What do I write about our offense this last spring that hasn’t already been written or commented upon? I believe…quite a bit! I got so focused upon the research project of the New Oregon Defense, and it took so much of my spare time, that I didn’t get to my usual wrap-up after the Spring Football game. The last two reports dealt with the defense, but what about the offense? There are certainly some items to look at and NOW is the perfect time to do so with it being a slow time for Football news until fall camp. Now…this is NOT going to be 5,000 words like the big defensive primer, but like most Fish Reports…you WILL need an extra 12 minutes with something very cold, or hot cup of java to savor along with our beloved Ducks.
We had some new plays this spring, and we dusted off some old ones from the past to integrate into our offense. For example a play during the Crowton-Spread Era was the “Triple Option” that Utah made famous with Urban Meyer as coach. We would see Dixon go down the LOS where he could keep, pitch out to a trailing RB, or he could shovel pass INSIDE to a receiver who was lined up as a slot receiver on the other side and looped inside as the play began. I assumed when I didn’t see that play anymore with Chip coming on board that it didn’t fit our current personnel. Now with a return to a more balanced offense with more pocket passing, (the offense of DD and Snoop) we return to some of those plays that were part of it. I saw this play a couple of times in the scrimmages, but not in the spring game. (One time it popped for big yardage as a TE took the inside pitch/pass)
We dusted off a play from the 2007 Sun Bowl and used it quite successfully in the Spring Game. The new 3-4 defense we run CAN be vulnerable up the middle with deception; on this play we see the RB go right with right side O-linemen in front, (looks like a screen pass) and we see left side O-linemen go to the left with the WR Davis moving with them, coming back and inside a bit. (looks like a WR screen THAT direction!) Then we see Paulson block at the LOS and FALL DOWN! Then, while the LB covering that zone moves over elsewhere….David pops up in the middle and takes the pass from Darron and rumbles for HUGE yardage. Good grief…how much deception is that? Screen left, screen right, and a fall down TE receiver in the middle? I love it!
Did you cheer when we saw the QB take some snaps from directly under center when inside the five yard line? I was! Then my cheers turned to fascination as I watched the play develop; the H-back was going in motion and then trapping a D-Lineman! Inside the five yard line? Yep…and it WORKED. The H-back was on the right side of the formation and then went into motion to the left, and then as he approached the TE position on the left he went into those short lateral choppy steps they do as the play is about to begin. At the snap he swiveled right and went storming down the LOS behind the O-Linemen and CREAMED Terrel Turner who was coming in unblocked from the outside. The OT on that side was purposely helping with the DTs and LBs and LETTING Turner penetrate and then he gets NAILED from the side. It’s a TD! Now that was a H-back trap to the OUTSIDE….but on another goal line situation we see the H-back come from the outside right, moving leftward to blast Brandon Bair on the INSIDE! You could see Bair licking his chops thinking that either they missed blocking him or he’s being optioned and BAM! As he sat on the turf watching the RB score he is hitting his hands together in disgust. I had to giggle watching that; that is scary smart football, and not something I would have predicted coming. What a hoot!
So what about the ‘lads at QB? We all know about the bonehead interception that Darron Thomas threw for the “pick-six”, but what about the other plays? I was THRILLED with what I saw of the Zone-Read fakes, and in particular from Mr. Thomas. He takes the snap in a shotgun formation and turns left to do the option-zone-read-mesh with LaMichael James while looking at the DT (Brandon Bair) being optioned. Thomas rides the ball into the hip of James so well that Brandon is going for the RB. On the right side we see Dion Jordan shuck his blocker and head into the Offensive backfield. Thomas sees how hard Bair is biting on LaMike, so he pulls the ball out at the last millisecond and Bair, Jordan, and James crash together in the backfield. Now Thomas is headed to the LOS,…and the OLB on that side, Michael Clay, was moving to fill the gap to face Darron straight up. Problem is….Thomas’s option-mesh-fake was so good that Clay was moving HARD to the LaMichael, and when Thomas pulled it out….his momentum carried him too far, and as fast as he was moving—he could not stop on a dime and get back to the gap. Meanwhile Thomas zipped through the open hole and ran for 1st down on this 3rd and 10 play! A great fake defeated three defenders…even though they were in the hole or nearby! Oh yeah! Later when I saw Hawkins make two defenders chase the RB as he pulled it out and scored….I knew we had some superb coaching of the QBs with ball fakes and withdrawals. Pretty cool to watch in slow-motion!
Costa did a good job of using the crossing patterns to take advantage of blitzing Lbs leaving their zone open. I thought that Nate did a better job of throwing the ball away when nothing was there and when he was about to be sacked. I believe that many of us were surprised in his running, in that with a game situation….he looked faster than we thought he would. His knowledge of the offense and recognition in split seconds of blocking patterns can yield extra yardage for us as we had a strong side line to the right with a TE and H-back and the defense slid their line over to adjust as the play was beginning. The DT on Costa’s left was being pulled outside by our Offensive Tackle, and the defense was slanting to Costa’s right which was into the heart of the strong part of the formation. Then Nate began his Zone-read-option-mesh with the RB who went left to right. Nate rode the hip so well that EVERYBODY was sucked into following the RB, and consequently the two LBs were moving that direction. Now the smart Offensive linemen sealed them out by moving into them with their back to Nate. Costa pulled the ball out and the HUGE hole opened up for nine yards before Costa was touched. Good fake, good blocking, and good recognition!
Passing for Nate was a mixed bag as he completed some big ones that set up scores, but on 3rd and two he missed seeing a wide-open TE Brandon Williams down the middle and threw instead to a H-back crossing for almost no gain and a punt. Shoot! Then we see the situation late in the first half with 3rd down and 15 and Nate seems to be too busy looking at the pocket to notice an open WR in the middle. Now he gets flustered and moves BACKWARD which helps the rusher on that side use the angle to break free of the blocker and come bearing down on Nate. Costa throws it away when he COULD have just stepped up in the pocket, hence he needs to learn “pocket presence.” I noted a couple of weeks ago how it was reported that the passing 7-on-7 drills will now have LINEMEN included to better simulate the pocket for the QBs in the summer workouts. (Register-Guard) So, obviously the coaches saw what I saw; Nate needs to develop the timing in his head as to when to throw, and acquire the feel of when to step up in the pocket. These new drills should help!
I love the recognition the QBs are having of watching the Safety who covers the inside slot receiver to see if he’s staying in coverage or blitzing. This goes back to the USC game as we saw our offense frustrate the Trojans when they tried to apply outside pressure. In the spring game…we see the Safety cheat up to the LOS from his coverage spot and now we have two receivers against one Db, a corner guarding the outside WR. At the snap we see Thomas throw immediately to Davis while the inside slot receiver goes out and blocks the only defender, the corner. When other Dbs catch up to DJ…it takes THREE to bring him down after he gains 10 yards. We ran that a couple of times usually for some decent yardage, and it began to get me thinking about what Chip was doing. We KNOW he likes to attack the edges and spread out the defense and I’ve been bagging on the WRs in the past because of lack of separation in their patterns. Yet DJ Davis is a BIG-BIG WR, and you should see the guns, the shoulders, and the LB build on this WR. Hmmmmm. That’s wise use of personnel! Get him out there where he can bully some little DBs into first down yardage. Sweet Strategy! Attack the edges and make the DBs fearful of our WRs, thus they might cheat a little to the outside, which opens up bigger running lanes on the inside. Cool.
We ran a bunch of pass plays this last year and in the Spring Game with three WRs on one side. (trips) What I like is how it is hard to cover all of them when they run their patterns with precision and smarts. We had trips to the left, and with the combo routes taken…we see the walk-on Hoffman take off from the LOS at the top of the formation and do a middle-length down and in pattern. He noted the two Defensive Backs in a Zone defense, so he “sat” in between them and Darron zinged it to him for a quick first down. Good stuff!
Want MORE great entertainment? Watch Offensive Line blocking in slow-motion, and NO I’m not kidding. In the past spring games…we had poor running games due to the few quality Offensive linemen being divided up between the two teams. Since D-Lines in past years had more depth….it was hard to run on the Spring Game defenses, and sometimes the Offensive lines got overwhelmed. Not this year; we have more quality talent and depth than ever, and with another year…it will be Upper-Elite good. You’ll note that when you watch these guys…they rarely “root” a defensive lineman out of their spot. Usually they positioned between the defenders and the RBs, and our O-Line is getting better and better at understanding angles, using speed to get to a crucial spot on the LOS, and smarts to have the judgment of when to double team, and when to move into “LBer Land.” Very few true “earthmovers” here because they wouldn’t be able to move quickly enough.
What is a beautiful thing? Watching a nine yard running play in slow-motion! Thomas does the option-zone-read-mesh from right to left and he reads the LB on his side (who he’s optioning this time!) as staying home and NOT rushing Darron. So Thomas hands it off to LaMike who speeds to the right of the Offensive line, turns upfield and is well into the secondary before being tackled. How does this happen? The ROT runs the DE on that side to the right and out of play while the center has negated the NT with a head-on block. In slow motion…it is cool to watch the RG and TE release off the LOS simultaneously to make a beeline to obliterate some LBs. They make contact, make a nice push, and have James come up from behind past them and into a mass of DBs. You just can’t see that in real-time as they’re all going so fast, and you need to watch it in slo-mo, because it IS a beautiful thing to see good running from GREAT blocking!
Athleticism is hard to see when it is the middle of trenches, and Nick Cody was in a pickle with the play called and the defensive set in front of him. He is the left guard, and he has a NT to his right and between him and the center and this NT is HIS man to block….yet the play is going to the other side! At the snap…all the Offensive linemen take a rapid step to their right to gain a few inches leverage, which actually can help a lot. Nick makes contact and drives into the NT while maneuvering his body to first in front of the NT, and then with push and quick steps he now has positioned himself on the RIGHT side of this NT, after starting on the LEFT side and a step away. As an old offensive lineman…you have to trust me when I say that what he did is “quite difficult.” The center and RG together do a “plaster and peel” (my term) which is double teaming the DT on their side, and then when he is controlled by the RG….we see Max Forer release downfield to hone in on a LB. The RT has sealed his DE from pursuing inside, so now we have a huge hole created by fast and extremely agile Offensive linemen. The RB hit the hole, cut past the safety and was barely brought down 40 yards later….and it was all because Cody and his comrades utilize their speed, intelligence, and superior technique. You know…with a veteran offensive line…this is a PERFECT year to break in a new QB! We did pretty good in ’08 when we were breaking in a newbie QB with an experienced Offensive line! You bet baby!
I like that I’m seeing more of the offense adjusted to more pocket passing, and then Offensive Coordinator’s Helfrich’s comments of, “we’re quite a bit ahead of where we were (last year at this time) in the passing game.” “….these guys (QBs) have really been able to handle more than at ANY POINT LAST SEASON.” (the caps were my emphasis) Wow. It is the subtle impressions which give me encouragement about our offense. The Zone-Read fakes, the vast roll out of the passing game, and the skill and depth of the offensive line gives me an increased cautious optimism about this offense being the most balanced since 2007, and potentially as explosive. This bodes for a VERY interesting fall camp. I can’t wait!
We love our Ducks.
P.S. If you are residing outside the United States and reading this…please post and let me know what country you’re in!