Santa Clara, July 26, 2008 - The San Francisco 49ers of 2008 will be employing a hybrid 3-4 and 4-3 defense and an aggressive downfield passing attack on offense according to General Manager Scot McCloughan.
The 49er WebZone staff was invited to a VIP tour of the 49ers' training facilities in Santa Clara. Today was day three of training camp and there were many observations made of the practice from WebZone staff. We were later addressed by McCloughan before practice began and had a private tour of the facilities once practice was over.
The off season brought many changes to the 49ers, a dark horse sleeper last year that fell flat on their faces and stumbled to a 5-11 record. Expectations were high after the 49ers went 7-9 during the 2006 season that saw Norv Turner revive the 49er offense. However, after his departure, the 49er offense was stuck in a bind when first year coordinator Jim Hostler took the reigns as Offensive Coordinator. Hostler's offense was terrible ranking last in the NFL and was therefore dismissed. Enter Mike Martz who was let go by the Detroit Lions.
Martz was seen many times on the field looking over his new creation. He looked stern and calm and had great command presence over the offense today. His presence was established even further as the 49ers ran many passing plays during practice. Martz's stickler to details attitude looked like it had paid off with the crisp practice that the 49er offense had today. All the quarterbacks were generally accurate and many of the receivers made great catches.
"From the fans' standpoint, I think you're going to love it" McCloughan said when asked what to expect from Mike Martz this season. "He wants to move fast and hard, he wants to make big plays."
These are almost words of joy to any 49er fan. Bryant Johnson looked to be quickly enjoying his new home in San Francisco as he made many spectacular catches during the morning practice that was open to the public. However, the defense made plenty of good plays too.
"We have enough down guys, so if we need to go 4-3, we can." McCloughan said. "Also, we have linebackers with Manny (Lawson) being back healthy to play a 3-4."
Last year the 49ers also ran a hybrid defense so this look should be no surprise to some. However, with the additions of Justin Smith and Kentwan Balmer to the defensive line, the 49ers have the personnel necessary to run both a 4-3 and 3-4.
Although the 49ers lost Marques Douglas and Bryant Young, the 49ers look healthy on defense which will add depth despite the losses. With a healthy Manny Lawson, the 49er linebacking corps just got faster that already features last year's rookie sensation Patrick Willis and shutdown corner Nate Clements.
The defense looks sturdier compared to last year and if the offense can score some points, it will reduce the time the defense is on the field. The dreadful 49er offense of last year that constantly went three and out consequently tired out a tough defense that was looking to make an impact with so many strong additions. However Lawson's injury last year depleted the depth at linebacker.
"We just want competition." McCloughan said about the quarterback situation and other positions. "I think it brings out the best in everybody."
Alex Smith and Shaun Hill are now competing for the starting position at quarterback. McCloughan further stated that the competition between Hill and Smith is "very friendly." Hill shined last year in relief of an injured Alex Smith and an ineffective Trent Dilfer and was recently signed to a three year contract extension.
Both Smith and Hill looked sharp today in practice. The two quarterbacks made most of their throws and were both accurate in their deliveries. J.T. O'Sullivan also looked good with his tosses.
Towards the end of practice, Frank Gore caught a couple of passes from the backfield. This may signify a similar role that Marshall Faulk played as a member of Mike Martz's St. Louis Rams' offense. Spectators from last year's training camp that attended today stated that the 49ers offense ran more running plays during practice however the contrary was true for today. The 49ers ran a lot of motion and timing patterns, a major wrinkle in the Martz offense.
"It will be fun to watch." McCloughan emphatically stated.