind the center. This positioning, midway between a pistol and traditional under-center lineup, will utterly discombobulate opposing teams the first few times they see it, surely costing surprised defenses several timeouts.
But, beyond the novelty factor, the 49ers believe the formation will have some staying power. They will start with a double-barreled approach, using two base plays. First, they intend to reload that oldie-but-goodie, the fumblerooski. In the classic fumblerooski, most famously used in the 1984 Orange Bowl, the quarterback intentionally fumbles the ball while most of the offense heads in one direction. However, another player, often a guard, sneakily picks up the stranded pigskin and heads in the opposite direction. If the quarterback "fumbles" craftily enough, many of the defensive players will not even notice, and pursue the flow of the offense while the offensive lineman makes like none other than John Heisman himself, generally credited with inventing the play.
The other base play out of this new derringer offense involves even more trickery, the "kneed quick kick." In the traditional quick kick, a non-punter, usually the quarterback, surprises the defense by kicking, instead of passing or running, the ball, often on third-and-long for maximum advantage. In this new kneed quick kick the quarterback, lined up too closely to the center in the derringer formation to get full extension on a punt, instead pooches the ball with his knee. The 49ers erratic placekicking last year inspired this gambit, which they may use deep in their opponent's territory, figuring, say, a twenty-yard pooch inside the ten-yard-line beats a missed field goal, depending, of course, on the game situation.
The 49ers foresee a few problems, which they believe repeated practice may solve. First "kneeing," instead of kicking, the football, accurately, will require supreme mastery. Second the new shuffle-hike from two feet eight inches away necessitates a center with flexible, possibly even double-jointed, wrists. Don't be surprised if the 49ers draft accordingly. And, since the NFL outlawed forward fumbles, in part because of the infamous 1978 Raiders' holy-roller play, the quarterback must take care to fumble backwards. However, with practice, etc.
The new derringer formation allows for variations, such as the Bumerooski and bounce-rooski, to which the wily 49ers will undoubtedly add creations of their own. They're not just shooting from the hip here, but aiming, as always, to confound and flummox the opposition. Mainly, with defenses stacked to stop the read-option options, the 49ers intend to utilize the potentially vacated middle of the field, with the threat of draws and sneaks from quarterback Kaepernick leading to all manner of traps, jump passes, and other gadgetry, all inside the tackles, from the daring new derringer formation.
One final caveat. Given the NFL's proclivity for phallic formations, including "run-and-shoot," "run-and-gun," "pistol," and, from the Niners' own history, "shotgun," many fretted over the name "derringer." Some thought it sounded too puny, or that, since the weapon was originally often used by women and called a "purse gun," the formation just did not resonate as manly enough. However, cooler heads prevailed, reminding all football fans that it's not the size of a formation that matters, but, rather, how it is used.