Roman learned from Ault, Kaepernick

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Roman learned from Ault, Kaepernick

SANTA CLARA -- Greg Roman learned the "pistol" offense from the master. And he studied by watching the college player who perfected it.

The 49ers' offensive coordinator, then an assistant at Stanford, sought to learn all he could about the system from Nevada coach Chris Ault, who developed the formation and basics in 2004.

"About three years ago, (I) made the trek to Nevada and visited with him and his staff," Roman said. "That was very valuable time spent. He was very accommodating and it was very interesting as a coach to go really learn something totally new. And he's a very good football coach. . . So it was good."

And the quarterback he watched on film was, obviously, Colin Kaepernick, the only NCAA Division I quarterback to throw for more than 10,000 yards and rush for over 4,000 yards in a collegiate career.

And what was Roman's impression of Kaepernick when he watched him on film with Ault?

"That's a long time ago," Roman said. "Productive."

The 49ers run a varied offensive attack because there are a lot of influences.

Roman, who spent time on George Seifert's coaching staff with the Carolina Panthers, learned much of what he knows about the West Coast Offense from Seifert and watching installation film of Bill Walsh. The 49ers run more split-back formations than other teams. That's an element he learned from Seifert and Walsh.

Last year, coach Jim Harbaugh said he learned the "fly sweep" from spending time with Pete Lavorato, head football coach at Sacred Heart Prep in Atherton. The 49ers found some success last season Ted Ginn going in motion and taking a handoff at near full speed.

Roman used the "pistol" a little at Stanford, but now he has the perfect quarterback to incorporate it into his play-calling. (The 49ers call it the "Q" formation because they try to keep their play calls to one syllable.)

The 49ers used formation in training camp. The offense has not changed, but certainly Roman's play-calling has been altered since the Kaepernick unseated Alex Smith as the starter.

And the pistol has become a larger part of the 49ers' attack.

In the pistol, Kaepernick lines up in the pistol (4 yards deep, rather than a typical shotgun formation of 5 yards behind the center) with a back directly behind him to add the threat of a power running game to the typical spread attack.

One of the basics is a variety of the veer in which the line blocks down to the side a run is going. That leaves the defensive end or outside linebacker on the other side unblocked. That is the player Kaepernick will watch to determine whether to hand off to the running back or keep it himself and attempt to beat the unblocked defender around the edge.

Last week, the 49ers featured a new wrinkle with a "full-house pistol," in which there were a combination of three backs and tight ends along with Kaepernick to create a completely balanced offensive approach. Coach Jim Harbaugh said it was a plan the club used to "balance off Miami's defense."

Of course there are many variations of bootlegs and play-action passes that the 49ers can execute out of the basic pistol formation.

And Roman spent his time with Ault to get a handle on all the variables and adjustments, based on how the defense adapts. So what did Roman learn from Ault that he could not have picked up just from watching film?

"I think you can gain a lot if they're willing to tell you," Roman said. "You can gain a lot with an upside, the downside, what other teams do to try to stop it. When they do that, what do you do? Every little nuance. It's just so much in terms of how you might sequence things, the downside, the upside. And definitely what people have tried to do to combat it or defend it, and then the next logical step for them. So, (it was) great information."

Nevada, the inspiration for the 49ers' pistol offense, will conclude its season Saturday at 10 a.m. (ESPN) in the New Mexico Bowl against Arizona.

Uh-oh: Is Kyle Shanahan going to be Harbaugh-tastic in his timing?

Uh-oh: Is Kyle Shanahan going to be Harbaugh-tastic in his timing?

Until now, Kyle Shanahan’s hiring by the San Fracisco 49ers looked great because of his two-and-a-half predecessors – the last days of Jim Harbaugh, the misplaced concept of Jim Tomsula and the couldn’t-make-chicken-marsala-out-of-old-Kleenex problems surrounding Chip Kelly.

But now, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has told us all that Shanahan has a gift we in the Bay Area know all too well. Specifically, that Shanahan took too long to call plays to the Super Bowl the Falcons vomited up to the New England Patriots.

Now who does that remind you of, over and over again?

Yes, some things are evergreen, and too many options in this overly technological age seems to be one of them. Data in is helpful, but command going out is what bells the cow. Ryan said Shanahan was, well, almost Harbaugh-tastic in his timing.

“Kyle’s play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in,” Ryan told Bleacher Report. “As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you’re talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, ‘There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.’ You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

“With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You’re not being aggressive not running it there.”

And the reason this matters is because the Atlanta Shanahan had multiple good options on every play. In San Francsco, at least in the short term, he’ll be dealing with minimal options. That could speed up his choices, as in “What the hell, we don’t have Julio Jones.” But it could also mean more delays, as in, “Okay, him . . . no, maybe not . . . no, he just screwed up that play last series . . . oh, damn it, time out!”

In short, it’s growing pains season here, children. On the field, on the sidelines, and maybe even in Kyle Shanahan’s head.

49ers defense: Top training camp competitions

49ers defense: Top training camp competitions

Before starting six games as a rookie, Rashard Robinson had not played football since the 2014 season at LSU.

Yet, Robinson is the closest thing to a sure bet to win a starting job among 49ers cornerbacks.

Tramaine Brock was projected as the starting cornerback on the other side until his arrest on suspicion of a troubling domestic incident prompted the 49ers to release him more than three months ago.

The 49ers open training camp next week, and here are the top competitions for starting jobs on defense:

LEFT CORNERBACK
Keith Reaser has yet to make an NFL start while appearing in 28 games the past two seasons. The 49ers rotated cornerbacks with the first-team defense during the offseason program, and Reaser put himself in position to enter camp as the slight favorite to replace Brock.

Veterans Dontae Johnson and Will Davis will try to work their way into the picture. And the 49ers are hopeful talented rookie Ahkello Witherspoon will develop a willingness to play with more physicality. The 49ers selected Witherspoon in the third round. He has the size and all the tools to win the starting job, but there were times in college he showed an alarming lack of aggression as a tackler.

NICKELBACK
K'Waun Williams is healthy after missing last season due to an ankle injury and falling out of favor with the Cleveland Browns. Defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley, one of the few holdovers from Chip Kelly’s staff, thinks highly of Williams after coaching him with the Browns. Hafley said he believes Williams can become one of the top covermen in the slot in the entire league.

Williams lined up with the first-team defense throughout the offseason program. His biggest competition could come from Will Redmond, whom the 49ers selected in the third round of the 2016 draft but did not play as a rookie due to a knee injury. Redmond has some rust to knock off, but he did not appear to show signs of the injury during the offseason program.

RIGHT DEFENSIVE END
Arik Armstead is not the prototypical player at the “Leo” position. At 6 foot 7, Armstead does not have the low center of gravity that is typically associated with that position. But Armstead is certainly not lacking for athleticism.

The 49ers need a more consistent pass rush to assist their unproven cornerbacks, and this spot will be counted upon to provide more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Veteran Elvis Dumervil, who believes he has regained his explosion off the edge after being hampered with Achilles injury, was added last month to do what he does best. Dumervil, 33, enters the season with 99 career sacks.

Aaron Lynch is on notice as he enters his fourth NFL season. He moves from outside linebacker to defensive end in the 49ers’ new 4-3 scheme. Multiple competitions will be ongoing at this position, as the 49ers will look to determine the best fits for base downs, as well as passing situations.

WEAKSIDE LINEBACKER
The signing of free-agent Malcolm Smith raised a few eyebrows. It was just the offseason program, but Smith was as impressive as any player on the team during the non-padded practices. He is clearly comfortable in Robert Saleh’s scheme, which is based on the Seattle Seahawks’ defense.

The 49ers had Reuben Foster rated as their No. 3 prospect in the entire draft. They traded with the Seahawks to move up to select him at No. 31 overall. The 49ers seem thoroughly unconcerned with Foster’s shoulder. The club believes he will be medically cleared for the opening of training camp.

The 49ers might want to bring Foster along slowly, but it is clear they do not expect him to be a backup for very long.