Niners Experiment With "Taser" Offense

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - Around the league, it's generally known as the "Wildcat" formation. San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye refers to his version as the "Taser."

By any name, it's a new wrinkle for a team aiming to upgrade its abysmal offensive numbers of recent years.

"Since the pads have gone on, it was our first foray into it," Raye said Wednesday after the 49ers began 11-on-11 team drills with receiver-kick returner Michael Spurlock lined up at quarterback in shotgun formation and running back Frank Gore lined up in the slot at receiver.

With receiver Arnaz Battle also taking some direct snaps at quarterback, the 49ers proceeded to run about a dozen plays with the unique formation that had quarterbacks Shaun Hill, Alex Smith and Damon Huard lining up far wide at receiver.

Spurlock and Battle either ran with the ball or handed off to Gore and running back Glen Coffee. Spurlock even threw a pass out of the formation, completing it to Isaac Bruce.

"There are some things about it that are different and good for us," Raye said.

The 49ers are looking for something different in an offense that has had little success since finishing fifth in the NFL in total offense in 2003. The 49ers finished 23rd in total offense last year.

Last season, offensive coordinator Mike Martz's finesse passing system did not mesh well with the ground-oriented philosophy of Mike Singletary, who took over as head coach when Mike Nolan was fired near midseason.

Raye's offensive schemes are more in tune with the power rushing game Singletary envisions, and the "Taser" formation would seem to fit right in.

"It's a copycat league," said Spurlock, who played quarterback in college at the University of Mississippi. "You look at Miami, Miami was very successful in doing it. We can run it here. We'll practice it for our defense as well as make other defenses we play have to acknowledge it."

The 49ers have the personnel to make the formation effective. Battle also played quarterback in college at Notre Dame and has 22 career carries, mostly from his flanker position. Running back Michael Robinson, the Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2005 as a quarterback at Penn State, also can play behind center in the run-oriented formation.

SPURLOCK MAKING ROSTER BID: Spurlock, entering his fourth NFL season, was at one point considered an afterthought at receiver on a team that had its best depth at the position in more than a decade.

But with first-round draft pick Michael Crabtree unsigned and free-agent newcomer Brandon Jones out eight weeks with a shoulder injury, Spurlock has become a factor at one of the team's most competitive positions.

Spurlock's versatility improves his chances of sticking on San Francisco's final 53-man roster. Besides his ability to play quarterback in the "Taser," Spurlock also can contribute as a return specialist.

In 2007, Spurlock became the first player in Tampa Bay history to return a kickoff for a touchdown. He averages 26.2 yards on 19 career kickoff returns.

"The more you can do, they keep you around a long time," Spurlock said.

STILL NO QB DECISION: Raye said the 49ers will wait until Thursday to name their starting quarterback for Friday's preseason opener against the Denver Broncos.

Hill and Smith have waged a close battle since training camp began. Smith became the first quarterback in San Francisco history to take every offensive snap in a season in 2006 before a shoulder injury derailed his career. Hill is 7-3 as a starter with the 49ers.

"This is a normal training camp day for us," Raye said. "We'll start on Thursday thinking about getting ready for Friday and playing Denver. We'll meet on that and make that decision. Whoever it is (on Friday), I don't think it will be any indication of who it is going forward."

Singletary said he'll wait until at least after the team's Aug. 29 game at Dallas to name the season starter.