April 30 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
When Steve Mariucci took over as head coach, he inherited a one dimensional team. It could pass, but defensive coordinators knew how to shut it down. Force the team to run. Mariucci thus thought it necessary to revert to an “I” formation in the backfield where the running back lines up directly behind the fullback - thus forming an “I”. The formation was not absent from the team in the past, it simply had become rather dormant - as coaches Walsh and Seifert favoured the split back formation (where one running back lines up on the right on the quarterback, and one on the left.). Mariucci, who loves to run the ball realized that the I formation would help the team become a good running team. It did, as the 49ers have been among the leaders in rushing over the past several seasons.
This year, the long time staple of the West Coast Offense, the split backfield set, will be returning to the 49ers. Mariucci recognized this past weekend that having both Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow on the field at the same time could be a tremendous asset to the team. Both players can run and catch, and with both in the backfield, it would be unclear who is getting the ball. Mariucci began the implementation this past mini-camp, and is also considering using both on the field where one acts as a receiver.
Not to take anything away from fullback Fred Beasley who re-signed with the team this off-season, but having Hearst and Barlow on the field will lead to a more dynamic and explosive offense. Essentially, the team is trying to get Barlow on the field and more touches without taking any away from Hearst, and this method will allow the team to do that.
Bringing back the split backfield will take the 49ers offense back to a more traditional West Coast Offense style. It should bring an extra dynamic to the team, and should wreak havoc on opposing defenses. Most of all, it should be fun to watch!