Blaine Gabbert and the West Coast Offense


Ken Anderson was the first player to succeed under Bill Walsh's newly refined "West Coast System". Anderson had major success with Cincinnati when Walsh was an assistant coach for them in the late 60s and early 70s. Now, many different teams utilize the WCO, Philadelphia probably being the most successfull at it. The 49ers were the first team to win the Super Bowl utilizing that offensive style, and they won five in the 80s and 90s.

Jim Harbaugh has promised to implement Walsh's system, which requires a certain type of QB to play. Personel is going to be a factor in being successfull with the offense. For example, you need a different type of FB. One that can run the ball and also catch it out of the backfield. However, as is the case in most offensive systems, the QB position is the most important.

After the jump i will give my detailed opinion of whether or not Blaine Gabbert is a fit for our WCO system. Gabbert has been rocketing up the draft boards and will most likely be the 1st QB off the board.

After playing his first two seasons with Missouri in relative obscurity, Blaine Gabbert has been receiving a lot of press recently. It all started during the bowl season, and continued to the off-season. We will get a nice amount of time to look at what Gabbert brings to the table. Missuri will hold its annual pro day next month, and the combine will be held from February 23- March 1. These events will give us the two best opportunities to see Gabbert in person.

First off, a little bit of preface in regards to my opinion on drafting a QB early in the 2011 draft. I am against it!. This isn't a great QB class, and we would be better served getting better value with the 7th pick. Although i do have Gabbert as the #1 QB prospect in the 2011 draft, I have him listed as the 14th best prospect overall; that would be a tremendous reach at #7.

There has been a lot of conversation about Gabbert on the Niners Nation community, and most of it hasn't been that good. I understand that many of you really don't think he translates to the NFL well. However, i am assuming that many of you that make these negative statements have not really watched many Missouri games, and are going off a context that he runs a one read system, which is true. However, you really cannot fault Gabbert for the type of system Missouri's coaching staff decides to implement. They have been running this system for the better part of a decade, and it works well for them at the college level. Players like Chase Daniel, Brad Smith and now Blaine Gabbert have all been successful running that offense.

The west coast system runs with a pass first mentality that emphasizes a short horizontal attack that attempts to spread the field and create mismatches with the defense on the field. By forcing the defense to concentrate of the short passing game it opens up deep lanes and middle of the field go routes. This fits perfectly into the talents that both Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker bring to the table. However, it is extremely important to have an accurate QB in this system. Also, it is extremely important to have a QB that sees the entire field and is able to get to his 2nd and 3rd reads much quicker than in a traditional offense. And, this is where the questions in regards to Gabbert come from.

I am speaking from experience as i watched multiple Missouri games this season, and plan to watch the rest before the draft. A couple things stood out to me. First, he looked really good on the short and intermediate routes in the season opener against Illinois. Despite his fumble late in the 1st quarter, Gabbert showed exceptional athelticism as well. In all, he went 34/48-281 Yards and 2 TD against the Illini. The next game i watched was against Texas A&M in a a Big 12 matchup. The Tigers man handles the Aggies 30-9 in this game, and Gabbert was spectacular. He went 31/47 for 367 yards and 3 TDs. I know stats are not nearly as important as mechanics, so i will get into detail a little more in regards to that. Gabbert threw a perfect slant pass to Wes Kemp that resulted in a TD. The offensive line opened up a lane for Gabbert and he rifled it right in there, perfect pass and right on the mark. Slants are extremely important in the WCO, and our previous QB, Alex Smith, had major issues with accuracy on slant routs. I don't see that being an issue with Gabbert.

The one game that Blaine Gabbert really struggled in was against Nebraska, but who was really successful against them this season? He completed less than 50 percent of his passes and was sacked 6 times in that game. It doesn't matter how good your QB is if you cannot protect him. The WCO offense emphasizes quick reads and sort drop backs, so i don't see that being a major issue. Also, the 49ers offensive line is primed to be one of their strenghts in the coming seasons.

Gabbert's athleticism reminds me a lot of Steve Young, he can avoid the pressure when protection breaks down and kill the opponents with his legs. Gabbert ran for over 230 yards and 5 TDs in 2010, this is another weapon that he brings to the table. His TD total of 16 in 2010 is completely misleading. Missouri focused a lot on rushing the ball inside the redzone, and did it with tremendous success. They had 28 rushing TDs in 2010, and were 2nd in the Big 12 in redzone TD percentage behind Oklahoma.

Strengths

1. Accuracy: As represented with his 63.1 completion percentage, Gabbert is extremely accurate. He seems to be on target pretty much everytime when it comes to the short and intermediate routes. The 49ers have had an issue with that since Alex Smith became the starting QB. If Gabbert can get the ball to Frank Gore and Vernon Davis with them still in stride, you are going to see a lot of YAC (yards after catch). This is an extremely important aspect of the WCO, see Jerry Rice. Also, Michael Crabtree has the ability to break tackles and do damage in the open field. If the 49ers have an accurate QB that can put the ball right on target on bubble screens etc... he promises to have a nice amount of short passes turn into long plays.

2. Pocket Presence: Unlike Jake Locker, Gabbert is a pass first QB. By this i mean that he doesn't automatically look to run when the pocket breaks down. Instead, Gabbert is able to step up in the pocket and survey the field. I didn't see a lot of this with Missouri because they ran a one read offense. However, when the pocket did break down on occasion, i noticed a nice level of fluidity to Gabbert's game.

3. Strong Arm: Gabbert has the ability to throw the ball on a line 50 yards down field, that is a nice weapon to have. He doesn't have the strongest of all arms, that goes to Ryan Mallett. But, his longer passes seem to be on target a lot, something you cannot say about Mallet. Gabbert tends to hit the receiver in stride, and barely ever does the ball float. This will be really nice to have considering it was one of Alex Smith's many weaknesses.

Weaknesses

1. One Read System: The WCO emphasizes multiple quick reads and check downs. This is something that Gabbert hasn't been asked to do. Rarely ever do you see a high school team go with more than a one read offense, and Missouri didn't utilize multiple reads. So, it is going to be a huge learning curve for Gabbert to get into the routine of surveying multiple reads, and understanding the necessity of a quick release. Make no mistake about it, this is a major question mark of his heading into the draft.

2. Indecisiveness: I saw Gabbert look pretty indecicive in multiple games. Sometimes he wasn't incredibly sure of himself, and that is a major issue. His pump fakes were more about not being sure if he wanted to throw the ball than they were about fooling the defense. One one play in particular against Nebraska, i saw Gabbert pump fake about five times before going down. It could of had something to do with the pressure the Huskers were getting on him, but he needs to be more decisive at the next level.

Conclusion

Let me make it perfectly clear; i do not want the 49ers to select Blaine Gabbert with the 7th pick of the draft unless all of their players on the big board are taken and their is no serious way to trade down. That said, the Blaine Gabbert is going to be an impact player in the NFL, and the 49ers do need a QB. I think that he is heads and shoulders above the rest of the QB prospects in the draft, and the 49ers should take a serious look at him. My major concern is the fact that the 49ers can't expect to trade down to the teens and still have Gabbert available. Even as the best QB in a poor draft class, Gabbert will go top 10. Therefore, i really don't envision a scenario in which Gabbert ends up with the 49ers unless they reach for him at 7. If the draft plays out differently and teams are enamored with Mallet's arem and Newton's athletica ability, Gabbert may fall down in the draft. If that is the case i would love to trade down, acquire a 2nd round pick and nab Gabbert in the teens.

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