Sports

Martz sees potential in 49ers

SANTA CLARA -- When Mike Martz arrived in St. Louis in 1999, it was as if the Rams' offense suddenly received a massive dose of Vitamin B-12.

The unit, ranked 27th the year before, shot to No.1. Quarterback Kurt Warner bagging groceries only five years earlier, led the league in touchdowns and passer rating. The Rams won the Super Bowl.

What was the secret of Martz's success? Part of it had to do with the weapons at his disposal.

"The Greatest Show on Turf" flourished because Martz had an intelligent and multitalented running back in Marshall Faulk. He had two of the league's quickest wide receivers in Isaac Bruce and then-rookie Torry Holt. He had a quarterback with laser-point accuracy -- Warner led the league in completion percentage that season -- who got rid of the ball quickly. And he had a tackle, Orlando Pace, who could protect Warner without help from tight ends and fullbacks.

That winning formula, however, has proven fleeting. Toward the end of his St. Louis tenure, and more recently in Detroit, Martz couldn't recapture the magic he initially conjured with the Rams.

Now the question is whether Martz will find his kind of players in a San Francisco offense that recently has been as plodding and dull as the old St. Louis offenses were fast and electrifying.

The 49ers' new offensive coordinator insists there is potential.

"There are a lot of really outstanding pieces there that we just need to tie together," Martz, 56, said Tuesday. "If we can do that, they are so well established in special teams and on defense, I think the potential and the opportunity is pretty exciting."

Like Mike Nolan, Martz said a good offense is built on an offensive line that can protect the quarterback and eat up yards on the ground.

One player Martz singled out in his Monday interview with Nolan was Joe Staley. The rookie started every game at right tackle this past season but likely will be moved to the left side in 2008.

Because Martz's offenses use so many wide receivers, there are fewer players to protect the quarterback. Indeed, one way defenses have attacked Martz's offenses is by blitzing his quarterbacks and disrupting their rhythm.

The next priority is the running back, which Martz uses as a receiver as much as a rusher. In 1999, for example, Faulk rushed for 1,397 yards and had 1,048 receiving yards.

Frank Gore led the 49ers the past two years in receptions and, like Faulk, is a gritty blocker in pass protection.

The quarterback, according to Martz, is the third most crucial component.

Martz said the most important attribute for a quarterback is accuracy, and both Smith when healthy and Hill are accurate passers.

Martz might have his greatest difficulty at wide receiver. He once said he wasn't looking for a specific type of receiver for his offense.

"They can be big, they can be little, they can be fast, they can be slow, just as long as they can beat a corner one on one," Martz said. "If you can't do that, you can't play."

The problem is that the 49ers' wide receivers, especially early in the season, had trouble beating defensive backs one on one. While Gore was the team's leading pass catcher, tight end Vernon Davis finished second despite missing two games.

Still, neither Martz nor Nolan seem worried.

"I'm confident that Mike Martz is going to utilize our personnel to the very best and give us the best chance to win," Nolan said. "I don't have any doubts about that. There's no one more creative as far as using personnel in a way that allows us to be productive on offense."

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