Brian Westbrook was flawless in his first day as a 49er. Mostly because he wasn’t asked to do much of anything.
Westbrook stretched and ran drills with the running backs at the start of this afternoon’s practice, then did a lot of watching and talking. He chatted with running backs coach Tom Rathman. He consulted with trainer Jeff Ferguson – a man he no doubt wants to see very little of this season. He swapped insights with Frank Gore.
But Westbrook didn’t take a single snap in 7-on-7 or team period.
“That’s all I got is mental reps,” Westbrook said after practice. “Coach said it to me before I got here: We’re gonna take it slow, make sure that you understand our offense. And I’m in the playbook all night long and all morning long, and so now, coming on the field and seeing it, instead of on paper or on film, is a big help for me.”
It will be interesting to see how Westbrook fits into Jimmy Raye’s offense. On one hand, he’s never played in a system other than the West Coast offense since the Eagles drafted him in 2002. On the other hand, how could a player of Westbrook’s versatility and dynamism not have an impact?
Just ask S Michael Lewis. He and Westbrook were part of the same draft class in Philadelphia in 2002. They were teammates for five seasons, so Lewis got a close look at how opposing defenses had to scramble to account for Westbrook.
“What do you do?” Lewis asked rhetorically. “You put a corner on him and he makes the corner look bad. You load the box and they motion him out and he creates another mismatch. Like I said before, he’s going to be a huge addition to our offense and create some troubles for some defenses.”
Westbrook was an every-down back in Philadelphia, at least when he was healthy. Lewis called his ability to run between the tackles “underrated.” But where he really stands out is in the passing game. Shift Westbrook from the backfield to a split position, and you’ve got a guy with the quickness and reliable hands of a good slot receiver.
“He’s got receiver skills,” Lewis said. “It’s a mismatch on DBs as well as linebackers. I’m pretty sure Jimmy Raye is putting together a scheme right now to utilize him on the field with Frank as well.”
As recently as 2007, Westbrook had 90 receptions. Only one 49ers running back has ever topped that – Roger Craig with 92 in 1985.
Frank Gore is an able receiver out of the backfield, but is more suited to swing routes, flares and short crossing routes. Westbrook can actually get deep. The 49ers must be intrigued by the idea of getting both backs on the field together.
Gore said Singletary consulted with him before the 49ers signed Westbrook, and he gave his seal of approval. Though Gore remains the unquestioned starter, he wasn’t shy about getting the newcomer’s take on things.
“I watched him a whole lot, especially when he was Philly, because he was a guy I had to compete against for yards and receiving yards,” Gore said. “He’s a special back. He’s a very quick, very smart player. He watched me in practice and I asked him to help me with the things he sees that I can carry over on the field.”
Westbrook doesn’t know yet if he’ll see playing game against the Vikings this Sunday. Raye’s power offense is foreign territory to him. But Westbrook likes some of what he sees so far.
“I was just talking to Frank,” he said. “I like that power game. I like that a lot. The down-down-kickout with the offensive linemen. And I saw a lot of good things in the game from the offensive linemen. I always was screaming at Coach Reid, ‘run the ball, run the ball, run the ball, run the ball.’ This team seems like that’s what they’re gonna do.”