All things clear from the get-go: Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman's variation of the west coast offense is going to go through Frank Gore and anybody else taking handoffs from whichever quarterback happens to be under center. There will be many WCO-esque staples, especially when it comes to the passing game, of course. Receivers Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan will count on the slant routes and bubble screens, while Ronald Johnson, Ted Ginn and Kyle Williams will battle for snaps out of the slot, where they will hope to punish defenses with route running and finesse.
Forgive me, I need to take a moment and have a hearty laugh in regards to Ted Ginn punishing anybody for his route running. Just one moment is all I need.
Moving on, the offense will very much function as a power running attack. Frank Gore, despite questionable durability, is game to the task at hand. Kendall Hunter should be a great supplemental runner to Frank, and I expect him to do good things from the get-go. Anthony Dixon remains the most entertaining 49er on Twitter, but that's all I can say about him at this point. I hope he sticks around and can play at a high level. The 49ers have a couple capable runners to move the ball down the field, to put it simply. Jump for more
As such, the 49ers depend on Moran Norris as the lead-blocker. Norris is ... how you say, not very good at that kind of thing anymore. As it stands, he's actually not very good at any kind of thing anymore. If this were 2006, I would be totally alright with that. Norris of that time could get the job done. And the Norris of now does do some things to a passable degree, but he misses an awful lot of blocks at this stage in his career. A lot of them.
The 49ers recognized that and made moves to improve the blocking elsewhere, with high draft picks spent on offensive linemen Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, and that helped things along. Iupati mauled people in 2010, while Davis did sort of come into his own as the season went on. But that wasn't enough. There were still missed blocks from the fullback position, and there were numerous occasions where we could have had an open lane for Gore or Brian Westbrook, and the block was either missed or executed poorly.
So the 49ers made even more changes to make up for the lack of run blocking, by drafting Nate Byham in the sixth round. A lot of teams have blocking tight ends, and they're generally a good thing to have around. Byham is versatile and loves contact, he gets in there and makes contact in every sense of the word. He can play from a fullback or a tight end position and he was pretty good in run blocking last season. Drafting Byham would have been a great move for a lot of teams.
Unfortunately, most blocking tight ends are backup tight ends - that is - they're second string. On the 49ers, Byham is a third stringer, because they absolutely can't afford to be without Delanie Walker, the second stringer. Without top wide receivers, having a tight end like Walker, who could start on another football team, is key. Walker is essentially another receiver and he is something defenses have to plan for accordingly. Rather, Walker is somebody that defenses are supposed to have to plan for accordingly. Under Jimmy Raye, I don't believe any facet of the offense was used adequately, Walker included. They have a guy who is a mismatch for any defense and they hardly used him.
Worse than that, they actually hurt themselves with the way they used him. Instead of playing him like a second string tight end, they pulled him for a good portion of the running plays to bring in Byham. Well, that didn't work out so well, because teams already figured that they were going to run, for one, and for two, it just confirmed it ... they were going to run. When Byham was out there, you had to key in on Gore even more than you already were. If you did that, you stopped the 49ers offense.
Nate Byham seeing the field is not a bad thing if he's used correctly, like any third string tight end would when he has decent skills to contribute. The point is that the 49ers under Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman absolutely need to gameplan and scheme around Delanie Walker, leaving him in on runs so the defense isn't keyed in on what's going to happen? How can they do that, though? They need a true fullback. Moran Norris just isn't going to cut it at this point, and I'm sure a lot of us feel good about Bruce Miller, but let's be realistic right now: if we can get somebody better, shouldn't we pursue them?
Le'Ron McClain is obviously my biggest free agent target at the moment, and he would fit in great here. If not him, there are other options, though I doubt somebody like Vonta Leach is attainable at this point. There's guys like John Kuhn, Mike Tolbert, Ahmard Hall ... there's a lot of names out there, with varying degrees of availability. As it stands right now, it's an area that definitely needs improvement if any kind of west coast-style offense is feasible. Byham can't go out there for every run, and Walker can't come off the field for every run. Walker is an asset that absolutely needs to be utilized.