49er QBs, Martz/Walsh/Coryell, Manny Ramirez, Brett Favre
by Glenn Dickey
Aug 06, 2008

DON CORYELL doesn’t always get the recognition he deserves, but he belongs up there with Sid Gillman and Bill Walsh when you’re talking about the modern passing game.

Coryell had the famous “Air Coryell” offense with the San Diego Chargers in the ‘70s, and Dan Fouts has always given him the major share of credit for his development into a Hall of Fame quarterback, though Fouts also worked one year with Walsh as the Chargers offensive coordinator.

Now, Coryell’s offense lives on with two of his disciples, Norv Turner and Mike Martz. In Turner’s one year as offensive coordinator for the 49ers, both the overall offense and quarterback Alex Smith showed a marked improvement. This year under Martz, they should show a similar improvement.

Smart coaches learn from others, and in the 1975-82 period when Martz was coaching at northern California schools, he occasionally appeared at Walsh’s practices, at Stanford and with the 49ers. You can see Walsh’s influence with Martz’s emphasis on accurate passing, precise patterns and the use of running backs as receivers, as well as his ability to make adjustments depending on his players.

But, there are significant differences, too, especially with the deep passing game. Walsh believed in throwing short passes to receivers like Jerry Rice and John Taylor who could turn them into long gains, though he did adjust to have Jeff Kemp throwing long – his only strength – in the brief period in which Kemp was the starter. Martz, and Turner before him, believes in using the deep pass often.

In St. Louis, where he developed explosive offenses, Isaac Bruce was his main deep threat. Bruce is with the Niners now and has looked good in practice, though it would be unrealistic to expect him to be the player he was in his prime with the Rams.

Vernon Davis has the ability to be a deep threat as a tight end, which would create enormous matchups. But in his brief 49er career, Davis has had a lamentable tendency to drop too many passes – and he’s still been doing that this summer. That’s a no-no in any offense and especially in Martz’s.

The offense is based on trust. The quarterback has to trust that receivers will run the right patterns, because he’s throwing to a spot where they’re supposed to be – and that they will catch the ball. Receivers have to trust that the quarterback will get them the ball in the right spot at the right time.

When I talked to Martz last Saturday, he said he thought the decision on the starting quarterback could be made as early as Tuesday, after the practices with the Raiders in Napa. That timetable had to be scrapped because none of the quarterbacks looked good against the receivers, primarily because the receivers weren’t running good routes.

Who will the starter be? I’d still bet on Smith, though J. T. O’Sullivan has also looked good when he finally got his shot. It wouldn’t be a total shock to see Shaun Hill get named but it would surprise me because I don’t think he has the arm to throw deep with any consistency.

Though Smith has the biggest contract by far, that won’t be a deciding factor because Martz had no part in the decisions to draft him originally and to extend his contract, so he has no emtional investment. He’s interested only in finding the best quarterback to run his offense.

Smith has had a rocky three years with the Niners but it’s only fair to remember that only in his second year, when he was good, did he get decent pass protection from the offensive line – and he’s never had a top group of receivers. He’s also only had one year when he had a good offensive coordinator, again in that second year. He has the physical ability to do the job, and the mental toughness.

O’Sullivan also has shown he has the ability to make all the throws, and he’s a smart, disciplined quarterback. He’s never had the chance to really show what he can do, which can happen with good quarterbacks because usually, there’s only one on a roster who gets the chance to play regularly. The backup only plays when the starter gets hurt.

The lack of a pedigree won’t hurt O’Sullivan with Martz, who has taken unheralded quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger and developed them into topflight NFL quarterbacks.

Quarterbacking isn’t the only 49er question, but there’s a good reason it gets so much attention: It’s impossible to win without a stable quarterback situation. When the 49ers name their starter, they can really start their preparations for the season.

FAVRE REDUX: It’s hard to imagine how this situation could have been more mishandled, by all parties. Favre’s drama queen act has grown old, but the Packers also should have worked out a deal before this, to avoid all the media speculation.

The best bet still appears to be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jon Gruden has some history with Favre, as a result of being a Green Bay assistant when Favre started his career with the Packers. His system is also close enough to what Mike McCarthy is running at Green Bay – both an offshoot of Walsh’s old system – that Favre wouldn’t have great difficulty in adjusting to it.

I feel sorry for Aaron Rodgers, whom I got to know when he was at Cal. Rodgers is not only a fine quarterback – I rate him just below Craig Morton and Steve Bartkowski among the Cal quarterbacks I’ve seen – but a level-headed young man who was very popular with his teammates. I’m sure he’ll enjoy the same level of trust with his teammates in Green Bay, but the fans will be harder to convince, especially after the latest episode with Favre coming to camp and then leaving.

ZITO’S RE-BIRTH? Barry Zito had his best start as a Giant, eight scoreless innings in San Diego. Does this mean he’s regained his winning ways? Don’t hold your breath.

There’s a pattern to Zito’s season this year. When he’s faced a weak-hitting team, he attacks the strike zone aggressively. In San Diego, he was facing a team which is last in the league in hitting and in a park which is the most notorious pitchers park in the majors. He was fearless.

But, when he pitches against the better-hitting teams, he nibbles, afraid to throw to good a pitch, and he eventually gets lit up. Even against the Diamondbacks, who are only an average hitting team, he gave up six walks in five innings – and six runs.

His next start will be against the Dodgers, who just acquired Manny Ramirez. Look for more nibbling.

SPEAKING OF Ramirez, his trade raises the question of what you do with an aging superstar who doesn’t always hustle in the field and sometimes sits out with phantom injuries.

In Boston, team officials tired of his act and virtually gave him away, even agreeing to pay the rest of his salary this year. The Red Sox got Jason Bay in the three-way trade with Pittsburgh; Bay is a good, all-round player but hardly Ramirez’s equal as a hitter. In Los Angeles, the Dodgers were delighted to get the gift, because Ramirez gives them exactly the kind of hitting threat they needed. He may make the Dodgers a winner in the pathetically weak NL West.

Though I can sympathize with the Red Sox, I also think they should have sucked it up and lived with Manny until the end of the season. Trading him probably ends their chances of making the postseason.

IRA MILLER: Readers often ask me about Ira Miller, so he’s the latest update:

Ira took the buyout from The Chronicle in Februry, 2006, five months after I did, and he and his wife, Sharon, moved to Chicago, where they had met and been married. He had been writing online for The Contra Costa Times during the NFL season, but that has disappeared in the cut-and-burn destruction since Dean Singleton bought up the Times and San Jose Mercury; he’d already purchased the Oakland Tribune and the small papers associated with it.

Ira had been writing a column for aol.com but today he e-mailed me to say that's over. He has been told by the people who run NFL.com that he will be writing regularly for them this fall, so you can look for his column there, starting next month.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL is coming and tickets from Cal home games are available on TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS!: Michigan State, Aug. 30; Colorado State, Sept. 27; Arizona State, Oct. 4; UCLA, October 25; Oregon, Nov. 1; Stanford, Nov. 22; and Washington, Dec. 6. New York will host the top tennis stars – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, etc. for the U.S. Open, and tickets are available. Tony Bennett will be at the San Francisco Symphony on Sept. 14, and top names are touring, such as Billy Joel, Neil Diamond and Jimmy Buffet. Madonna is back in the spotlight with her October tour. Just click on the local or national links and everything will come up.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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