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.