This is my Saturday column.
The 49ers have a brand new offense.
The old one was the slowest in the NFL, and not just during plays when they lumbered around the grass. They were slow between plays, too.
They couldn’t even get plays off. The Niners led the league in delay-of-game penalties each of the past two seasons under head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Almost a third of the time, the players would break the huddle and rush to the line of scrimmage with fewer than 14 seconds left on the 40-second play clock. Then they’d rush through shifts and motions just to snap the ball before the ref flagged them for another delay-of-game penalty or Harbaugh called a timeout.
Merely snapping the ball was mission impossible in the old offense.
The new offense under new head coach Jim Tomsula and new offensive coordinator Geep Chryst almost never gets to the line of scrimmage with fewer than 25 seconds on the clock. Sometimes they have 30 seconds – that was clear during OTAs and minicamp.
“It seems there’s an emphasis to get to the line of scrimmage quickly this year,” I said to quarterbacks coach Steve Logan Thursday afternoon.
“Oh, yeah,” Logan said before I finished my sentence. He was sitting at a big round table in the 501 club inside Levi’s Stadium. Each coach sat at his own table and talked to reporters as they made rounds, like media day at the Super Bowl. Logan and I were alone.
“People say, ‘Are you a hurry-up offense?’” he asked rhetorically. “Well, no we’re not. But we are INTENT, and we are on a mission, from the head coach down, to get out of the huddle and get on the line of scrimmage with the time we need. Now, we may get up there and snap it quick. We may get up there and take our time and assess the defense. But it’s important to get up there,” and his next words were punctuated as if lecturing a second-grader — “With. Time. On. The. Clock.”
“What can the coaches do to speed up that process?” I asked.
“Get the call in,” Logan shot back. A no-brainer as far as he was concerned. “Coach Chryst has done a great job this spring. He’s always thinking two plays ahead. The play is over, bang – he’s got another one rolling off his tongue, I’m getting it in to Colin and here we go. And we’re in the huddle, out of the huddle, at the line of scrimmage.”
Harbaugh and Roman never understood the importance of getting the freaking call in, and their deficiency cost them the Super Bowl.
Down five points to the Ravens late in the fourth quarter, third-and-goal from the 5-yard line, the Niners’ offense jogged to the offensive line with only 10 seconds left on the play clock. Harbaugh and Roman had taken at least 20 seconds to agree on the play and radio it into Kaepernick’s helmet.
Once the offense got to the line of scrimmage, Kaepernick sent Delanie Walker in motion, reset the protection scheme and the center snapped the ball. The play was a quarterback draw. Kaepernick sprinted up the middle into the end zone with the football for the Super-Bowl winning touchdown.
Except the play didn’t count. The play clock had expired, and Harbaugh had called timeout.
What a silly way to lose the Super Bowl. Harbaugh and Roman probably would be coaching the Niners right now if they hadn’t made that mistake. Now, they’re history.
Back to the Logan and the present.
“We have been very diligent about how we are going to call each play,” Logan said. “How many words are necessary to call this play? We’re trying to shave as many of those words off and be efficient with our communication in and out of the huddle.”
“How many words are in a typical play this year?”
“Some plays could be three words,” Logan said. “We’ve got some other plays, like any other offense, when you begin to move your personnel around pre-snap, those require words. You get into some of the more complex passing schemes – that could require two to three (extra) words.
“We had a play called today, and when I read the play off I said to myself, ‘We have got to find a way to shave some words off this particular call.’ Because it’s such an emphasis from Coach Tomsula that we get in and out of the huddle, get on the line of scrimmage so the quarterback has time to do the work that is necessary, which is assess the defense.”
Peyton Manning almost always gives himself more than 25 seconds to assess the defense. He doesn’t huddle – he calls his own plays with code words at the line of scrimmage.
If Manning needs more than 25 seconds, how was Kaepernick supposed to assess the defense in fewer than 14? He didn’t have a chance.
Now he does. Hooray for common sense.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.