SANTA CLARA -- The shotgun, a scheme popularized by the 49ers in the 1960s, could be on the verge of resurfacing in San Francisco after a 20-year absence.
Struggling offensively behind a porous line, the 49ers (3-4) may turn to the shotgun as a way to buy more time in the pocket for quarterback Jeff Garcia and perhaps give opposing defenses one more thing to think about.
"We're serious about it," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said Wednesday. "The shotgun is attractive for a multitude of reasons. No. 1, our quarterback is familiar with it and No. 2, it gets you immediate separation from the line of scrimmage. We're going to continue to work on it."
Former San Francisco coach Red Hickey pioneered the shotgun in the early 1960s with quarterback Billy Kilmer. Although many teams in the league continue to use the shotgun formation, the 49ers stopped using it about 20 years ago because Joe Montana and his successor, Steve Young, disliked it. They believed it disrupted the timing in San Francisco's West Coast offense.
Mornhinweg said there are some West Coast-style plays, such as the trademark slant patterns, that the 49ers probably wouldn't run out of a shotgun, but there are many others that could be used with some minor adjustments.
Other teams using variations of the West Coast offense, such as Green Bay and Denver, throw out of the shotgun formation at times.
Garcia, in his first NFL season after five years in the CFL, frequently threw out of a shotgun while playing for the Calgary Stampeders and would relish its use in San Francisco.
"When I was in Calgary, I used it all the time so I'm very comfortable with it," said Garcia, San Francisco's quarterback in the absence of Young, who remains sidelined indefinitely because of a concussion suffered Sept. 27.
Garcia, who has been under constant pressure and absorbed numerous hits in his last two games, believes the shotgun would help fend off the pass rush by allowing him to pass sooner.
"I think it allows me to get to my setup point that much quicker," Garcia said. "I'm not having to take five steps or a seven-step drop. It's three steps now.
"I think you have a bit of an advantage seeing the field seeing beyond the defensive linemen, knowing you already have five yards separating you from them from the get-go."
Garcia also believes the shotgun would open up San Francisco's passing game. The 49ers currently have the 21st-ranked passing attack in the league and heralded receivers Jerry Rice, J.J. Stokes and Terrell Owens have been non-factors.
The longest pass to a wide receiver has been just 35 yards this season.
None of them has a 100-yard receiving game, though Owens has missed the past two games due to an ankle sprain. He could be back Sunday when the 49ers play Pittsburgh.
"I don't feel this is something we have to resort to improve ourselves," Garcia said. "I think it's just an option. It's just changing things up a little bit and if you can utilize it, then go ahead and do it. I don't really feel I need to go one way or the other. I feel very comfortable under the center and if it's something we just use in third and long situations, well then, that will be the coach's decision."
One area of concern is that center Chris Dalman has barely had any practice at the longer snap to the quarterback that's required in a shotgun formation.
Coach Steve Mariucci said installing the shotgun will take time.
"It's nothing new to this league but it's new to us," Mariucci said. "It's not like we're playing out in the street, where you get do-overs when there's a bad snap and the ball rolls under a car. We've got a long way to go before I'm comfortable with that play."