Sept. 2, 2009
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - With one game remaining in the exhibition > season, the San Francisco 49ers have clearly established their identity on offense.
They lead the NFL in preseason rushing.
“Our main focus as far as running the ball is just to physically dominate the line of scrimmage,” rookie running back Glen Coffee said Tuesday. 'We've definitely been able to do that.”
Coffee and San Francisco's other backs have flourished in new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye's system.
Coffee, a former University of Alabama running back, leads the NFL with 230 yards rushing and the 49ers are averaging a league-best 170.7 yards per game on the ground, leaving them 12th in the league in total offense.
Coffee ran for 2,107 yards and 14 touchdowns during his three-year career at Alabama. His best season came last year, when the junior ran for 1,383 yards and 10 touchdowns, helping the Crimson Tide to an SEC Western Division championship and a berth in the Sugar Bowl.
The 49ers ranked 23rd in total offense last season, their highest finish during the past five years. They're looking to take another step forward this year with their run-first approach.
“I think we're fitting the style of play that we want to the personnel that we have,' Raye said. 'What we're trying to establish during this period of time is a mental and physical style of play.
We're having some success doing it, but that's an ongoing process.'
Raye joined the team in January as San Francisco's seventh offensive coordinator in seven years. He said the 49ers are striving for a balanced offense this summer, but balance for them in 2009 “will be closer to 60-40 run-pass,” he said.
Besides Coffee, who is averaging 6.1 yards per carry, rookie Kory Sheets also is making an impression this summer.
Sheets is sixth in the NFL with 144 yards rushing and has scored three touchdowns, including two last week during a 20-13 victory over the Dallas Cowboys that improved San Francisco's preseason record to 3-0.
The 49ers have been doing damage on the ground without much contribution from lead back Frank Gore, whom the 49ers are resting for the regular season. Gore has just seven carries so far this summer, but he'll be the main man in San Francisco's offense once the real games begin in September.
'The bell cow in this operation will be No. 21,' said Raye, referring to Gore by his uniform number. 'This ball park is going to be run by No. 21.'
While the rushing game has excelled, the 49ers have not shown the same kind of progress throwing the football. They rank 30th in the NFL in preseason passing offense.
Shaun Hill, who last week was named the team's starting quarterback for the regular season, hasn't thrown a touchdown pass during the preseason. Hill completed only 9 of 17 passes for 79 yards against the Cowboys in his most extensive stint of the summer.
“We hang our hat on being a good running team. I don't think that's really any secret,' Hill said. 'But that definitely helps to open things up for us passing. With the offense as a whole, you need balance, you need to run and pass, and I think that is all starting to come together for us.”