Last season during Jim Harbaugh's first year as San Francisco 49ers head coach, the team decided to take a unique strategy to combat their struggles in road games outside of the Pacific Time Zone.
Following a Week 3 win against the Cincinnati Bengals, the 49ers opted to have a week-long stay in Youngstown, Ohio, hometown of CEO Jed York. Instead of flying back to San Jose following their win in Cincinnati, the team opted to forgo the long trip back home, had a short flight for their Week 4 game on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles, and had a narrow win to improve to 3-1 on the season. These back-to-back wins on the road gave them the momentum for their eight-game winning streak in 2011.
After having success with this strategy last season, the 49ers are once again calling Youngstown home for a week at the exact same time as last season. Following their Week 3 game against the Minnesota Vikings, the 49ers will take a shorter 90-minute flight to Youngstown and practice in Ohio before heading to East Rutherford, New Jersey to face the New York Jets in Week 4. Aside from the time saved with less travel, the team hopes to see this time away from their usual practice facility as a way to continue bonding.
"I thought last year was very beneficial to the football team," tackle Joe Staley said. "It was almost like another training camp. You get to spend a lot of time with the team' we got very close and that's kind of where we got into our groove last season. After that week, playing Philadelphia the next week, it was very beneficial and I think it can have the same kind of effect."
While the 49ers do not have too many new players on the roster, any opportunity for improved chemistry and camaraderie can only be seen as a good sign. Last season, the team was 5-0 in games starting at 10 a.m. PST. When considering how the 49ers were 6-23 in 10 a.m. PST kickoffs in the five years prior to the 2011 season, perhaps this home away from home is the boost the team needs.
Another clear reason why going to Ohio after the Vikings game rather than returning to California makes sense is because of the difference in time zone that previously hampered the 49ers. As the team practices in the week prior to the Jets game, they'll be more adjusted to that game's kickoff time. They will also experience less jet lag from their bodies because they eliminated the long flight to and from California.
Lastly, this road trip keeps players' minds focused on winning. While they'll be away from family and the comforts of home, the 49ers can use this time together as another physical and psychological reminder of what they aim to accomplish this season.
49ers view Youngstown trips as bonding experiences, The Sports Xchange
Youngstown redux: How Harbaugh handles 10 a.m. starts, The Sacramento Bee
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Austin Chang is a lifelong football fan, San Francisco 49ers supporter, and a Featured Contributor for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @_austinchang.