Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Happy New Year!

Hello all, well I know it's been quite some time since the last blog post, and I do apologize, but my new job took on way more responsibility than I originally thought.  With that being said I plan on getting right back to where we were with the Five Spoke Secondary posts.  So stay tuned all as things should get back to normal around here, at least until next fall!

Schematic Musings from 2015

Just some general notes about some things I saw this past season, both where I coach and in college and the NFL.  First off, the number one thing I noticed this past season was a MAJOR resurgence in gap schemes from the spread offenses.  This may have simply been one back power, or inverted veer all the way to buck sweep from the shotgun.  No matter, the number of teams we faced that ran zone schemes, diminished greatly from the previous season's data (2014).  Gap runs are now in vogue in the world of college football, and the trickle down effect is in full swing.

Expect to see more and more of runs like this...

The one thing, at least where I'm at that hasn't really taken off too greatly is that off the Run Pass Option plays or RPO's.  We saw only two teams this past season, in which we played 13 games, that attempted to run RPO's.  Of those two teams, neither did, what I would call "majoring" in RPO's, but more "dabbled" in them.  We saw some packaged screens, and some quick passing off of these looks, but not much other than that, and to be honest, both teams, despite being talented, weren't very good at executing these plays.  I do, however, fully expect the onslaught of these packaged plays to become more and more prevalent the further we travel down football's timeline.

On the collegiate front, It was extremely neat to watch the evolution of Kirby Smart and Nick Saban's defense at Alabama this past season.  Yes, Ole Miss beat them, with the EXACT formula that has been Saban's kryptonite over the past few seasons, however you can see a shift in the thought process at Alabama on several fronts.  The beginning of this swing, was the addition of Lane Kiffin as the offensive coordinator last season .  By adding Kiffin, and bringing in his mind of RPO's and up-tempo offense, it has actually gone so far as to make the defense better.  No longer is an old-school, 3 yards and a cloud of dust, huddle and repeat offense trying to learn up-tempo to give the defense a look.  No, up-tempo is a style of play at Alabama now.  Yes, I know Saban wanted to ban the no-huddle a few years ago, but he's seen the future of college football, and he's done what all the great one's do and that's adapt.  Not to get to schematic with things, here's my list of Saban's adaptations into the "modern era" of college football.

  • The no-huddle up-tempo.  Yes, just what I mentioned above.  His team is now able to mimic these offenses, because up-tempo is in part, what Kiffin likes to do on offense.  Yes, they aren't Auburn, Oregon or Baylor, but they do use tempo as a key part of their offensive identity, which breeds familiarity.  This allows them to give their own defense a good solid look in practice at what they will see during game week.  These looks, being as close to game speed as possible is critical to the defense's success.  
  • I'm sure it wasn't all Kiffin though.  Saban and Smart had to make a dedicated effort to want to change.  In other words, they had to be willing to adapt or mold their philosophy.  One change I saw, was in the secondary.  They both were more willing to drop the larger, run stuffing style of safety Saban has typically employed over the years at that position, for more "cornerback" types there.  Saban and Smart finally realized getting more speed on the field was paramount.  One area that is very difficult to run in sub packages is the secondary.  You need consistency there, and those two found a way to keep the same four guys on the field at all times.
  • They practiced subbing in their various packages against themselves.  Saban hasn't fully washed his hands of personnel groups.  What they have done is figure out a way to use the substitution rule to their advantage.  I read one article where a player said it was "organized chaos" on the sidelines.  What he later went on to say, is that when he first arrived at was just "chaos".  This means there has been improvement in the sideline management of getting the right players on the field at the right time.  The other element, is the size of the sub package.  When watching the National Championship game this past Monday night, I would see no more than three guys at a time run on the field, and usually it was just one player.  This means that they are recruiting players who can stay on the field and help in any situation, something I also think is very key in defending these type of tempo, spread offenses.
  • One key area Saban has upgraded, is special teams.  I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how a guy like Nick Saban got where he is, with such a poor special teams philosophy.  I've never known Saban to have a punter you would consider a "weapon", but I don't know how many times I heard Alabaman punter J.K. Scott mentioned as just that...a weapon.  The same can be said of Alabama's kicker.  Despite missing a field goal in the game this past Monday night, Alabama's kicker has been on point for most of the season.  The other thing is, he kicked a perfectly executed pooch-style onside kick.  I'm not sure in years past if I've ever seen a better special teams unit under Nick Saban.  Special teams, in my opinion, is an area that against the modern spread, up-tempo offenses, where you can gain the advantage by stealing a possession.  Fake punts, onside kicks, and fake field goals are things that have to be done in practice, to a high degree of repetition in order to insure success.  I think this mental shift was none more evident than in the National Championship game by Clemson keeping Alabama's punt block unit at bay with the threat of the fake, and Alabama's critical onside kick.  One was simply just the "threat" of a stolen possession, and the other WAS a stolen possession.  See these offenses are going to score points.  If the idea is to score more, then you need to find a way, at the end of the game, to have had more scoring opportunities than your opponent.  Stealing possessions on special teams is a great way to do this, but most coaches don't put in the time to do so.  This is where I think many coaches are going to have to make their philosophical changes to their approach to the game.

Some other things I've seen, or been thinking about when it comes to defense in the modern age of football is that of the evolution of defenses.  So many teams out there play so many fronts now, it's hard to really say what they truly are anymore.  When watching the National Championship game, one could argue Alabama stayed largely in a 4-2-5 alignment.  I've watched plenty of TCU cutups from the past two seasons, and it looks like they are running a 3-4 scheme at times.  What I think is increasingly becoming en-vogue is splitting the field and covering each half differently.  Whether it be with two types of zone concepts, or whether it be with man-to-man on one side and zone on the other, teams are rarely staying in "pure" coverages anymore.  Setting the coverage to work with the front is also becoming increasingly popular, as we all know in some cases when in man, the secondary cannot effectively provide run support, so now it must fall on the front to do so.  I've seen teams that were typically even front teams with secondary run support, morph into more of an odd front to the man side of their coverage and allowing the front (an end or a linebacker usually) to be the dedicated force player.  Concepts such as this are what is going to get the defenses back into the fold when it comes to modern day football.  

What I think is becoming increasingly an issue is exactly what we saw in the playoffs this season.  In our regular season, we faced eight spread offenses and two pro style offenses in our 10 game regular season.  That means we were pretty geared up to stop the spread.  In the first three rounds of the playoffs, we were facing either Pro style or Wing-T.  It took our kids a bit to remember how to "fit" back into the box, and luckily for us we have some great coaches that were able to get this done, but you could see at times it caused some issues.  We don't sub, so keeping the same 11 out there against the various offenses can get to be a challenge.  The issue is, what to do when you see that one Flexbone, or Wing-T, or Pro I team on your schedule.  I think mixing in periods of practice against these styles of offense throughout the season would be a big help.  Using the bye weeks and spring/summer practices to defend against the option is something I've done since as early as 2005.  It's a great way to keep your fits honed vs. offenses you might not see all the time.  

Anyhow, that's my ramblings for 2015.  It was a great year for me changing jobs and getting to work with a great staff.  I look forward to the upcoming season and the rebuilding job we have in front of us.  For now though, I'll get back to blogging!