Harbaugh's new offense is setting Niners free

Jim Harbaugh called Monday's practice the best the 49ers have had since training camp began, and it's fair to say after nine summer sessions that players on the offensive side are taking a shine to what Harbaugh has gotten them into. Harbaugh's version of the West Coast system hasn't just brought a new kick to the offense, it also has given new hope and inspiration to those learning to play it.

After getting a good look and feel for the system brought in by the first offensive-oriented head coach the 49ers have had in seven years, several players are now stepping up without hesitation to share their glee about being set free after years of repression under former head coach Mike Singletary.

"It's making better use of the quality we have all across the board," wide receiver Josh Morgan said. "It just puts everybody, even the quarterbacks, in the best position to be successful. And I mean everybody."

That leaves the impression the 49ers weren't always being put in those positions in recent years. Morgan used a tactful approach in spelling that out during an interview with NinersDigest on Monday.

"We've always had the weapons and everything," he said. "Back in the day, we just had different ways to account for anything (other teams) throw at us. In the past, it was ‘OK, if they do this, then we just have to throw the ball away.' You get what I'm saying?"

What Morgan is saying is that Harbaugh's offense has brought big changes in both philosophy and emphasis, and it's also giving the 49ers options. More options. Better options. And a focus on that side of the ball the Niners simply haven't had in recent years while stretching their string of non-winning seasons to eight.

"This offense excites me and this coaching staff excites me," Morgan said. "They've got schemes, they've got plays, and they've got routes for every defense there is. And the best thing about them is that they all communicate. They just feed off each other's ideas. You put it all together, and you come up with a great game plan. I'm excited to see where it goes."

Harbaugh's multi-set, multi-shifting formations will make it difficult for opposing defenses to get a read when the 49ers come to the line of scrimmage, and it also will better disguise where the ball is going, since it will be going everywhere on a more consistent basis.

"I love this whole offense," fullback Moran Norris said. "It suits everybody. Every role matters and I don't think any (position) stands out more than others. It's all in one big pot and you just mix it up together."

Harbaugh, who played 15 NFL seasons at quarterback with five different teams, built a reputation for offensive success while turning losing programs into big winners at the University of San Diego and Stanford before coming to San Francisco.

Now that he's here, Harbaugh's offensive plan is quickly winning over his players and has them raving about its potential for the upcoming season. His system is quickly grabbing hold of his new team, which has fielded one of the NFL's worst offenses over the past decade.

The 49ers finished 24th in the league rankings for total offense last year during a disappointing 6-10 season, and that ranking was actually an improvement over the season before.

Despite stockpiling some quality young talent on offense in recent years, San Francisco has not finished higher than 23rd in total offense since 2003. The 49ers have finished 26th or lower five times in the past seven years, and last year's attack seemed to regress with the predictable play-calling of former offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye and his successor, Mike Johnson.

This year promises to be different. This might be the most diversified attack the 49ers have had since they were fielding offenses that finished in the top-10 of the NFL rankings during San Francisco's last two winning seasons in 2001-2002.

And the team is taking to it quickly while also appreciating Harbaugh's no-nonsense approach.

"They're executing it well, they're learning it well, and there's been a lot put in so far in the first eight days of meetings," Harbaugh said. "Then, you go back and teach the parts. You put in the whole and then you put in the parts. We've got quite a bit in now, and I really have not noticed them hit the wall mentally, which is a good sign that bodes well for us."

It also bodes well for the Niners that they added to the mix late last week by signing free-agent receiver Braylon Edwards. A Pro Bowler in 2007, Edwards fills a void while Michael Crabtree, San Francisco's erstwhile No. 1 receiver, remains sidelined with a foot injury that could keep him out the rest of this month.

Edwards joins other former Pro Bowlers at the skill positions in running back Frank Gore and tight end Vernon Davis. With incumbent starting quarterback Alex Smith returning to run the offense last Thursday – the first day free-agents signings could practice with their teams – the offense has picked up the pace with San Francisco's preseason opener looming Friday at New Orleans.

"The entire team is getting on board with it and embracing it, and that's what we need," Smith said. "Obviously, what we were doing (in previous years) wasn't working, all of us, me included. That's the definition of insanity right? Doing the same thing and expecting different results. So we're embracing the change, working hard, and just getting better."


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