FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp believes the West Coast offense belongs in Northern California.
The hybrid that Knapp brings to Atlanta includes some elements of the offense Bill Walsh used to help the San Francisco 49ers enjoy unprecedented success, but the formations will be built around star quarterback Michael Vick.
"I have no preconceived ideas of what Michael's strengths or weaknesses are right now," Knapp said Wednesday. "I hope he does the same with me. Let's teach this from the ground up."
Jim Mora, Atlanta's new head coach, has worked with Knapp since 1997, when he joined San Francisco as secondary coach. Mora, the 49ers' defensive coordinator over the last five years, believes Knapp's experience overseeing Pro Bowl quarterbacks Steve Young and Jeff Garcia provided him with the success he needs to strike out on his own.
As San Francisco's coordinator the last three seasons, Knapp pulled from a "library of information" the 49ers began to implement when Walsh arrived as head coach in 1979. Walsh led San Francisco to three Super Bowl titles from 1981-88 before retiring. George Seifert, his successor, won two championships.
Knapp joined the 49ers in 1995, one season after Seifert's second title, and worked the next nine years with the offense. Young and Garcia, two of the highest-rated quarterbacks in NFL history, played under Knapp, who now will oversee Vick.
"It's very similar to the situation I went through with Jeff Garcia in that we signed him from Canada, and he had never been exposed to this offense," Knapp said. "To teach a system from the ground up with him was a good lesson for me to learn to understand, 'OK, here are his strengths, here are his weaknesses and here are the plays that go with that.' "
San Francisco went 7-9 under new head coach Dennis Erickson, and the losing mark was unusual for a team that entered the season with just two losing records since the start of 1983. By comparison, Atlanta went 5-11 in 2003, finishing under .500 for the 17th time in 21 years.
The Falcons struggled this season as Vick missed 12 starts with a broken leg. His backups, Doug Johnson and Kurt Kittner, combined for the NFL's highest interception ratio, and the Falcons finished last in third-down efficiency with a 29.9 percentage.
"I haven't been around many people who have as extreme knowledge as Greg does with offensive football, and I've been around some great offensive minds," Mora said. "I've had the opportunity to work with some of the legends of the game, and Greg is one of those types of guys. I think we should be real excited about that."
Knapp and Mora hope to travel to Virginia soon and speak with Vick, who led the Falcons to a 3-1 finish after returning to the starting lineup.
"I just want to meet him, get a chance to know him and give him a chance to know me so we can develop a good relationship," said Knapp, who talked to Vick by telephone Monday. "Almost more important than Xs and Os is that relationship, that confidence that I will build up with him, as he will with me."
Mora indicated Mike Johnson will return for his third season in Atlanta and second as quarterbacks coach.
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