We’ll see if the 49ers’ coaching staff can school the Cardinals and Seahawks this season. We now know they can school the media.
Head coach Mike Singletary and coordinators Jimmy Raye, Greg Manusky and Kurt Schottenheimer spent about 2½ hours cluing in local writers on the team’s basic on-field goals, the installation of game plans and the complexities of terminology. It was billed as 49ers Football 101.
A cynical writer might describe the session as a long plea to acknowledge how much information Alex Smith has to process, and to cut the quarterback some slack. A cynical coach might say it was a chance to get the media to ask at least a few questions that aren’t nonsensical.
In any case, it was pretty fun.
Manusky sat beside the door and dramatically looked at his watch as people straggled in late. One of the first things Singletary told the group was, “We don’t fine our players. We don’t want their money. But we do run them.”
The head coach launched the Xs and Os by saying that while the 49ers were competitive last year, they didn’t beat the great teams. So when the season ended, the staff’s challenge was to figure out “what separates us from the great teams?”
Did I learn anything? Sure.
Schottenheimer, making the case that field position helps determine games, put up a chart showing the relationship between drive start and scoring. When an NFL team takes position at its 5-yard line, it scores 18 percent of the time. At its 15-yard line, that increases to 27 percent. At the 25, it’s 30 percent. As it increases by 10-yard increments, the percentage rises to 34, 42, 52, 63, 74, 84 and finally 93 percent when you take over at the opponents’ 5-yard line.
Also courtesy of Schottenheimer: From 2005-09, NFL teams were 409-177 when scoring a defensive or special-teams touchdown. That’s a winning percentage of .700.
Raye’s lecture was the most complex. He showed us the 49ers’ offensive installation from Monday, May 17, the fourth day of OTAs, when the offense worked on first- and second-down plays with more than 10 yards to go. There were 10 shift calls, 15 formations, 15 variations, 14 pass protections and six movements.
Raye then walked us through several plays, explaining how the look of the defense, and especially the positioning of the Mike linebacker and the safeties, determines certain blocking calls and route adjustments. (I’m not allowed to give you specific terminology.) He lost most of us within 10 minutes.
“It’s easy to do in the air-conditioned comfort of this room,” Raye said. “But when you have Dwight Freeney coming off the edge, you have a lot of other things to think about.”
Raye also said there are two situations in which he can’t protect his quarterback via scheme: on third down, and in the red zone. He called Joe Montana, whom he coached in Kansas City, the best red area player he’s ever seen.
Asked how often all offensive players get their assignments right on a given play, Raye said it’s probably 80-plus percent. For your core plays, it should be 85 percent.
Manusky made a similar presentation for the defense, though it wasn’t as nuanced. He said the three basic tasks on every play are 1) alignment, 2) angle of departure and 3) vision progression. That last one translates to “watch the quarterback,” and it can narrow a play to half the field.
When Manusky was a linebackers coach in San Diego, he said, it generally took about 30 minutes to install one base defense. The 49ers’ defensive playbook has 27 of them. Manusky said that if a play doesn’t look smooth on the practice field, he’ll throw it out before game day.
And one final piece of wisdom from Raye: “Usually, plays that you come up with after 10 o’clock at night don’t work.”
I know these are just generalities, but they should give you an idea of the access we got today. Not every NFL team does this for its media, and I want to thank Singletary, Raye, Manusky, Schottenheimer and support staff for their time.