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A Credit to the Play-Callers

Posted Nov 3, 2011

Players play. Coaches coach. And without both entities functioning at high levels, it’s difficult to imagine any team having success in the National Football League.

With the 49ers starting 6-1, much of the credit goes directly to the 53 players who’ve contributed to the four-game lead already built in the NFC West.

The same admiration should go to those in charge of the team’s weekly strategic maneuvers, specifically offensive and defensive play-callers Greg Roman and Vic Fangio, or as they’re known around the building, “G-Ro” and “Coach Vic.”

Both leaders of the offensive and defensive units have been equally instrumental in San Francisco’s fast start to 2011. The same goes for special teams coordinator Brad Seely, who has his coverage and return teams all contributing in the team’s five-game winning streak.

But in the case of Roman and Fangio, they’ve garnered even more attention as of late with their demonstrations on how to utilize more than just core starters on their respective sides of the ball.

Roman has made a habit of showcasing tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, as well as far-less heralded receivers like tackle Joe Staley and nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, who both made their first career receptions last week against the Cleveland Browns.

Fangio, on the other hand, has found ways to bring along talented rookies Aldon Smith and Chris Culliver without disrupting the defense’s overall success. Smith, a rookie linebacker who has played mostly as a pass-rushing defensive end in the 49ers nickel defense, racked up 6.5 sacks in four October games. Smith earned himself Defensive Rookie of the Month honors. Culliver has also been utilized as the team’s nickel cornerback in recent weeks and has held his own when opposing quarterbacks have thrown his way.

The variation in play-calling and success through eight weeks of Jim Harbaugh’s first season coaching in the NFL has the 49ers confident going into any game on the schedule.

“When you have a play-caller that knows defenses, how to call it, that mixes up things and sends so many different pressures at you, so many looks that look the same… That’s difficult to play,” said cornerback Carlos Rogers, who will return to Washington D.C. this Sunday to face the place he called home for the past six seasons. “When you have a guy like ‘Coach Vic,’ who’s been in it for so long, it makes thing so easy.”

That creativity and tactfulness from both coordinators has been very much appreciated inside the 49ers locker room.

“I think our success is all a credit to them,” Walker said of the 49ers coordinators, Roman and Fangio. “Jim Harbaugh would tell you that. It’s not all him. They’re the ones putting in the plans together and making the calls in the crucial moments. They don’t get seen a lot, but on the team, we know they deserve credit.”

Harbaugh even went out of his way earlier this week to highlight the contributions of Roman and his fellow offensive coaches.

“Greg Roman is an innovative play caller,” Harbaugh said. “This is a Greg Roman offense. A lot of times people say ‘Jim Harbaugh offense’ or something. We contribute. Myself, [Wide Receivers Coach] Johnnie Morton, [Quarterbacks Coach] Geep Chryst, [Offensive Line Coach] Mike Solari, [Offensive Line Coach] Tim Drevno, [Tight Ends Coach] Reggie Davis, we were contributors but Greg is the majority of this offense as the play caller and the schematics. That’s the way it’s been this year and that’s the way it’s been the last couple of years when we were back at Stanford, too.”

Roman compared his offensive coaching staff to a team of players.

“The hallmark of our offense is teamwork,” explained the offensive coordinator. “It’s taking all the different facets of what we have as a staff and with the players and trying to create the greatest production.

“We as a staff try to set the greatest example with our teamwork.”

Walker sees it playing out daily.

“They do work as a team. When they install packages, each one of the coaches will come up and explain that package. I think it’s a team formula with the coaches and they’re doing a good job.”

Perhaps the best thing for the players is seeing what game plan comes up next.

Cornerback Tarell Brown, who has 19 tackles and seven pass breakups in seven starts, appreciates the pace in which Fangio’s defense has been built. With the team having to come together in short order, each week in the regular season has only added to the strong foundation Fangio’s built.

“It’s always fun, because there’s always a new wrinkle,” Brown said of uncovering the weekly game plans. “You come in and there’s something new every week and then it’s something we have to learn. All the guys are buying into it.

“All the guys are picking the schemes up really well. So when he brings up something new for us to learn, you can see all the guys are excited about running it because we know it’s going to work.”

Under Fangio’s watch, the 49ers have yet to surrender a rushing touchdown and lead the league in fewest points allowed, a true indicator of a successful defense in Fangio’s mind.

“The most important stat on defense, and it’s a team stat, is points allowed,” said the coordinator of the league’s top-ranked unit in that regard (allowing 15.3 ppg). “We can’t give up points. That’s our number one job, and we’re doing well in that area.”

Brown puts a lot of the defense’s statistical success on Fangio’s play-calling from the booth which is relayed into linebackers coach Jim Leavitt, who then sends in the play call to the radio inside linebacker Patrick Willis’ helmet.

“He’s definitely on-point with all the calls,” Brown added. “It’s an amazing job of calling defenses is what he’s doing.”

Offensive players are equally eager to see what play calls await them on a weekly basis.

“You’ve seen a D-tackle catch the ball, you’ve seen an offensive lineman catch the ball,” Walker said. “That just says we’ll do anything it takes to win a game.”

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