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49ers Comfortable in 'Pistol' Offense

Posted Dec 11, 2012

There’s no quarterback in the National Football League more versed in the “Pistol” offense than second-year 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

After all, Kaepernick’s college coach at the University of Nevada, Chris Ault, created the “Pistol” offense in 2005, a year before Kaepernick enrolled at the school, and has continued to use the scheme that looks like the shotgun formation’s younger cousin.

Instead of being five yards from the center with one or two backs beside the quarterback in a traditional shotgun look, the “Pistol” features two-to-three backs next to the signal-caller who’s slightly closer to the center than the traditional spread formation.

The new wrinkle from offensive coordinator Greg Roman has been in play for the 49ers this past month with Kaepernick guiding San Francisco to a 3-1 record. The formation was even more fruitful against the Miami Dolphins with the team’s top runners Frank Gore and LaMichael James making big gains out of the non-conventional formation.

Gore, the eighth-year veteran, who surpassed the 1,000-yard mark last week for the sixth time of his career, likes the evolution of the 49ers offense with Kaepenrick under center.

Gore, the franchise’s all-time leader in rushing yards, carries and (tied) for most rushing touchdowns, believes Roman’s new play calls are the perfect complement to San Francisco’s unique quarterback.

“He’s good at doing it,” Gore said of his young quarterback, the only player in NCAA history to rack up more than 10,000 passing yards and more than 4,000 rushing yards in a collegiate career.

“It’s something like what the Washington Redskins do with RGIII,” said Gore, noting quarterback Robert Griffin III and the only offense ahead of the 49ers in the league’s rushing rankings. “We’re using what helps our quarterback. Kap can run and it works. You saw the 50-yard touchdown he had at the end of the game.”

Gore had a great view of the play. He knew right away it would go for a big gain when Miami’s entire defense converged on him as he carried out the play design.

It’s fair to assume the 49ers will continue finding ways to incorporate the running talents from the likes of Kaepernick, Gore and James.

Jim Harbaugh intimated as much in his Monday press conference, touching on his reasons for utilizing the modern formation which allows the offense to “get a hat on a hat” against opposing defenses.

“Because it is a balanced formation,” Harbaugh explained, “it allows you to go in any direction and throw the ball. It was a good, basic, base formation for us in this game.”

It’s not known if the 49ers will continue to use it as much against New England this week as they did against the Dolphins, another AFC East opponent. However, it’s likely the 49ers will mix the plays in to disrupt the comfort level of a young Patriots defense, anchored by Gore’s 325-pound college teammate Vincent Wilfork.

“It’ll be fun,” Gore said of the challenge of competing against a fellow Miami Hurricane.

“We know what it’s going to be like,” said Gore, further explaining the significance of Sunday’s primetime game in New England. “We know they have a good team, that team’s been together for a while. Just watching that Monday night game, they get up for big games. They know we’re a good team and we’re going to come in there to play. Should be fun.”

James, too, is ready for some more fun.

Even if it means facing New England’s eighth-ranked rush defense (allowing 100.8 yards per game), James is prepared to continue the success he experience in his Week 14 NFL debut.

Most of that success, 30 rushing yards and 15 receiving yards against Miami, came from spread formations.

“I think it’s fun,” James, San Francisco’s second-round pick said. “Kap and I did a lot of similar things in college, so the chemistry is there. It’s just practicing, going through the motions and knowing where the holes are going to be.”

According to James, trusting Kaepernick’s decision-making is not a problem. The experienced “Pistol” quarterback seems to have a knack for reading defensive ends who are left unblocked and stressed to defend the 49ers quarterback or running back in a split-second.

“I trust Kaepernick,” James said, “that he’s going to make the right decision, the right read. We’re in a situation to excel. If they crash on me, he’s going to keep it. If they go to him, then he’s going to give it.”

James’ sweat behind the scenes from 13 weeks of behind inactive is now pouring out on the field.

“With all the chemistry Kap and I have from the preseason, it was fun to build off that and contribute to a win,” James said of his NFL debut against the Dolphins.

The 49ers coaching staff appears to be eager in expanding James’ role in the coming weeks.

Roman told the KNBR Morning Show on Tuesday his thoughts on the young running back’s development.

“We are excited to integrate him into what we do in more and in different ways,” San Francisco’s play-caller told host Brian Murphy.

The comments were music to James’ ears.

“It’s really helpful for me,” he explained. “It builds my confidence and shows their trust in me to go out there and do some things. It makes me feel really good that they want to use me more. I want to help the team in any way I can.”

Same goes for Gore. If the spread-reads are in play for New England, the offensive co-captain is prepared to execute them.

“We’ll be ready,” Gore said. “We know what we’ve got to do. We know they’re a good team, they’ll be ready to play.”

When the dust settles from Sunday night’s primetime game, it’s likely that the national viewing audience will know even more about the “Pistol” attack.

Not Nevada’s coaching staff, however.

“They know we’re running it,” Kaepernick said.

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