Pac-12 not just about passing


Pac-12 not just about passing

PHOENIX (AP) - David Shaw played receiver under one of the best passing-game coaches in football history, but the one thing that stuck with him through the years was the foundation of Bill Walsh's philosophy: Balance.

Known as a passing-game guru who created record-setting schemes, the former Stanford and San Francisco 49ers coach always emphasized that all his players understand how the defensive front was lined up and the best way to attack it.

Sometimes that meant quick-hitting passes in what became known as the West Coast offense, but often it was by running the ball to keep the defense honest.

"A lot of people forgot about Bill Walsh in that 49ers run they had, when they won their first Super Bowl they were an outstanding running team; they were a better running team than passing team," Shaw said on Tuesday. "That's where it always started with Bill and what I adopted also."

In his first year as head coach at his alma mater, Shaw has incorporated the same establish-the-run-first philosophy that Walsh and Jim Harbaugh, the man Shaw replaced at Stanford, used as their offensive foundations.

He isn't alone.

Despite its deserved reputation as a passing conference, the power in the Pac-12 lies in the ability to run the ball.

Certainly, passing is still the dominant theme; the conference has five of the top 25 passing teams, just one in the top 35 rushing. But the teams having the most success in the Pac-12 so far this season are the ones that can grind it out on the ground and keep defenses from gearing up to stop the pass.

"As an old defensive coach, I firmly believe you've got to have a running game to set everything else up," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, whose team averages 192 yards passing and 171 rushing. "If you can't run the football and become one-dimensional on offense, you're going to struggle."

The power of balance can be seen across the top echelon of the Pac-12.

Cal has been one of the surprises of the early season, opening with wins over Fresno State, Colorado and Presbyterian. The Bears have done it, not surprisingly, with balance, averaging 277 yards through the air, 178 on the ground.

Utah relies on John White, the nation's ninth-leading rusher, and Washington is relatively close in its run-to-pass ratio thanks to Chris Polk's 120 yards per game.

Even No. 23 Southern Cal, despite having one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the country in Matt Barkley, has relied on a keep-them-off-balance running game to open the season 3-0.

No. 10 Oregon, known for its wide open offense, has the nation's eighth-best rushing attack, averaging 261 yards per game to go with 278 through the air.

The Ducks rely a lot on LaMichael James, a Heisman Trophy finalist a year ago who's averaging 108 yards rushing per game this season, but also throw in De'Anthony Thomas and Tre Carson to keep defenses honest.

"The defenses in this league are very good and if you're just one-dimensional, I think they can gang up on that," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "If you can be balanced and make them play the run and the pass, it'll kind of give them a little bit more problems to prepare for."

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Arizona has learned how tough it can be to be one-dimensional.

The Wildcats have the nation's second-leading passer in Nick Foles, who's already thrown for over 1,000 yards, but their running game is 116th in the country - out of 120 teams - averaging a barely there 55 yards per game.

The inability to run the ball hurt Arizona in losses to Oklahoma State and to Stanford last week, and the Wildcats will need to find some way to improve with Oregon coming up next.

"We have to get more out of those plays," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said.

At Stanford, quarterback Andrew Luck has garnered most of the attention and for good reason. The senior returned to Stanford instead of bolting for the NFL and is a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, throwing for 786 yards and eight touchdowns with one interception.

But the Cardinal's forte is its powerful running game, led by a physical offensive line and fast but strong back Stepfan Taylor, who's averaging 5.4 yards per carry on a team that nets 196 yards rushing and 285 passing.

"That's who we are and who we've always been," Shaw said. "When coach Harbaugh first got here, we talked about establishing a balanced attack and it's been constant, what we've tried to do from the beginning."

It's turned into a pretty good blueprint.

Shanahan expects 'everyone in our building to be pissed off' after loss to Denver

Shanahan expects 'everyone in our building to be pissed off' after loss to Denver

After a couple of practices and one exhibition game against the Denver Broncos, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan once again came to the realization things are often not as good or bad as they seem.

That was his takeaway a day after the 49ers provided the Broncos with five giveaways to go along with 11 penalties in a 33-14 loss at Levi’s Stadium.

“But when I get in and watch the tape, it wasn’t quite as bad as it felt,” Shanahan said Sunday on a conference call with Bay Area reporters. “When you look at each situation, especially when you talk about the ones on offense, it takes 11 guys to execute a play, and if you have one guy off a little bit, it breaks down.”

A couple of passes that could have been caught, a ball that slipped out of quarterback Brian Hoyer’s hand and some other correctable errors gives Shanahan reason to be optimistic.

When he spoke to the media on Saturday night after the game, Shanahan was clearly upset with how his 90-man team performed. He was asked a day later if it was a relief to watch the film and come to the conclusion that not everything was a total disaster.

“It’s not really relief,” Shanahan quipped. “It’s kind of my life story.

“We put a lot into it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a scrimmage, practice or preseason. I try to compose myself by the time I talk to you guys (the media) after practice. But I’m pretty pissed after practice when it doesn’t go well. We’re competitive guys and we want everything to be perfect. That’s why most of the time I’m not that happy.”

Shanahan said he expects everyone in the organization to hold themselves to the same high standard.

“Whenever you go out to a game like that, you want to win, you want to play well,” he said. “And you turn the ball over like that and you have the penalties that we did, I’m definitely going to be pissed off and I expect everyone in our building to be pissed off. If they’re not, that’s when I would be worried.”

Shanahan said he had the opposite feeling after the practice Wednesday against the Broncos that looked like a decisive win for the 49ers. Upon review, Shanahan said he felt there was still a lot of room for improvement.

“I thought things seemed real good at practice our first day versus them,” he said. “Then, I go in and watch the film and it was good but not quite as good as I felt when I was out there.”

49ers could get presumptive starting free safety back soon


49ers could get presumptive starting free safety back soon

The 49ers could get their presumptive starting free safety back on the field this week.

Jimmie Ward, who has been on the physically-unable-to-perform list since sustaining a hamstring injury during a conditioning test on the eve of training camp, will go through strenuous workouts Monday and Tuesday.

Ward could be cleared to return to practice as early as Wednesday, when the club is scheduled to hold its next practice.

Coach Kyle Shanahan said Sunday in a conference call with reporters that defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley will will pace him through a football-related workout on Monday and Tuesday.

"Hopefully, we'll get him ready to go by Wednesday," Shanahan said.

The 49ers envision Ward, a first-round draft pick in 2014, as a major contributor in the team’s new 4-3 scheme, which is based on Seattle’s defense. With strong safety Eric Reid playing close to the line of scrimmage, Ward will play the deep safety – a role that Earl Thomas has played for the Seahawks.

In Ward’s absence, undrafted rookie safety Lorenzo Jerome started the 49ers’ first two exhibition games and appears to have played his way into solid position for a spot on the 53-man roster.

"Lorenzo has done a good job," Shanahan said. "I think a couple of times he's ran around and been a ballhawk for us and made some tackles. I thought they caught him a few times out of position last night on a few play-action looks because he's been so aggressive. He's going to have to learn from those, but they never made him pay for those by going outside."

--The 49ers will have days off on Monday and Tuesday as they settle into their regular-season routine.

--Shanahan said he has been formulating ideas for the game plan against Carolina in Week 1 of the regular season. So as the 49ers play the exhibition games, they are mindful of not showing too much.

"I never get too far away from that," Shanahan said. "Everything we put into a preseason game, you always try to take into account what you’re going to be doing in the regular season."

--Shanahan said he thought No. 1 quarterback Brian Hoyer "did a good job." He said the first throw intended for Vance McDonald over the middle was thrown a little late.

"Besides that, I thought he did a good job with his reads and went to the right spots," Shanahan said.

Rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard also was on-point with his reads, Shanahan said.

--Eli Harold got the start Saturday night at outside linebacker position, as he competes with Ahmad Brooks for a job.

"I try to go off what I see in practice," Shanahan said. "You want to know who has more upside, things like that. Who's going to get better throughout the year if given the opportunity? But you also want to know, when it's all said and done, who is going to affect your win-loss record the most. Those are the things I look at personally."

--Former 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin announced his retirement on Sunday. Shanahan never coached him, but he was obviously a big fan.

"I've personally met Anquan or talked to him before, but he has been one of my favorites of all time," Shanahan said. "I love Anquan. I don't know him at all, but I feel like I do because I've always studied how he plays. I remember watching him in college when he came into Florida State as a quarterback and moved quickly to receiver his freshman year.

"And I remember him coming into the league and people thinking he wouldn't be as great because he didn't have a fast 40 time. And watching him play over the years. That's my definition of a football player. He's as violent of a receiver as there is, and I've always truly believed that receivers can really set the mentality of an offense. I feel lineman have no choice, they have to be tough. Running backs, if you're not tough, you're not going to make it in this league because you get hit every play. Quarterbacks got to hang in there. Receivers are the guys who can pick and choose a little bit. And when you have guys who play like Anquan, that just brings a whole different mentality to your offense that I think usually leads to teams that have chances to win Super Bowls."