Making changes

Dennis Erickson wanted to make changes when he joined the 49ers last year, but coaching wisdom made him think better of it. Erickson didn't want to mess much with the supposed Super Bowl contender that already was in place. But now that status has changed, along with the team's offensive personnel, and there's nothing to stop the Niners' second-year coach from doing it his way on offense.

Not that Erickson's way is a great departure from the way the 49ers have always done it on offense the past quarter-century in their tried-and-true West Coast system. Nonetheless, there are some definitive changes – both subtle and significant.

Part of the reason Erickson was hired to replace Steve Mariucci last year was because of his flair for offensive wizardry. But Erickson didn't feel comfortable imposing his will on an offense loaded with veterans that had led the Niners to their first NFC West title in five years the previous season under the direction of Mariucci and Greg Knapp, the offensive coordinator Erickson inherited.

But now that the Niners have basically blown apart their offense, there's no reason for Erickson to hesitate making his mark and adding new wrinkles.

Certainly, the timing is right. The Niners will have seven new starters on offense this year – including newcomers at each of the five key skill positions (quarterback, tailback, tight end, both receiver positions) – and they will be under the tutelage of Erickson's hand-picked coordinator, Ted Tollner.

"We're doing some different things in our offense," Erickson said Monday, stating the obvious after the first session of San Francisco's four-day minicamp, which runs through Thursday. "We're doing things that I've done all my career that we just didn't do here (last year) because we didn't want to change anything because of everyone that we had coming back. It is a little different now that Ted's the coordinator and we have a new quarterback and a lot of new guys on offense, so why not?"

Why not, indeed. The influx of fresh faces moving into the offensive forefront already are smitten with the changes and modifications.

"Coach Tollner and coach Erickson, they've changed quite a few things," said Cedrick Wilson, San Francisco's No. 3 receiver last year who is projected as a starter this season. "They're trying to put their stamp on it. They want this offense to be better, better than we were a year ago. Or, if not better, they want it to be different."

They'd like different to mean better, of course, but that all depends on how the new personnel executes the plan. Erickson and Tollner have built the new offense around the strengths of Tim Rattay, but now they've had to be patient this spring as Ken Dorsey runs the offense as the team's No. 1 quarterback while Rattay recovers from groin surgery.

But the new changes are fit for Dorsey, too, and the second-year QB raves about the possibilities presented by a souped-up attack.

"We're definitely doing some different things, and I know we're very excited as players with what we're doing and we're excited with all the things that we have," Dorsey said. "And the situation we're put in this offense, as quarterbacks, to make the right decisions and get the ball to guys. As players, we're all very happy and very excited with the additions and subtractions that we've made."

The Niners have a new look in scheme. They're using more shifting in their formations and spreading the attack with more multi-receiver sets. In addition to paring down terminology, Erickson has added more motion and shifting with receivers.

Pro Bowl fullback Fred Beasley also is being moved around more in the new look, which features fresh variations in both one- and two-back formations. The Niners certainly will attempt first to establish their running game while their young players in the aerial attack develop.

"We'll always have our West Coast offense," Dorsey said. "I think now it's just we're dabbling with some other things. We feel like there's some very great things added here that are going to help our football team. It's going to be a great opportunity for us to go make it work out there on the field."

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