Jim Harbaugh’s recent comments suggest 49ers may open up their offense

From the moment the San Francisco 49ers took the field under Jim Harbaugh, there has been a dedicated commitment to run the football.

The team’s offensive philosophy can be seen in the statistics, as they have 1,495 rushes since 2011. In comparison, they have attempted 1,304 passes during that time frame, while having the fewest attempts of any team in 2013 with 417.

While Harbaugh will never fully stray from this approach, there have been some hints that the offense may be opening things up a bit this season. 

The first clue is the amount of receiving options that have been brought in. In addition to Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Quinton Patton, the team added Brandon Lloyd, Steve Johnson, and rookie Bruce Ellington. The unit is now so deep, it’s hard to imagine how they will all get enough snaps.

While a large factor in Johnson being brought in may have to do with the fact that Crabtree is a free agent after the season, he is still a weapon that can have an impact on games right away. 

Another clue that could be a sign of things to come are recent comments from Harbaugh in regards to the man who will be pulling the trigger on it all, Colin Kaepernick.

“I really expect a real breakout year for Colin,” said Harbaugh. “Athletically, he looks bionic. If you all remember the ‘Six Million Dollar Man,’ that’s what he looks like to me.

“He’s very gifted and he always has been. He has the look and feel of a guy who’s really going to break out — even more so than he already has. I’m really excited about everything about his game right now.”

Kaepernick does have room to grow, as he struggled for a large portion of last season. He averaged 154 yards passing in Weeks 2-10, as the team went 5-4 during that time frame. An argument can be made that Kaepernick did not have the weapons at his disposal, as Boldin and Vernon Davis were the only healthy receiving options that proved to be reliable.

Now, with Crabtree, Boldin, Johnson, Davis and Lloyd all proven NFL commodities, Kaepernick will be able to pick and choose how to attack defenses. One way to do this could be by using more three-receiver sets.

“That’ll be something that the coaches will have to decide,” Kaepernick said. “But I think it’s a position we’re definitely stronger at this year. And I think we have a lot of weapons at that position that we can use in a lot of different situations.”

With a contract extension looming, Kaepernick is going to be the player the 49ers build around for the next half-decade. It will be interesting to see how much they open up offensively in 2014 to help him grow into that role.

Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle

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Al Sacco

Al Sacco is sports expert who knows football, baseball, basketball and hockey. He has spent his time as a sports journalist covering the San Francisco 49ers as a contributor to 49erswebzone.com and Ninerfans.com. He's been a guest on numerous podcasts and has had his work used on ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY.


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