Offense going wild with 'Taser'

The 49ers are going wild on offense. Among the new things offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye has brought to the team is a formation that became the rage of the NFL last season – one where running backs and receivers line up at quarterback and RBs and QBs line up at receiver. The 49ers aren't calling it a "Wildcat," but it's a welcome new dimension for an offense that can use all the help it can get.

In his offense, Raye terms the formation – which is generally known as "Wildcat" around the league – as "Taser." But by any name, the new wrinkle from the team's seventh coordinator in seven years is a welcome addition to one of the NFL's worst offenses of the 21st century.

San Francisco's offense has been particularly bad over the past five years, a period during which the 49ers have finished 32nd – dead last – in NFL total offense twice and a lowly 26th twice.

But the well-traveled Raye, a veteran of 33 seasons coaching in the NFL, is on hand to change all that for a team that has been stockpiling talent on the offensive side of the ball for several years and now finally appears to have both the substance and stability to establish some success.

Having the "Wildcat" … er, "Taser" in the playbook certainly can't hurt as a dimension to keep opposing defenses off balance.

"Since the pads have gone on, it was our first foray into it," Raye said Wednesday after the 49ers began 11-on-11 team drills with receiver/kick returner Michael Spurlock lined up at quarterback in shotgun formation and running back Frank Gore lined up in the slot at receiver.

"There are some things about it that are different for us and good," Raye continued. "We've had some success with it in the past. The initial introduction of it was very good and we got a good start on it."

With Friday's preseason opener against the Denver Broncos looming, Raye has now installed just about all of his offensive system. And to be sure, the 49ers are looking for some things that are both different and good in an offense that has had little success since they finished fifth in the NFL in total offense in 2003.

It has been mostly downhill for the San Francisco offense since then. But now Raye is looking to pick it up, and the "Taser" is one of the several dimensions of Raye's system that seems to fit the personnel the 49ers have on hand to run it.

With receiver Arnaz Battle also taking some direct snaps at quarterback, the 49ers proceeded to run about a dozen plays Wednesday with the unique formation that had quarterbacks Shaun Hill, Alex Smith and Damon Huard coming out of the huddle to line up far wide at receiver.

Spurlock and Battle either ran with the ball or handed it off to Gore and running back Glen Coffee. Spurlock even threw a pass out of the formation, completing it to Isaac Bruce.

It's not something that's likely to become a staple of the San Francisco offense. But it is something the 49ers can pull out every now and then. And who knows? Maybe it can be an effective tool to get the 49ers moving up toward the upper half of the NFL's offensive rankings.

That's a place the 49ers haven't even approached in more than a half decade. Last year the team climbed to 23rd in NFL total offense, but all it did was get offensive coordinator Mike Martz fired after one unmemorable season with the team.

Martz's finesse passing system did not mesh with the ground-oriented philosophy of Mike Singletary, who took over as San Francisco's head coach last year when Mike Nolan was fired near midseason.

Raye's offense is much more in tune with the power rushing game Singletary envisions, and the "Taser" formation seems to fit in well with what the 49ers want to do.

"It's a copycat league," said Spurlock, who played quarterback in college at the University of Mississippi. "You look at Miami, Miami was very successful in doing it. We can run it here. We'll practice it for our defense as well as make other defenses we play have to acknowledge it."

The 49ers have the personnel to make the formation effective. Battle also played quarterback in college at Notre Dame and has 22 career rushing carries, mostly from his flanker position. Running back Michael Robinson, the Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2005 as a quarterback at Penn State, also can play behind center in the run-oriented formation.

Robinson has been out since Aug. 4 with a groin strain but will be worked into the "Taser" formation when he is healthy. Robinson was primarily behind center for the handful of plays the 49ers ran out of a "Wildcat" formation in Martz's offense last year, with little notable success.

It could be different this season with Raye's "Taser" variations.

Raye has used the formation before during his time coaching earlier this decade with the New York Jets, where he had success with Brad Smith – a college quarterback who moved to receiver in the NFL – taking the direct snaps from center.

"(Smith) was truly a great option quarterback at Missouri," Raye said. "We drafted him, knowing he wouldn't be a quarterback, as a wide receiver. We used him in that package at the Jets his first year in the league and got some mileage out of it."

Raye said it was something the Jets used particularly against New England because the Patriots are a base 3-4 defensive team, a system that the "Wildcat/Taser" can effectively exploit.

San Francisco runs a base 3-4 defense. So as the 49ers look to help their offense by implementing and running the "Taser," they'll be helping their defense to stop it at the same time.

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