Fly on the wall: Harbaugh learned from prep coach

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Fly on the wall: Harbaugh learned from prep coach

Pete Lavorato was watching the 49ers on Thanksgiving night when he saw something familiar flash across his TV screen.Receiver Ted Ginn, in motion from the right side of the 49ers' offensive formation, received the handoff from quarterback Alex Smith at near full speed. Ginn got a block from fullback Moran Norris to get to the outside. On a night when it was difficult for the 49ers to move the ball against the Baltimore Ravens, the play gained 9 yards.NFL Network play-by-play man Brad Nessler referred to it as an "end around." Analyst Mike Mayock, more precisely, described it as a "jet sweep." The 49ers know it as the "fly sweep" -- a new addition to the ever-expanding playbook.The 49ers ran the same play Sunday against the St. Louis Rams and it netted 16 yards. On Monday, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh gave full credit to Lavorato, who has used the Fly offense for each of his nine seasons as Sacred Heart Prep's head coach."Thanks to Pete Lavorato over at Sacred Heart Prep -- the 'fly sweep' master," Harbaugh said during his Monday press conference. "We had a great fly sweep clinic about two and a half years ago. He learned us up on the fly sweep and it's paying dividends for us."Lavorato, 59, does not consider himself the master of the offense, rather a conduit. The origins of the offense are most-often traced to late Delano High coach Gene Beck. Lavorato first saw the system as a Hollister assistant coach when his team played Norm Costa's squad at Palma High."We had to defend that," said Lavorato, a native of Canada who spent 10 seasons as a free safety with the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL. "I remember saying, 'If I ever become a head coach, I want to run that offense.'"When Lavorato asked Costa for some tips, Costa generously sent him the entire Palma playbook. Lavorato also spent time studying the offense at North Monterey High, where Phil Maas and Roger Sugimoto installed it.Armed with a firm grasp of the Fly, Lavorato became a head coach in Canada and won a provincial high school championship before returning to Northern California to excel as coach at Sacred Heart.The nation's best-known Fly master is Mark Speckman, the longtime coach at Willamette University. Lavorato's teams have attended camps at Willamette to sharpen their execution of the timing- and speed-based offense.The basic idea behind the Fly, is that the ball carrier is able to build up momentum to outrun a defense that must pursue from a standing start. A typical running back is stationary at the snap of the ball.
"I could be faster than you," Lavorato said, "but if you get a running start, that gives you a big advantage in a race."The slot receiver is coached to go in motion at about 90-percent speed, Lavorato said. The ball is snapped around the time the eventual ballcarrier hits the guard-tackle gap. With a clean handoff, all the runner needs just one block to get to the edge and potentially gain big yards.If the defense starts to slide their linebackers to the outside to account for the speed of the player in motion, it becomes vulnerable in the middle of the field to a counter or power run, Lavorato said.. Also, play-action pass could be effective if the defense tries to compensate for the fly sweep.And those could be the next pieces of the puzzle that 49ers' opponents will have to guard against in the coming weeks.Lavorato does not do clinics -- other than the one session he held at Harbaugh's request. Lavorato and his assistant, former Stanford lineman Matt Moran, agreed to meet with Harbaugh a couple years ago. The Sacred Heart campus is four miles from Stanford."I'm sitting there, thinking I'm going to talk to Jim about the fly sweep," Lavorato said. "And he said, 'Are you ready, Pete?' Next thing I know, every coach on his staff comes in and they all take out notepads. Talk about being intimidated. Here's this little high school coach talking to the entire Stanford football coaching staff."During the lockout, Harbaugh watched video of almost every play of every game from the 2010 NFL season. He said most of the fly sweep concepts he saw were from "Wildcat" formations."Mostly it was used as an eye distraction to run," Harbaugh said. "The running back steps back, fakes the fly sweep and then runs power off tackle. I can't recall seeing it as a handoff."It's understandable that the Fly has not taken flight in the NFL because of the amount of time required to get the ballcarrier in sync with the center and quarterback. One minor breakdown could easily result in a turnover.
Said Lavorato, "If you're going to run that fly sweep offense, you have to put the time in. But when you think about it, when teams have to defend it, they have to be able to learn it in practice in two days to run it."Ironically, Lavorato has been victimized by variations of the offense on several occasions, he said. Five years ago, then-Salesian High speedster Jahvid Best took a handoff as the flyback and romped for a touchdown on the first play of a section playoff game. Best, of course, starred at Cal and is now with the Detroit Lions.But Lavorato has certainly swatted down more than his share of opposing defenses with the Fly. Sacred Heart won the Central Coast Section Division IV title last year, and lost in the semifinals this season."I'm not the fly sweep guru," Lavorato said. "I took something that I saw that was successful, and I learned about it. And that's one of the great things about Jim Harbaugh. I don't think he will ever get to the point where he'll think he knows it all. And that's why he'll be successful."

Agent: 49ers to re-sign running back DuJuan Harris

Agent: 49ers to re-sign running back DuJuan Harris

PHOENIX – Free-agent running back DuJuan Harris will re-sign with the 49ers, his agent said.

Harris, 28, appeared in 10 games for the 49ers last season with one start. He rushed for 138 yards on 38 attempts. He also caught eight passes for 115 yards.

Harris has also seen time with Jacksonville, Green Bay and Seattle in his four-year NFL career.

The 49ers did not tender Harris as a restricted free agent, but agent Andy Simms revealed his client will re-sign with the 49ers via Twitter. Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley and defensive lineman Chris Jones are the only other free agents the 49ers have re-signed.

Bruce Allen: Kirk Cousins will play for Washington in 2017

Bruce Allen: Kirk Cousins will play for Washington in 2017

PHOENIX – Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins will continue to be Washington’s quarterback for the 2017 season, according to team president Bruce Allen.

“That’s why we franchised him, yes,” Allen said during an interview with CSN Mid-Atlantic at the NFL owners meetings.

Cousins and Washington did not reach agreement on a multi-year contract extension before the start of the free-agent signing period. Washington tagged Cousins as the organization’s exclusive franchise player, taking him off the free-agent market for any interested clubs, such as the 49ers.

Cousins is set to earn $23.94 million in 2017, unless the sides agree to a new deal before the July 15 deadline. The price for Cousins to be franchised again in 2018 would be $34.47 million.

"We’ve had a lot of dialogue," Allen said. "He signed his tender. Obviously, we have an option for the ’18 season. Our goal from the beginning has been long term. I'm still hopeful and confident we'll do it."

The 49ers with new coach Kyle Shanahan are expected to be interested in Cousins, but there have no trade talks with any teams, Allen said. Shanahan was Washington's offensive coordinator under his father, then-head coach Mike Shanahan, for Cousins' first two NFL seasons.

"I can't keep up with the rumors," Allen said. "Kirk and I have talked almost a dozen times this offseason, and we get to laugh when we hear these different rumors. We haven't talked to anyone."