SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Mike Johnson has his marching orders. Somehow, he’s got to get the San Francisco 49ers’ offense untracked using all the weapons they have. And he’s got to do it soon.
So how does the team’s new offensive coordinator play to fix things in the wake of Jimmy Raye’s firing this week?
“I kind of correlate it to two women wearing the same dress,” Johnson said Thursday in his first interview session with the media. “You have football players, you have an offense, but you can have two women wearing the same dress and they look totally different.
“What I’m going to try to do is to get the ball to the players on our offense that can make plays -- to utilize the talent and potential that we have as an offense, and get our quarterback and get our skilled athletes the ball in space where they can do something with it and run.”
There’s not much time. The winless 49ers play the 2-1 Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, and although Johnson espouses a more wide-open approach to playing offense, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to change much of what’s already in place.
But he said it was his intention to “hit the ground running” and begin using multiple sets and formations and stretching the field to keep defenses from crowding the box and focusing on running back Frank Gore.
“I believe that you have to be multiple and be diversified,” Johnson said. “I think you have to have multiple packages. I think you have to have two-tight-end packages and two-back packages, and you also have to spread them out. One of the basic philosophies I believe in is that you have to make a defense defend the entire field. You can’t let a defense squeeze you between the numbers.”
This isn’t exactly new ground for Johnson, 43. In 2003, former Falcons head coach Wade Phillips asked him to call plays in the final two games after Dan Reeves was fired. At the time, Johnson was the Falcons’ quarterbacks coach, the position he held with the Niners before being promoted this week.
“I had to go in there on Monday and come together with the staff and put together a game plan and then go into Tampa and play a very good defense,” he recalled. “The difference between what we’re doing now and what we were doing there was that I had Michael Vick at quarterback, and the one stipulation that I had was don’t run him. And we had to do that. We ended up doing pretty decent and won the game against Tampa Bay and Jacksonville, so those are the similarities.
“But I think any time you get to call the plays in an NFL game and you get to put together a game plan, I think that’s good preparation for if you ever become a coordinator later on.”
Asked if intends to incorporate running back Brian Westbrook into the offense, Johnson said, “I think we look at that each week. I think we look at who we’re playing and does he give us an advantage? Can we put him on the field with Frank and then get a certain play where he can give us a first down or a potential big play? We’re looking at that and trying to see if we can incorporate him as well as other guys, (like tight end) Delanie Walker.”