Category Archives: Strategery And Mechanics

Line items

It seems like everyone’s taken note of the declining value of collegiate running backs in the NFL draft, but Ivan Maisel teases something else out of the data from last week’s:

The disparity of opinion regarding the linemen on the consensus All-America team and what NFL teams thought of them is large. Of the eight offensive and defensive linemen from the All-America team, five were drafted in the fourth round or later. Meanwhile, the two receivers and four defensive backs on the All-American team went in the first 41 picks. It could be that different offenses in colleges call for different skills in line play. But the ability to run and move in space, on offense and defense, is valuable in any scheme.

Now there’s a difference between being rewarded for production versus projection – Clowney is a perfect example of the difference – so I’m hesitant to say whether this is a statistical outlier or the beginning of a trend.  And if it’s the latter, whether that’s a function of what’s coming out of the college ranks or the way the NFL game has evolved.  But I’ll be curious if we see more of the same in next year’s draft and, if so, what sort of impact that might have on CFB down the road.

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Speed kills getting receivers up to speed.

Bill Belichick (h/t Chris Brownhas noticed another trend the HUNH hath wrought.  College receivers aren’t as NFL-ready as they used to be.  That’s because you can have the play fast, or you can have the play detailed.  But you can’t have both:

“I’d say there’s a lot of teams and a lot of players we’ve talked to in the last couple of years where … I don’t want to say it’s common, but certainly more common,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “Run a go, run an in, run an out, you know. Run a bubble screen. Whatever it is. It’s given independently to a number of players. Maybe four, five, six or seven different components of a play. Yeah. I’d say that’s a little different than the traditional call a play, we all have an assignment, we all go out and run the play. I think that’s becoming more and more common in college football.”

It’s become a challenge for NFL teams to get those receivers up to speed as rookies.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Belichick said. “Because they haven’t done it. I’m not saying they can’t do it. It’s just that in some cases, they haven’t done it. You’re teaching a player a concept. We call a play within that play, 11 people know what to do. In a lot of cases, that’s not what they’re doing now (in college).

“Conceptually, though, it’s a definite difference between hearing one thing and running a play and hearing another thing and running a play and just hearing your assignment and not getting the concept of the play. It’s just different. When you’re trying to run plays as fast as you can run them without a huddle (in college), as soon as the play is over, run to the line and run the next play, it’s obviously faster to just give the guy an assignment rather than run the whole play and try and communicate the whole play and get everybody to do it. Teams that are running those types of offenses in college have obviously developed a system that facilitates a faster tempo. And that’s part of it. It’s something we are having to, I don’t want to say adapt to, but it’s different than some of the traditional play calling we’re familiar with.”

At some point, wouldn’t you figure this becomes factored into how five-star receivers get recruited by colleges still running pro-style offenses?

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From Grantham to Pruitt: KISS.

When Mark Richt hired Todd Grantham, that NFL experience looked pretty good to him.

“I’m excited the search is over, we have our man, and look forward to what Todd will bring to our defense, our team, and our University,” said Richt. “I think it is particularly valuable that he has a wealth of experience on the defensive side of the ball at both the NFL and collegiate levels…”

But he’s singing a different tune these days.

“Coach Pruitt, Coach Rocker, Coach Ekeler and Coach Sherrer, they all coached high school ball and I think it’s good when you have that,” he said. “These guys are used to taking young guys, taking them from ground zero fundamentally and really showing them how to tackle, showing them how to defeat blocks and how to do things fundamentally sound. They’re really good teachers here and they were teachers as well at their earlier schools. And everyone of them was also on a national championship team in college so they all know what it takes to win and because of that I think they have developed a standard of how we’re to operate. This is what we consider maximum effort and we expect that every single play and if you don’t we’ll put somebody else in there…”

Now I don’t think that high school coaches are better as a class at teaching fundamentals than NFL coaches are.  But I do think they’re more familiar with teaching fundamentals in a time-constrained setting.  There’s less you can do coaching in college than in the pros and that’s a lesson I’m not sure Grantham fully accepted.  And that may be what gives me the most hope for an improvement on the defensive side of the ball this season.

“One thing Coach Pruitt said to me in the interview process… that I fell in love with was, ‘If we can’t execute it, I won’t call it in the game.’ So sometimes I think some coaches think the scheme is going to win the game. We’re going to out-scheme everybody. But it’s really the fundamentals that count. You may call the best defense for that situation but if your defense can’t execute it properly, we’ve got issues.

“And so Coach Pruitt is like, ‘Coach, I’m just telling you right now,  I’m a pretty simple ball coach and we can do as many things schematically as anybody else in the nation but as we’re installing things and getting the guys used to what we’re doing, if we go into game one and I think there’s something in the game plan that I don’t think we can execute, we just won’t call it. We’ll make sure they know what they’re doing when they’re out there.’ And that will be a big deal for us,” said Richt.

It’s going to be interesting comparing the progression of the Georgia and Louisville defenses this season.

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Wednesday morning buffet

You keep emptying the chafing dishes, and I keep filling them up.

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Bobo’s father knows best.

Hutson Mason got help from everybody this offseason.

One of the bigger objectives Bobo had this spring for Mason, an unheralded 2010 signee from Marietta, dealt with footwork. Bobo had detected on video that Mason’s feet had been too close together late last season, so the two studied New England Patriots star Tom Brady and how he established himself in the pocket.

Bobo’s father, George, a former coach at Thomasville High, also helped out.

“Coach Bobo’s dad really taught me a lot as far as footwork and the lower body, which is something I was struggling with at the end of last year,” Mason said. “We worked hard together in January, February and March, and he feels like I’ve come a long way. I thought as far as mentally and knowing everything in this offense, I felt fantastic the whole spring.

“It was more about mechanics for me, so that’s what I really wanted to focus on. I tried to get my lower body into every single throw this spring to where it wasn’t just all arm.”

Richt claims that Mason actually looked stronger in the two scrimmages that weren’t open to the public.  I thought he looked comfortable running the offense at G-Day.  He doesn’t sound like he lacks for confidence, but this is April.  If his offensive line plays well enough to keep him confident once the season starts, he’s got more than enough weapons around him to make things click.

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Thursday morning buffet

Grab a plate, folks.

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“We’ve got to… play in space more rather than just wad up and just hammer.”

There’s a tendency to think that, because Grantham and Pruitt are branches on the Saban coaching tree who both use the 3-4 as a base defensive scheme, the transition on defense between them won’t be as dramatic as it was in 2010, after Richt dismissed Martinez.  We need to be careful about that.  Underneath the continuity in base scheme, there appears to be a real change in defensive philosophy.  And that’s going to have a major impact on strength and conditioning, it sounds like.

“The game is going to a lot of speed, a lot of tempo, a lot more plays are being run,” Richt said. “It’s go hard and rest just a minute and go hard again. The recovery time is not what it used to be. You might have 40 seconds in between a play back in the day. Now you might have 15 seconds. So you have to train them a little differently.”

How differently?

Richt said about 80 percent of the defensive players need to get slimmer to keep up with the uptempo offenses.

“Most everybody is on a trim-down phase,” Richt said.

He added: “Not that we’re a bunch of fat guys but in some ways we’re strong and thick in the legs and rear and all that kind of thing. Not that you don’t want to be strong, but we’re willing to give up a little bit of size for quickness and the ability to recover quickly.”

The strength coaches and positions coaches talked about each player individually in meeting this week and Richt talked about each position group that needs to trim down on Tuesday.

“I was going to say mostly linebackers and D-line, but there are some safeties we want to cut some more weight,” Richt said. “A couple of little skinny corners we want to try to get a few more pounds on them and get a little more muscle on them so they can tackle.”

Here’s how Richt described the difference in the weight room.

“Instead of just doing 10 bench presses and then I’m chilling and getting a drink of water and I’m coming back and get me 10 more and build strength, you want to build strength, endurance and even get your heart rate pumping,” Richt said. “Lift, lift, lift, boom, get a little quick blow. Boom, boom, boom. You’re building strength and endurance at the same time.

I don’t know how this all works out in the end, but it’s clear Richt and Pruitt aren’t waiting for the NCAA to pass a 10-second substitution rule.  It’s another indication that the HUNH is definitely changing the way college football is played.

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Lighter and longer: fighting the HUNH

If you don’t think dealing with the HUNH attack isn’t the biggest thing on the minds of SEC defensive coordinators, think again.

At Georgia, Jeremy Pruitt and Tracy Rocker are concerned about their big men being able to stay on the field and contribute in the face of more pace.

Rocker didn’t call out any single player, but he just emphasized that everybody has to trim down.

“That’s going to happen. I mean, that’s going to be the No. 1 thing, is we’re gonna have to trim them all down and get them under weight,” Rocker said. “Because this league, it’s a lot of no-huddle, and we can’t be 330 pounds out there. We’ll get that done. But it’ll be up to them to do it, too. We’ve got time. But it’s going fast.”

“The way these offenses go now, and they go so fast, you don’t get to sub a lot,” Pruitt said. “If a guy is stuck in there, he’s gotta be able to play. To me, if you’re in shape, then you don’t make mental errors, because fatigue makes a coward out of everybody. So we need to get in shape as a football team. We’re nowhere where we need to be.”

And Ellis Johnson is a man in search of a different body type.

In the SEC, Auburn faces a mix of power teams, spread teams and everything in between. Defensive coaches need versatile players, especially in Auburn’s defense, which can wait to make a call until seeing the offensive formation.

“The game has become more spread out on all levels,” Johnson said. “Quarterbacks throw the ball better than they used to because they’re learning how to throw it at a younger age. High schools are teaching complicated and well-polished passing games and kids are coming to college —receivers and quarterbacks and pass protection — a lot better than they were 15-25 years ago. It’s a different style of football with most teams.

On the other hand, if you’re going to win a championship at Auburn, you’re probably going to have to go through Georgia, LSU and Alabama. They’re all power football teams. It’s difficult, game to game, it changes quite a bit. But even those teams can spread the field. They all throw the ball extremely well and they have great receivers.

“It’s hard to play with the old prototype linebacker that could stop the run and was a liability in coverage. They’ve got to be able to run, these days. We put a huge premium in trying to recruit length. Not just height, but armspan and those type of things, because so much is done in pass coverage and blitzing where arm length and overall length is such a big factor.”

Johnson mentions a concern I’ve discussed before – the risk that a DC goes so far in structuring a defense to stop the spread that he leaves himself vulnerable to offenses that deploy power attacks.  It’s a tough call.  Even in the SEC, there are only so many physical defensive freaks you can find who can play against all kinds of offenses.  What’s interesting to me is that Georgia seems to believe slimming down on the defensive line will payoff even against the power offenses.

… Tracy Rocker, the team’s new defensive line coach, studied tape of that second championship game, the loss to Alabama, and saw a problem.

“They go to the championship, and you turn on that tape, and the first thing everybody saw (was), they couldn’t get off the blocks,” Rocker said. “That answers a lot of questions.”

And that’s why the days of big nose tackles are gone at Georgia, at least as long as Rocker and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt are around.

In order to adapt to a game that has become more up-tempo, the Bulldogs are emphasizing getting lighter at all defensive positions. Pruitt thinks his defense as a whole is “too big” and needs to cut down.

It sure is going to be fun watching the chess matches this season, isn’t it?

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“… as much as football evolves, we need to go outside the box with our thinking.”

Of the many things over the past few seasons that I’ve been impressed with by Stanford football, perhaps the number one item is how well it’s defended Oregon’s fast paced offense.  That’s probably why I’m so taken with this piece on how Derek Mason plans to transfer what worked for him as Stanford’s defensive coordinator to Vanderbilt to deal with the rise of the HUNH in the SEC.

There are so many aspects to the program he’s altering that it’s going to be a fascinating learning experience to see how Vandy’s defense evolves over the coming years.  And if he’s successful, you can damned well be sure there will be other SEC defenses adopting what works.

Definitely worth a read.

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Another clue to the new defense

The offensive players can’t seem to shake off Ramik Wilson this spring.  Todd Gurley gives one reason:

“Linebackers are more close,” he said. “They’re like three yards away so it’s like so hard. Like leads or zones, you’ve really got to press your track to get them boys flowing just to get the line to block them because if not then they’re going to be right there on you.”

It’s aggressive.  It also puts a lot of pressure on the linebackers to make solid tackles and on the players in the secondary to make sure they’re spaced properly behind the linebackers.  Seeing as these have never been strong suits of recent Georgia defenses, at least not on a consistent basis, it sure sounds like the defense is going to be living in interesting times this season.

Hoping for a short learning curve…

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