New Bengals in New Roles Part 3: Misdirection and Making the Old New Again

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This is the third part of three in a series examining the different innovations implemented into the traditional West Coast offense, and how that could affect Jay Gruden’s playbook.

The second part was focused on direct descendants from Jon Gruden’s coaching tree, and today we will look at two coaches who ran traditional West Coast systems that have been revitalized for today’s game.

How Old-School Jim Harbaugh Adopted a New School Twist

Feb 3, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh talks to field judge Craig Wrolstad (4) prior to facing the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s anything to be said about Jim Harbaugh, he personifies old-school toughness. From his wad of chewing tobacco to his fiery demeanor and reputation as Captain Comeback as a gritty player, Harbaugh is old school.

And so was his West Coast offense, similar to that of his coach in Indianapolis, Lindy Infante. Bengals fans may recall that name as the man who ran the offense that took the Bengals and Kenny Anderson to the Super Bowl, only to lose to the 49ers and the man who authored Infante’s offense, Bill Walsh.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is also a practitioner of the old-school, but the electric skill set of Colin Kaepernick caused Roman and Harbaugh to consult with Chris Ault, innovator of the pistol offense, to inject new life into the old West Coast offense.

Although Harbaugh still runs the old-school type power running plays, the wham, belly, trap and power O among my favorites, this new look allowed their athletic tight ends to make blocks in space more often than in-line, enhancing their strengths.

The tight end duo of Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker could cast some parallels to Tyler Eiffert and Orson Charles. Davis and Eiffert are hyper-athletic tight ends who do not excel playing in-line, but can be lined up anywhere, including the X receiver spot, in order to create mistmatches.

Charles and Walker are both more of undersized H-back types. Neither are particularly stout, like the Bengals fullbacks of yore, but can effectively square up to opponents in space and wall them off.

This running play is my favorite 49ers running play, and it could utilize the skill sets of Eiffert and Charles. With the dynamic running of Giovani Bernard, this hybrid power-zone play could be huge.

This is the first example, and it features Davis at H-back in the backfield, with Walker lined up at the wing. In this diamond formation, either Davis or Walker will shift from wingback to H-back.