SANTA CLARA,Calif. – Quarterback Alex Smith says he wants to play with an edge. New offensive coordinator Mike Johnson says he wants to go into "attack" mode.
Is this, finally, a new direction for the San Francisco 49ers?
Maybe, maybe not. The 49ers are still looking for ways to be consistent on offense, and it's possible that Johnson, who took over as the team's offensive coordinator on Sept. 27, may try a few more things to open up what has been a drab, predictable game plan.
"We want our entire offense to come out and attack and react, not play back on our heels," Johnson said Thursday. "That's something that we're pushing forward with our tempo (and) some of the things that we're going to do going forward. We want an offense that's attacking. And it starts with Alex Smith, but it doesn't end there. It's everybody."
The 0-5 Niners showed glimpses of that on Sunday night when Smith drove the team to two fourth-quarter scores in a 27-24 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Smith seemed to play with greater desperation after nearly being pulled from the game by coach Mike Singletary. He even appeared headed toward a game-tying field goal before throwing his second interception of the game.
"I think the thing that really came to him on Sunday," Singletary said, "was just the fact that, ‘Any time I go out there with an edge, I play the game. I play with the best of them.' And that mindset is something he has to keep in the forefront of his play at all times."
Smith doesn't disagree, but he believes it's just as important to keep his wits about him in order to avoid mistakes.
"As a quarterback, you're always trying to get to that level of intensity, that level of focus," he said. "I feel like you're always trying to play with an edge. But at the same time, you've got to make a ton of decisions. So you're not trying to get out of hand. You have to make split decisions, smart decisions, throughout the game. You can't lose your level-headedness."
One area where Johnson promises to improve is first-down calls. The 49ers started the game with runs by Frank Gore on eight consecutive first downs, totaling five years. At the end of the first half, they successfully passed on 4 of 6 first downs for 63 yards.
"There needs to be a better mixture, I agree with that," Johnson said. "Our deal is to make sure that we're in third-and-short and put ourselves into manageable third-down situations. And the answer to the other part of that equation is that we were 63 percent on third down. So all of those things go together.
"The mixture is definitely something that's on my mind, and making sure that we have a better balance of run-pass. Going forward, I think we'll do a better job with that."
WESTBROOK SIGHTING?: Running back Brian Westbrook touched the ball just once against his former team, but Johnson continues to insist the plan is to get him more involved in the offense.
"Brian Westbrook's role will increase," he said. "It goes back to what I've said a couple times already. You can't change the entire offense in one game, because if you look at our practice and the way we practice and the reps you have, you don't have time to make sure you get everything taught properly. But as we go forward, I think his role will increase and he will help us out. We're going to use him, and we're going to use other guys also."
HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW: Fullback Jehuu Caulcrick was released from the 49ers' practice squad on Tuesday, then re-signed to the practice squad on Wednesday. Thursday, he was gone again, released after the team signed cornerback Tramaine Brock to the practice squad.