NFL: Niners make changes, see results
By Matthew Barrows
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Perhaps the best coaching move Mike Singletary made in the run up to Sunday’s game against Jacksonville was taking the pulse of his locker room.
Immediately following the team’s 30-24 loss in Green Bay, the 49ers were full of frustration. The players were talking among themselves in the visitor’s locker room and wondering — a few publicly, but most privately — why the spread offense with which they finished the game wasn’t being used to start games.
“Most definitely you’re going to hear that from guys when that’s when you’re putting points on the board,” tight end Delanie Walker said. “Guys were talking about it after the Green Bay game, ’If we start off (in the spread), let’s see what can happen.”’
Walker said that “a couple” of players took those concerns to the coaching staff.
One of them was fellow tight end Vernon Davis, who actually approached Singletary in the second half of the Packers game when, with the 49ers operating out of the spread, the offense took off.
“Vernon came to the sideline and said, ’Coach, I’m telling you, this is exciting. This is fun. I know we can do this. This is who we are,”’ Singletary recalled. “Then, of course, we come in early last week and I had different guys in the office, just talking to them about what they felt.”
The other player Singletary singled out Monday was quarterback Alex Smith. Singletary said he sought out Smith to see how the quarterback felt about the direction of the offense. When Smith told him, Singletary urged him to share those thoughts with offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye.
“I want Alex to do the difficult thing, to go in there and take a risk and say, ’This is what I like. Can we do this?’ because that is where the relationship is,” Singletary said. “That is where the team gets better rather than me pulling a power card. That’s no good in the long run.”
Smith, meanwhile, downplayed his role in altering the offense for the Jaguars game. He said the lines of communication between he and Raye always are open and that the two are constantly exchanging ideas. Smith did concede that he’s grown increasingly comfortable with voicing his opinions to the offensive coordinator.
“I’ve always taken the approach of, ’Hey, you call it. You do the game plan and call the game. I’m going to run it,”’ Smith said. “I just think the more I’m around this game, the more I understand it and the more I understand myself. And I do feel a little better about when I do have something to say, I’m going to say it.”
Singletary said he had no problem with his players airing their concerns about the offense. But he said he wanted to make sure that they weren’t merely complaints, that the players took ownership of the changes the coaches were willing to make.
“When you talk about ownership, that is a huge word,” he said. “It comes with a lot of responsibility. If you are willing to ask for something, if you are willing to come up with a solution, then it is on you to make sure that you carry through with that.”
Singletary had to have been pleased that Davis and Smith were the offensive stars of the game for the 49ers. The two connected on both a short touchdown pass and on a 30-yard completion on fourth and one in the second quarter.
Those plays helped break the game open for the 49ers.
Said Walker of the airing of grievances: “I think everybody was happy with the solution.”