Alex Boone The 49ers' right guard says dealing with a noisy crowd is a matter of "keeping your poise and really focusing in."

For 49ers, dealing with noisy crowd in Seattle is no snap

Published: Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012 - 6:08 pm

SANTA CLARA – This Sunday in Seattle, Alex Boone will perform a yoga maneuver on roughly half of the 49ers' offensive plays.

Making sure one hand always is on the ground, the 6-foot-8, 300-pound right guard will twist and watch for a signal from quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who will be at least 41/2 yards behind him in the shotgun formation.

When he sees Kaepernick raise his knee, Boone will turn to the man on his left, center Jonathan Goodwin, and tap him on the arm – the sign that it's time to snap the ball.

Sound overly complicated? It's a lot more effective than shouting the snap count in a stadium that swallows up voices even when the speaker is mere inches away.

"I think it's just keeping your poise and really focusing in," Boone said of getting off a play correctly in a cacophonous stadium. "I think (offensive-line coach Mike) Solari does a good job of that, and I think it's definitely a big key for us, especially in a stadium like this week's where it's going to be very loud."

A year ago, the 49ers were flagged for 29 false starts, fourth-most in the league. This year, the number has dropped to 14, with only five coming on the road.

The team had only one such penalty in New Orleans, perhaps the loudest indoor venue in the NFL, and none Sunday in rainy and raucous Gillette Stadium in New England.

On Sunday night, they'll visit eardrum-rattling CenturyLink Field, which annually produces more false starts than any other stadium in the league. The steep stadium walls make it akin to playing in a canyon, and it's no coincidence the Seahawks are undefeated at home this season.

Tight end Delanie Walker, in fact, said the 49ers were prepared to do some lip reading on Sunday. He said it's often impossible to hear the quarterback even in the offensive huddle.

"Sometimes that's when you'll see a lot of people moving around or trying to ask Kap what he said," Walker said. "But that's just part of the game. That's one thing we've got to work on – getting in the huddle and watching his mouth when he says the play."

Sunday's game will be a particularly big test for Kaepernick, who had trouble getting in and out of the huddle quickly in some of his first starts – resulting in delay-of-game penalties and burned timeouts – but who seemed to have mastered the issue against the Patriots.

Walker, in fact, said that quickening the offensive pace will be key to dealing with the crowd noise.

He said the 49ers have deduced that the crowd is loudest as the ball is being snapped, but that it usually catches its collective breath when the play is over. He said the offensive players will try to race back to the huddle to take advantage of that lull.

The team also has discovered an effective way to snap the ball. In years past, the 49ers' center would signal to his teammates an impending snap by bobbing his head. But that tipped off the defense, too.

Another technique is for the center to look through his legs for a signal from the quarterback.

When that happens, however, it gives the defense an opportunity to change formations when the center isn't looking.

When he raises his head again, the pass-rush protection he called seconds earlier might be moot.

That's why the 49ers have gone with the guard-to-center tap, which worked well for Kaepernick and the offensive line in noisy New Orleans and New England.

"I think he can handle it," Walker said of the quarterback's first start in the Seahawks' home. "He played in New Orleans and that was pretty loud, and I'm confident he's going to do the same thing in Seattle."

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Read more articles by Matthew Barrows



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