Fullbacks, tight ends do their part on 49ers' read-option
Published 8:11 pm, Saturday, February 2, 2013
New Orleans -- Quarterback Colin Kaepernick gets most of the headlines, and running back Frank Gore cashed in on some of that attention when he scored twice against the Falcons in the NFC championship game.
But how about some love for the 49ers' fullbacks and tight ends, without whom San Francisco's new-fangled read-option attack wouldn't be possible.
"They're very, very important," tackle Joe Staley said. "They're one of the big reasons we're able to do this successfully. Very smart, intelligent players who can catch the ball, but more importantly see what's going on and open up some big holes blocking." In the read-option, it used to be only the quarterback's job to make the initial read, before deciding whether to hand off or run. The way the 49ers use the play, fullback Bruce Miller and tight ends Delane Walker and Vernon Davis are contributing to the decision, reading the defensive end to decide at which direction and angle to block.
"It's a fun offense to play in," Miller said. "We have a lot of multiple looks, do a lot of moving around and run a lot of different schemes. I am always reading the defense so we can get through to the second level." If the defensive end is staying outside to try to prevent Kaepernick from running outside, Miller or usually Walker will seal him off and create a cutback lane inside for the running back. That led to three touchdowns against Atlanta.
On the other hand, if the defensive end is eyeing the running back and cheating inside, Miller or Walker will run around him and look to seal off the outside linebacker and free up a big running lane outside for Kaepernick. That worked several times against the Packers.
Miller, Walker and Davis are interchangeable in the playbook, though Davis lines up in different spots and has more downfield routes.
"Every combination you can think of is used, with Vernon, Delanie and myself," Miller said, adding with a laugh, "Although I don't know if I do a lot of the things that Vernon does.
"But as far as the blocking, we all in the gameplan at the same positions no matter what the personnel is. I just don't run vertical as much as Vernon does." Since Kaepernick took over as the starter in Week.11, Miller has played on 53.percent of the 49ers snaps. He played just 39.percent of the team's offensive snaps in the first 10 weeks.
And it's no coincidence that the 49ers are using the option more and more.
San Francisco used it 3.7 times per game in the regular season with Kaepernick. They've dialed it up to 14.5 per game in the playoffs, according to ESPN Stats.
The Niners use it different ways, depending on the read that Miller and Kaepernick get. After keeping the ball on the option seven times against Green Bay, Kaepernick didn't keep it once against Atlanta.
Both times Kaepernick gave the ball to Gore for touchdown runs, Miller led the way with key blocks.
And key reads, of course.
"It's exciting," Miller said, "definitely a lot cooler than running straight ahead into a wall like most fullbacks do."