There is a different aura surrounding the 49ers since Mike Singletary took over as coach, but it’s very difficult to quantify exactly what has happened.
The game- and clock-management areas have continued to be a problem, especially in road losses to the Cardinals and Dolphins. But the 49ers seem to be a more competitive team, as their victories over the Bills and Jets proved. There is also more of a buzz around them with Singletary in charge.
Sometimes a change has to be made just for the sake of making a change. In other words, things were not working with Mike Nolan as coach, and club management felt they just had to switch things up a little. The team has responded well to the shake-up.
The 49ers have been eliminated from the playoff race, but you can’t tell by being around the club and watching them play.
Here are some of the changes that have occurred since Singletary took over:
–Singletary made the call to bench J.T. O’Sullivan in favor of Shaun Hill. As a result, offensive coordinator Mike Martz had to adapt to the strengths of the offense. No longer could he dial up a bunch of seven-step drops in order to get the ball down the field. With Singletary advising Martz on what he wanted to see from the offense, the 49ers went back to the power running game. Then, they were able to use play-action to enable Hill to have success in the passing game. With Hill at the controls, numbers of sacks and interceptions have decreased dramatically. This is the big thing, the 49ers are no longer just giving away games.
–The defense is going back to basics. That’s right, they’re a more “vanilla” defense with coordinator Greg Manusky having the autonomy to run the show. That means Justin Smith is not lining up at seven different positions in the course of a game, and the 49ers are not flipping from 3-4 to 4-3 on a snap-to-snap basis. The 49ers have more of an identity on defense. They are strictly a 3-4 team on base downs, with Parys Haralson playing outside linebacker, and defensive end Ray McDonald taking a spot on the sideline. Smith is now solely a defensive lineman.
–The 49ers fired offensive line coach George Warhop and replaced him with Chris Foerster. Singletary also took a liking to rookie guard Chilo Rachal, who was elevated into the starting lineup ahead of Tony Wragge. Rachal has been making great strides ever since a rough debut last month against the Cowboys. The offensive line has played very well in recent weeks.
***UPDATE: The Rachal promotion was not the only change made to the ofensive line. The first week Warhop was gone, the 49ers also made David Baas the starter at left guard, in place of Adam Snyder. It was also at that point Singletary said he wanted Snyder to begin concentrating on playing right tackle. Barry Sims was injured in that first game, allowing Snyder to take over at right tackle. But since Sims has been healthy, there has been talk about getting him on the field. That finally took place last week when Snyder sustained an ankle sprain. ***
–Singletary has hammered home a repetitive message. For the first three seasons of Nolan, he had a “Win the West” banner hanging outside the locker room. After Singletary took over, he put up a “49ers formula for success” banner. It is: 1) Total ball security; 2) Execute; 3) Dominate in the trenches; 4) Create field position; 5) Finish; and – a new one – 6) Heart.
Every day at the end of practice, director of security Fred Formosa takes a large white board to where the team has gathered. Singletary goes over those points. Just the other day, Justin Smith talked about how it’s been stressed to “dominate in the trenches.” The players are paying attention.
–There is no gray area with Singletary. He is a master communicator. The players know exactly what’s expected from them. He is not afraid to say when guys aren’t playing well. He’s also going to say when someone is doing an exceptional job. Everybody knows exactly where they stand and what they have to do to make a contribution. The players have responded to this approach. There is little doubt they have tons of respect for Singletary’s honesty. Clearly, he has the support of the locker room to be retained as the coach next season.
* * *
I did not include the emergence of Jason Hill because his increased role was a direct result of Arnaz Battle’s injury. That change would have occurred regardless of who was coaching the team.
Perhaps you can think of some other changes to the 49ers since Singletary has taken over.
* * *