Some of you out there may not have too much knowledge of the West Coast Offense, what it consists of, and where it derived from. Let me first clarify, I am in no way, shape, or form an expert on the subject; but will say that I have done my homework on it in the last week or so since the hiring of the 49ers new head coach Jim Harbaugh. Since most of you, like myself probably are not experts, I'd like to share the knowledge I have gained on the subject to shed a little light with a brief history lesson to those who are interested.
As a youngster, I didn't pay too much attention to all the little nuances of the game. I mainly just sat back and enjoyed the great ride and machine (also known as the West Coast Offense) that Bill Walsh brought to bay area sports. However, Walsh was not the creator of the diverse concept. He adopted concepts and molded them in to his own masterful version.
Before Bill Walsh came to the Bay Area to become the San Francisco 49ers head coach, he was an assistant to Cincinnati Bengals coach Paul Brown. Brown gave Walsh the freedom to implement the system. Once the system was in place, in no time at all, the Bengals offense was off and running. Walsh earned respect around the league, and after 8 years under Paul Brown, then took on the head coaching position for the 49ers in 1979. During those 8 years with the Bengals, Ken Anderson was the leader of the potent offense and went on to have great success as an NFL quarterback. Anderson spent 16 years in the league.
Under Walsh's system, Anderson managed to rack up 4 trips to the Pro Bowl, 4 passing titles, an MVP honor in 1981, and still to this day is tied for first with current Saints quarterback Drew Brees for the highest single-season completion percentage at 70.6%. Sitting just behind Anderson and Brees with that particular single-season record are two more of Walsh's quarterbacks. Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young sits at #3 with a 70.3% season completion percentage, and Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana is right behind Young at #4 with a 70.2% season completion percentage.
The system was first born and unleashed by LaVell Edwards and Dewey Warren in 1973 at Brigham Young University. Although the offense did not have the official name of "The West Coast Offense", the general concept came from them. The offense was set up a bit different than those "traditional" offenses that were popular in the early '70's.
The traditional offenses were built more on the idea and concept that a team must first establish a run game in order to have success through the air. However, both these coaches took the opposite approach. They thought that by opening things up by short, rather than long vertical passes, that it would keep defenses honest at the line-of-scrimmage which in turn would open up lanes for the running back to have success running through. This concept lead to bigger gains per average both in the passing game and running the ball.
Once Bill Walsh adopted the simple theory, he made it more complex. Routes were to be run in precise fashion. Quarterbacks were made to focus on the fundamentals of footwork and mechanics. Lineman were a huge part of all of the success as speed and hitting a guy before he hit you were a must. As Walsh built the 49ers dynasty in the 1980's, he looked for players that could either be taught these concepts, or already possessed a majority of the elements that it took to have success in the West Coast Offense. The result lead to the Joe Montana's, Steve Young's, Jerry Rice's, and Roger Craig's of league and their bright careers.
Young Team President, Jed York appears to want to bring back some of the tradition and success of the 80's with the hiring of Jim Harbaugh, who ran a version of the West Coast Offense as the head coach at Stanford. Harbaugh will now have a chance to go in to the 49ers vault of game film from that era and implement some of those old plays and mold them in to his own.
I am absolutely positive that in looking at the 49ers roster, and the type of talented and skilled athletes that are currently there, that implementing the West Coast Offense would be much easier than any of the other franchises that offered him a spot. What better place to do it, than the place that Walsh made the offense evolve?
The quarterback position has always been regarded as one of the highest on the team. Whatever your view and stance on that theory is, there is no denying that that one specific position gets looked at and scrutinized more than any other position on a team. With that, I would like to introduce some of the NCAA quarterbacks that possess good footwork and good accuracy, the two elements that are the most important to having success in the West Coast Offense.
In order, and of my opinion, here are the top five players that would fit the best in the West Coast Offense. Attached are some of their highlights. I will give my final thoughts on each of them.
#1 - Pat Devlin -- Delaware -- 6'4", 220 LBS.
2010 Regular Season Game Log
South Dakota State
Did Not Play or did not accumulate any stats.
@William & Mary
Thoughts: Devlin, out of any other quarterback that I have looked at closely, has the best footwork, mechanics, and moxie. His shorter range passes seem to be bar-none better than any other player that will be coming out this year. He steps in to his passes very well and when the ball is released, it goes precisely where it need to go. His pass has touch when need be, and he can fire it in to small areas when defenders are closing in. He goes through reads very well and on quick routes he gets it there before the defender can even move in. Even if he is under pressure, there seems to be a calm about him. After reviewing things thoroughly, Devlin seems to be the 49ers best chance at a quarterback that fits the mold. The only knock on him is where he played his ball at. But had Walsh passed on Jerry Rice for that reason, the world may have never seen the greatest receiver in NFL history born.
#2 - Greg McElroy -- Alabama -- 6'2", 225 LBS.
Thoughts: McElroy is extremely accurate with great touch on his passes. His footwork is not as good as Devlin's but he has potential. Potential enough to be a legitimate target for the 49ers. He played with winners at Alabama and he carried himself as such when it mattered. McElroy had an excellent supporting cast to work with, possibly the best in college football. Considering that, it's quite possible that should he be selected by the 49ers, he would be surrounded with just as many talented players and would not be forced to carry the load alone. McElroy's passes are typically crisp and on the money, particularly with the shorter passes. His accuracy could carry him a long way in the NFL if he gets a shot. In his last NCAA football game, McElroy finished with a 76.5% completion rate, 220 yards, and a touchdown.
#3 - Jake Locker -- Washington -- 6'3", 226 LBS.
Thoughts: Locker was regarded as one of the top prospects in college football for the 2009-2010 Season. He struggled a bit this year, which absolutely hurt his stock. In some ways, I feel like he has got away from some of the basics this year. Mechanically, he looks much different from last year to this year. It may have just been a case of him over-thinking things this year. But as you look at this highlight reel from his junior year, he seems to be fundamentally sound. If anyone knows Lockers flaws and how to go about fixing them, it would be a coach like Jim Harbaugh. Locker, much like Steve Young before he became the Steve Young we all came to love, has it there. It's just a matter of getting it back.
#4 - Kirk Cousins -- Michigan State -- 6'3", 205 LBS.
Thoughts: Kirk Cousins is only a junior and it is uncertain as to whether or not he will declare himself NFL Draft eligible this year. But if he does, his skill-set is one of the best in the nation. There is room to improve obviously and the same could be said for just about any player that has ever played the game. Specifically, he is not the most accurate, and his passes don't look pretty 100% of the time, but he gets the ball within reach of his receivers. It will help in the translation of his game in that he is coming from a pro-style offense. Cousins has one of the best play-action fakes that I have seen in a very long time. He would be a great late round pick to work with in this kind of offense.
#5 - Ben Chappell -- Indiana -- 6'2", 238 LBS.
Thoughts: Chappell has the most work cut out for him out of the five prospects. Potential is there but his mechanics need some work. When he steps in to his throws, the step is a bit short which sometimes leads to him being a bit short or a bit too long. Once he can get the mechanics down, the throwing should be much more accurate. He threw for over 3000 yards in a very competitive conference though. He threw for 24 touchdowns and only 9 interceptions on the year. He could very well be a late pick, or possibly even a great undrafted free-agent to bring in. All of the quarterbacks on this list obviously possess very good leadership, but the way that Chappell carries himself, and the way his teammates have talked about the young prospect, lead me to believe that he could be the best leader out of all five prospects here. Leadership goes a long way. If your team has the desire to follow, then the sky is the limit.
SUMMARY - You do not see the Cam Newton's, the Ryan Mallett's, or Blaine Gabbert's on this list simply because they lack some of the tangible traits that were mentioned above that are important to the success of running a West Coast Offense. All of the so-called top-tier talent are good in their own way. The simple truth of it is that the 49ers need someone who will be able to run this particular offense with precision and poise. Although, non of these five guys may be considered a 1st round prospect, they all five would be better than the guys who currently are in the right situation. Therefor, it may not be necessary to go out and spend a very high pick on someone who will not work in the particular style that Jim Harbaugh is going to bring for the 2011 Season.