Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports


49er Football Future: Offense

May 23, 2018 at 9:58 AM


The 49ers slid into the 2018 draft poised, according to consensuses, to select with their first pick either an edge rusher, a cornerback, or a possible replacement for linebacker Reuben Foster. All defense. Instead, they settled on an offensive tackle. Then, they traded up in the second round to take a wide receiver. What's going on with these goofballs? And what do their off-season decisions bode for the kind of football we might see on the field this fall?

Like it or not, all ye faithful, the 49ers have embarked on yet another five-year plan. Five years, because that's how long the remaining contracts of Shanahan/Lynch last. Five years, because Jimmy G's new contract now correlates with theirs. Five years, because any longer would overly try Mr. York's patience. Lynchahan may well have initially intended to build up both sides of the ball simultaneously, or maybe they planned all along to fortify the offense in their second season together. We'll never know. They did take two first-round defenders in their maiden draft. Then, Jimmy Garoppolo fell into their laps. Not only is Jimmy G very pretty, he may actually qualify as a quality NFL quarterback.

So the 49ers this off-season decided to surround their new boy with some shiny new toys. In addition to the high draft picks, they doled out big free agent contracts to running back Jerick McKinnon and center Weston Richburg, not to mention the less expensive signings of guard Jonathan Cooper and center Mike Person. Not including dead money, the 49ers will in 2018 spend nearly twice as much on offensive-player contracts versus defensive-player contracts, much of their cap space dominated, of course, by the Jimmy G front-load.

Given all the reinforcements, what sort of offense might we anticipate? Possibly a fun one. A flat-out fun offense. Maybe even a very fun one. Perhaps an offense that combines the Harbaugh-era running-game creativity with Walshian passing-game artistry. But let us not get too giddy yet. Challenges loom. For instance, in a recommended series of articles on this website, Richard Madrid delved deeply into the minutia of Garoppolo's game, including Jimmy's trouble with deep throws and some possible footwork adjustments needed to improve same. Fortunately, Shanahan has already self-scouted, and the ensuing results may help bridge the lingering gap between what many fans thought the 49ers should do in the draft/free agency and what the Niners actually did.

How the hell is a quarterback supposed to get the footwork right on deep throws when he doesn't have the time for twinkle-toe perfection? Aaron Rodgers has spent his entire career perfecting his footwork, but it improved most dramatically when the Packers provided him with adequate protection. Thus, the additions of Richburg and Cooper in free agency and Big Mike McGlinchey with the ninth overall pick in the draft. Wait a minute. Didn't the 49ers already have a pass-protecting right tackle in Trent "don't call me Baalke" Brown, subsequently traded to New England? Yes, but Brown had a couple of what the new Niners' brain trust regards as negatives. One, he didn't fit the prototype of what John Lynch calls "the Monday morning club," and, two, he didn't suit the zone-blocking style Kyle prefers in his running game. Lynchahan projects that rookie McGlinchey can both pass and run block effectively in the 49ers' schemes.

Of course, every NFL coach wants his offense, however unrealistic the hope, to operate equally proficiently whether running or passing. A Shanahan offense, and I include father Mike with son Kyle, intends to maximize the potential for chain-moving chunk plays. If some of those chunks gain even more than mere first downs, that's fine, too, but three yards and a cloud of dust does not define their offense. So the 49ers swap out Carlos Hyde, at some cost, for free-agent fixation Jerick McKinnon, and trade up in the 2017 draft to select Joe Williams, despite his off-field travails. Commentators often mention that the Niners need a short-yardage specialist, and the team may well add one, but for now the brass prioritizes gash-play-potential backs, both running and receiving.

Likewise, commentators before the draft opined that the red-and-gold lacked a tall receiver to go to in the red zone. What did the 49ers do? They drafted a couple of medium/small pass-catchers with separation-in-space and make-'em-miss skills. Not coincidently, given the traits the Niners prize in their receiver corps, both Dante Pettis and Richie James return punts. Remember 49er great John Taylor, the erstwhile punt returner turned receiver perpetually overshadowed by Jerry Rice? Let's hope the newbies learn to block as well as Taylor.

Defenses will try to stop the 49ers' offense this fall by shutting off the intermediate routes that Garropolo throws well and inviting the wunderkind to attempt deep passes. Doesn't matter. Shanahan knows this too, and so does Jimmy G. They've seen the same game film. Jimmy, with an improved offensive line providing more pocket time and wider running-back lanes, will continue to work on his deep-pass footwork. In the meantime, Shanahan will scheme the quarterback's new best friends open, all over the field, whether by hook or crook, by handoff or pass, lateral or toss, hither and yon. Who cares where they line up, or if they don't fit positional stereotypes? The Niners hope to refresh their offense by loosing a horde of elusive players on air-grasping tacklers and befuddled defensive coordinators. NFL world, quake in your ever-lovin' cleats.

As for the tight end position, I think the brass likes the group on hand, but that they will continue to tinker with it, with, likewise, an emphasis on flexibility. As well, they have yet to integrate completely into the offense the supposed-to-do-everything free agent from last off-season, the salary-cap-heavy Kyle Juszczyk, whose skillset mimics many a traditional tight end. How Kyle Shanahan manages this jack-of-all-trades' abilities, or whether Juszczyk devolves into a master of none, should also add spice to the upcoming season.

What makes an offense fun to watch? Many things but include among them a base level of competence. To achieve that, a coach needs athletes able to execute his plays. It little matters how cleverly an offensive coordinator plans if his players cannot perform, a lesson Kyle Shanahan and his cohorts learned all too well early last season. But, beyond competence, the 49ers have also added playmakers. If Shanahan's offense rolls as we wish, we will witness some dash as well as smash. We will see plays that pop playmakers into open space, and that mesh together into lengthy drives. With Garoppolo in charge, the Niners' offense went from dreadful to dandy. And, now, we can not only enjoy Shanahan's game plans, but their actual execution by skill players with the athletic abilities to thrill.

I don't know how many games the Niners might win or lose this season, and, obviously, the defense still needs retooling. Nonetheless, regardless of record, if the offensive additions work out anywhere near close to what the 49er brass envisions, we the faithful might be in for some marvelous football watching this fall.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


2 Comments

  • jednoed
    That book would be a New York Times best seller! Maybe even a movie
    May 23, 2018 at 10:51 PM
    1
    Response: They could title the book: "Lament for a Lost Bromance."
  • jednoed
    This team will be in contention for playoffs for sure. The defense is going to be good and has been pretty much already retooled imo. When the coach and GM can work together great things can happen. I would love to hear Harbaugh's side of the story some day.
    May 23, 2018 at 3:49 PM
    2
    Response: Maybe Jim Harbaugh and Jed York will write a book together someday.

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