Fly on the wall: Harbaugh learned from prep coach


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."

On eve of game vs Rams, 49ers only have two healthy safeties


On eve of game vs Rams, 49ers only have two healthy safeties

Starting safety Eric Reid will not be available for the 49ers on Thursday night, and the other presumptive starting safeties are questionable, too.

Jimmie Ward (hamstring) and Jaquiski Tartt (neck) went through limited practice Wednesdsay and are listed as questionable to face the Los Angeles Rams in front of a national television audience at Levi’s Stadium on Thursday night.

Ward and Tartt are expected to be available for the game, but the 49ers’ only healthy safeties are rookies Lorenzo Jerome and Adrian Colbert.

Reid is expected miss more than one game with a sprain of the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Reid is listed as out for Thursday’s game, along with linebacker Reuben Foster.

The 49ers medical staff no longer requires Foster to wear an orthopedic boot to stabilize his high right ankle sprain. General manager John Lynch said Foster is making good progress, but the 49ers are going to be cautious with him.

“The one thing I know is that freak athletes tend to be freak healers, as well,” Lynch told NBC Sports Bay Area.

“He wanted to play the first week in the boot. That’s just the way he’s wired. We got to make sure he’s all the way healthy before we put him in, and we’re going to do that.”

Tight end George Kittle (hip) and linebacker Eli Harold (foot) are questionable for the game and are expected to play. Kittle sustained his injury during the 49ers’ 12-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. Harold was stepped on during a practice this week.

49ers injury report
LB Reuben Foster (ankle)
S Eric Reid (knee)
LB Eli Harold (foot)
TE George Kittle (hip)
S Jaquiski Tartt (neck)
S Jimmie Ward (hamstring)

Shanahan: 49ers need Hoyer to step up

Shanahan: 49ers need Hoyer to step up

The 49ers entered the regular season feeling as confident in quarterback Brian Hoyer as anyone on the offensive side of the ball.

But Hoyer has struggled through the worst back-to-back games of his 33-start NFL career. And the 49ers need him to get going, beginning Thursday night against the Los Angeles Rams, coach Kyle Shanahan said.

"I want him to get his edge back. I want him to get his confidence,” Shanahan said Wednesday on the KNBR Morning Show.

“We need Brian to step up, and we need everyone around him to step up.”

In the first two games of the season, Hoyer has completed 62.9 percent of his 62 pass attempts but for just 292 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. His passer rating is a lowly 60.7.

The 49ers have scored only four field goals and no touchdowns on their 21 offensive possessions in losses to Carolina and Seattle. Moreover, the 49ers have converted just four of 23 (17.4 percent) of their third-down attempts.

The quick turnaround on Thursday at Levi’s Stadium is something Hoyer said he welcomes this week -- of all weeks.

Last season with the Chicago Bears, Hoyer did not throw for fewer than 300 yards in any of his four full games. On Sunday in the 49ers’ 12-9 loss to the Seahawks, he managed just 99 yards passing.

“It was a tough game and now we move on,” Hoyer said. “Thankfully, this week we get to move on really quick and move on to LA.

”You get to put the last one behind you and move on to the next.”