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Harbaugh looks to high school offense to assist 49ers

There's nothing flashy about the 49ers' offense, which is to say nothing of its creativity. In that department, coach Jim Harbaugh has pulled out all the stops in leading the team to an already-clinched NFC West title -- and that includes reaching out to a high school coach for assistance.

"Thanks to Pete Lavorato over at Sacred Heart Prep -- the 'fly sweep' master," Harbaugh said this week, according to Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. "We had a great fly sweep clinic about two and a half years ago. He learned us up on the fly sweep, and it's paying dividends for us."

Never heard of the "fly sweep?" That's because it's still a novelty in the NFL. Although Harbaugh learned from Lavorato, Lavorato has Norm Costa to thank for his knowledge of the offense. It was Costa, a fly sweep guru and former longtime head coach of Palma High School in Salinas, Calif., who passed his playbook to Lavorato.

The fly sweep concept is simple. And having played under Costa during his final two years at Palma from 1998 to '99, I can personally attest that its execution is based on timing.

From the slot, a receiver or running back goes in motion at nearly full speed, the quarterback snaps the ball at about the tackle-guard gap and then hands it off. The train of thought is that with momentum built -- and a lead blocker out of the back field -- the ball carrier is at an advantage to outrun stationary defenders in a race to the edge for a big gain. Also, if defenders cheat to one side to stop the sweep, that's when you gash the defense up the middle.

That's it. Nothing complicated, nothing exotic, but tailor-made for a speedster like 49ers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr.

"I always thought it could work in the NFL," Ginn told The Associated Press. "We just needed a coach like Coach Harbaugh who wasn't afraid to run it."

Harbaugh's still new to the NFL coaching game, so it's too early to call him the second coming of Bill Walsh. But given San Francisco's M.O. of winning with defense and a power running game, Harbaugh deserves credit for adding in a few wrinkles to keep opponents guessing.

Certainly, the 49ers will need Harbaugh's imagination to roam free if they're to keep up with the Packers and Saints in the playoffs.

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