Sports

Martz's moral: Don't cut class

After watching Alex Smith misfire on a few throws last week, San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz pulled the quarterback aside. He told Smith to bend his knees for better balance.

A quarterback is nothing without balance.

It's a lesson Martz himself learned 33 years ago, just a few deep routes from 49ers headquarters.

As a graduate student at San Jose State in 1975, Martz took a class in kinesiology. For one project, he analyzed the biomechanics of discus throwers.

Where was the best release point? The best way to shift weight? The best way to achieve the truest flight? That's what Martz asked himself back then. Smith, Shaun Hill and J.T. O'Sullivan get the answers every day at training camp.

"It really helps you to teach your quarterbacks to understand the physics of it," Martz said. "The balance, the lines of force, the kinetic energy and all that kind of stuff. It really does help you streamline their techniques and make them most efficient.

"You're not just repeating what somebody taught you years ago."

The class was only part of Martz's education at San Jose State. He also got his feet wet as a Division I coach, serving as a lowly graduate assistant to Darryl Rogers.

Rogers had already known Martz for years, having talked the slow but savvy tight end into transferring to Fresno State when Martz's original school, UC Santa Barbara, abandoned its program.

Martz graduated summa cum laude from Fresno State before coaching at Bullard High in Fresno in 1973 and San Diego Mesa Community College in 1974. Then he followed Rogers to San Jose State. Players on that 1975 team swear that some of the terror Martz has unleashed on the NFL can be traced back to Rogers' game-calling with the Spartans.

Layering the field with vertical and horizontal routes? An audacious devotion to the passing game? A tailback with huge rushing numbers despite the emphasis on quarterback play? For Martz, it was Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk; for Rogers, it was Roger Profit and Rick Kane.

"It's the same type of system," said Kim Bokamper, a linebacker in 1975. "We'd throw the ball 60 times, but you'd look up at the end and see that the running back still had 130 to 140 yards."

San Jose State outscored its opponents 291-152 behind Profit (an all-conference selection) and Kane (who rushed for 1,144 yards and seven touchdowns). The Spartans went 9-2, which was good enough to get Rogers a new job at Michigan State.

Martz was, in a sense, a glorified intern at San Jose State, and it was not always immediately apparent that the kid would someday help the St. Louis Rams become the first team in NFL history to score 500 points in three consecutive seasons.

"You have to remember, Mike wasn't left on his own to be a 'genius,' " Rogers said, "but when he had the opportunity, he showed everything you'd want in a coach."

Martz left the Spartans after one season, returning to Mesa CC as an assistant offensive coach. Equipped with his biomechanics knowledge, he found his first guinea pig in quarterback Steve Fairchild.

As a Detroit Free Press story recounted, Fairchild couldn't see color at night beyond 20 yards. Action was something of a blur. His brain compensated by feel, and he threw at times by sense, not sight.

Fairchild's unorthodox approach helped Martz better understand the ideal quarterback-receiver dynamic. It was about timing and trust, about rhythm and balance. Fairchild, an unheralded prospect, went on to become the first junior college player to throw for 5,000 yards.

Now, it's the 49ers' turn.

The quarterbacks are instructed to drop back with fluid strides, with the ball designed to come out on the last step. They also are learning to throw to specific areas depending on how the defense reacts. The quarterback's read is automatic; there is a right and wrong answer on every snap.

"He's intelligent, but that isn't the key," Rogers said of Martz. "The key is whether you can teach that intelligence to your players. He's in a league where they'd better learn it. If it takes brash to get it across, then be brash. Mike does it the way he should."

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