Learning how to attack again

Jul 14, 2008 at 4:23 PM


So much was lost by the San Francisco 49ers last year as they finished the pitiful season at a paltry 5-11. It was another nail in the proverbial coffin of head coach Mike Nolan as his Vice President of Personnel was suddenly elevated to General Manager in a cosmetic fix by ownership to say they did something positive. Mike Nolan now has a real understanding and a new sense of urgency to turn the tide on a franchise stuck in a quagmire of never reaching those expectations that pave the way for a new dynasty.

So many of the 49er faithful have aired their personal disdain for head coach Mike Nolan. Whether looking at his conservative approach during a game, or his personnel decisions such as promoting Jim Hostler to offensive coordinator or forcing his pedigree quarterback to play through a painful injury which forced him to concede to surgery, the book is still open on Mr. Nolan.

To save face and resurrect his slide from the grace of ownership and the fans, he asked the leading Maestro of an NFL offense, Mike Martz, to come in and be the undisputed tactician and disciplinarian to perform emergency surgery on a dying offense that ranked dead last in every conceivable category last season. Martz is the right man for the job at the right moment, as well as the man with so much left to prove.

After losing his storied franchise in the St. Louis Rams, Martz was sent into exile with the Detroit Lions for two long and lonely years. He took the St. Louis Rams to the Super Bowl as an offensive coordinator under then great head coach Dick Vermeil; he took them again as head coach with an offensive mainstay called "The Greatest Show on Turf," which no defense could contain during his prime. He had tremendous athletic talent with the St. Louis Rams, not so while in Detroit with a rebuilding franchise. He made significant improvements in their offense nonetheless. Now Martz has a new lease in life, by becoming the new enemy within his old division as a coach for the San Francisco 49ers.

He has to prove that he can organize and produce an offense that is on par with the one he had back in St. Louis. If he can do that not only does that make him a coveted offensive coordinator, but yet still a possible head coach in the NFL which is what he wants more than life itself. Can he legitimately turn this pathetic offense into a contender again? We shall wait and see, but after mini-camps and organized team activities the 49er offensive personnel are now on notice that there is a new sheriff in town and he is one that doesn't take "No," for an answer.

Mike Martz's offensive philosophy is that of former San Diego Chargers legendary head coach Don Coryell who loved to stretch the football field vertically, with wide receivers sprinting downfield on their routes that demanded precise timing and accuracy from the quarterback. The risks are far greater, since if either receiver or quarterback not be on the same page a turnover would be the likely result. His former prime quarterbacks in Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger both agree that their success was manifested through Mike Martz. His offensive genius and his playbook were the catalyst that set the wheels in motion for them to be Pro Bowlers and Super Bowl contender's year in and year out.

Mike Martz finds ways to use each individual athlete on the roster to the team's fullest potential and is articulate with manifesting that one individual into someone the others on the roster feed off from and become better as a team. It is not uncommon for a quarterback to go into a game with 125 to 150 plays in each game plan, thus the demand for someone that has a lot of intelligence like Alex Smith. Smith himself will be looking to resurrect a career with more holes in it then a partridge full of buckshot.

If the quarterback doesn't throw the ball with pinpoint accuracy downfield, then this system will fail and fail miserably. Alex Smith must do that in training camp and in pre-season games to become the undisputed starter at the quarterback position. We have all seen Alex Smith throw duck balls before and struggle with accuracy rather it be timing issues with his receivers or his nervousness over an offensive line that has failed miserably to protect him.

The quarterback must also be surrounded by athletes that excel inside this new philosophy. Bringing in Isaac Bruce from the St. Louis Rams is insurance on making that happen. Mike Martz has made it very clear that more likely then not, Isaac will be the undisputed Number One wide receiver as he has what it takes to execute and teach this offensive playbook the way it is supposed to be executed. There is real optimism that he'll provide the inner training mechanisms needed to see the other wide receivers through the intense chronological schemes of Mike Martz's offensive juggernaut.

Being creative is what Mike Martz is all about. He demonstrated that as a coordinator in St. Louis and as a head coach as well. He has big plans for the San Francisco 49er offense as he has indicated with running back Frank Gore as the main character. Long time running back extraordinaire Marshall Faulk, an NFL Network analyst now, has been called upon to provide critical assistance to teach the Mike Martz philosophical expectations to the likes of Frank Gore as it pertained to him when he was a focal point under his former coach in St. Louis.

Mike has also indicated that he is looking forward to exploiting defenses even more with the undefined talents of tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. He believes that both offer a unique perspective in establishing an offense with character and illusion-like production on the merits that both remain relatively unknown with very realistic hidden abilities and talents that will be lethal once unleashed.

As far as the wide receivers, it will depend on how enthusiastic each one is to embracing the new concepts and principles of the new offensive playbook. Arnaz Battle, Bryant Johnson, Ashley Lelie and Jason Hill all have something to prove as veterans in front of the newcomers who won't be under as much scrutiny in their ability to understand and execute this new philosophy to the letter. The pecking order from number two to fourth tier receiver will be defined relatively quickly as training camp commences in Santa Clara.

The intense terminology of Mike Martz's playbook will confuse and frustrate the rookie class in more ways than one. It will be imperative for all the quarterbacks to take on that bubble of learning and execute almost immediately as they have done in organized team activities. J. T. O' Sullivan, already accustomed to Mike's offensive genius from his days as a Detroit Lion, will assist him in pulling ahead in that learning bubble so to speak. If anything, it will keep him on the active roster once cuts are made in late August no matter how you interpret that advantage.

Alex Smith, our 2005 first round draft pick, is in the front seat at this time. Mike Nolan has a lot invested in his coming to this organization and even more for his success to be a record of fact rather than fiction as it has been over the past three seasons under three very different offensive coordinators. Mike Martz is probably the most challenging coordinator Smith will face, with his strategic philosophies, articulate playbook and many variations of specific schemes that will be orchestrated on a personal whim. Martz will pay particular attention to how Alex reads the field in the new schemes.

Alex has won some approval from Martz in various off-season practices thus far. He has learned how to read defenses better and when to get rid of the ball quicker, something that was a real mental hardship in the past. Even Mike Nolan has praised his long time investment in making progress with the many snaps he has taken in organized team activities. Still, it will be the focus on Alex's eyes and how quickly he processes what he sees that will make the defining chemistry happen within this offense. Any kind of hesitation will result in a costly turnover that could define the game's final outcome. Alex has to make the transition as seamless as possible while at the same time digesting Mike Martz's playbook and executing it flawlessly out on the field in front of the multitudes of 49er fans drooling for some type of improvement.

Look in one direction while throwing to another. Check down with your receivers and be on the same timing as they are while remembering where your feet are at all times. Sounds like a ballet in some ways doesn't it? Well in actuality it is because the quarterback is the director of the offensive choir that must define itself with precise execution.

The San Francisco 49ers have not had a winning season since 2002. That is a fact. Not since Steve Mariucci and Jeff Garcia were common names around the Bay Area. Steve Mariucci was handpicked by the late great Bill Walsh but fell out of grace with the York's and then General Manager Terry Donahue, who handpicked old friend Dennis Erickson to resurrect the franchise only to watch it fall flat on its face.

The cleansing came with the firing of everyone and the rise of the Mike Nolan era, also so far a relative failure on record. Now Nolan needs Mike Martz more than ever and so do the fans. Alex Smith has one more chance at redeeming himself as does Mike Nolan and the rest of his staff. Martz has enormous respect for Nolan as a head coach and stated on record that he believes Nolan is the right man for the 49ers.

The red zone needs to become a welcoming sight all over again. Individuals must step-up and execute the new offensive trademark that will have the Martz seal of approval all over it. As a maker of excellence he'll demand nothing less than perfection and will hold all accountable. It is time to open a new chapter in 49er history and it will hinge on what this offense does in learning how to attack and sustain it with a record of consistency. Thus far that record has been consistently appalling; now there can be no more looking back.

Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


1 Comment

  • CorvaNinerFan
    Sydney...once again, outstanding article and extremely well-written. I couldn't agree with you more. The day I heard Nolan hired Martz a shot of adrenaline coursed through my veins. I knew what was coming...he'd turn this offense on its ear(s). He's had better WR corps...certainly in St. Louis, probably in Detroit. However, this will undoubtedly be by far the best receiving corps in the Nolan era. In Gore, Foster and Robinson, he's got an excellent trio of versatile RB's. In Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, he's got something he's never had...two tremendously talented TE's. Alex should emerge as the starting QB...but I like the competition. He's never really been pushed...so I see that as healthy for him and the team. The OL looks very good...with Staley and Jenning swapping OT spots. Heitmann should be back to his 2006 form, Snyder's best position is OG, and Baas should be a terror at RG when he returns. Newcomers Rachal and Wallace were excellent additions. So, put it all together under the astute eyes of Mike Martz...and I truly believe we'll all see an offense that is something to behold...again. It will be very cool to be a Niner fan.
    Jul 15, 2008 at 11:21 PM
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