Friday, August 1, 2008
Updated: November 18, 10:37 AM ET
Coaches find success in single wing
By Patrick Dorsey
Special to ESPNRISE.com
On an NFL field in September, the Miami Dolphins -- fresh off a 1-15 season -- stunned the New England Patriots, then on a 21-game regular-season winning streak, thanks in part to a funky formation called the "Wildcat."
Ronnie Brown and the Dolphins confused even the staunch Patriots defense.
The sports world noticed, watching as running back Ronnie Brown took several snaps and either handed off, ran or threw, confusing the Patriots each time.
Replays repeated on countless highlight shows. Reporters questioned. Coaches copied.
And, at a high school in suburban St. Louis, a few players noticed, too. So they approached their coach, Mark Bliss, in the ensuing days.
"Hey, Coach," they said. "They're running our stuff!"
Bliss, though, wasn't as alarmed.
"Hey," said Bliss, currently in his first year at Edwardsville (Ill.) High School, "In football, what goes around comes around."
Wild on the Wildcat
What's going around: The Wildcat.
While at Arkansas, Darren McFadden popularized the "Wildcat" offense on the college level.
Actually, "Wildcat" is just a nickname, a variation, of one of the most time-tested formations in football -- the single wing. Glenn "Pop" Warner is credited with inventing it at Cornell in 1906. Colleges won championships with it in the early and middle parts of the 20th century. Some Bowl Championship Series schools still experiment with the formation, and a few pro teams are mixing it into their game plans.
Where it's really going around, though, is at the high school level. There, the single wing is not just a package in some teams' offenses -- it is their offense. No, it's not everywhere. Not hardly. Only a few teams, scattered across the nation from California to Illinois to Florida, still use it. But single wing practitioners -- some recent adopters, others who have been running it for decades -- swear by the formation.
And it's not just to be different, to stand out in the spread-formation and I-formation crowd.
It's because, for the most part, they're successful.
"I've studied a lot of offenses," said Brady Lake, first-year head coach at St. Charles (Mich.) High School. "You name it, I've looked at it. And this, I think, is the best offense for high school football."
The single wing, explained
When Baldwin High School (Baldwin City, Kan.) coach Mike Berg examined the players in his program, he saw something missing for 2007: a classic-style quarterback.
At Edwardsville, the "Wildcat" has given a number of players the opportunity to put up eye-popping stats.
So instead of forcing someone under center, he searched for an offense in which "under center" was nowhere near the playbook. In the single wing, he found it.
Although multiple variations exist, the basic concept is consistent: Instead of having one player take the snap on every play, as many as three backs line up in a shotgun formation, each in position to receive the ball from center. In the classic formation, all 11 players set up in a bunch. Today's incarnations can contain multiple wideouts and just two players in the backfield, not unlike the spreading spread formation.
But, at its core, it's all about who gets the ball -- as in, who gets the ball? The tailback? The fullback? Someone else?
And that's just on the snap. Afterward, there's more confusion, with handoffs, spins, pitches and other devices employed to dumbfound defenders. Many teams even use different players to throw different types of passes. (Single wing teams typically throw at least 10 percent of the time, if not much more.)
"There's just a lot of commotion going on in the backfield," Berg said.
The single wing's success
Since Berg switched, a lot of winning has been going on at Baldwin. The team finished 10-3 and reached the Class 4A state semifinals in 2007. This year, the Bulldogs were ousted in the round of 16 but still went 8-3. One opposing coach, Berg said, even called the spin-happy style "the spinning wheel of death."
Because it is so tough to stop, teams like Menominee are annually succesful running the single-wing.
This hardly is a revelation. On Michigan's Upper Peninsula, in Menominee, coach Ken Hofer has been running the style since the 1960s -- and winning, even recently, claiming state championships in 1998, 2006 and 2007.
Meanwhile, Bliss, the Edwardsville coach from whom Berg learned the offense (and who has connections with University of Tulsa co-offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, a former high school coach who is one of the innovators behind the ]Wildcat), won four state championships at Conway Springs (Kan.) High School during the late 1990s and the early part of this decade. Bliss also ran the system at high schools in Colorado, Oklahoma, Florida and Missouri.
And the list goes on. Adam Wesoloski, author of the single wing blog DirectSnapFootball.com, estimates the offense's winning percentage at 70 percent.
So why all the victories? For one, versatility.
"[Some] think the single wing's a gimmick offense," Bliss said. "And it really isn't, if you break it down."
That's because it offers all the same hallmarks of a so-called "normal" offense -- everything from power runs to quick throws -- along with its tricky elements (reverses, reverse passes, etc.).
"If you're a defensive person," said Hofer, the longtime Menominee coach, "it means you have to do a lot of preparing, which is to our advantage."
The advantage extends beyond teams with big-time players. When Hofer started his career at nearby Stephenson (Mich.) High School, his alma mater, he saw nothing but bigger schools on the schedule and needed an offense that negated the talent and size gaps.
Lake, the St. Charles coach who was its offensive coordinator last season, saw a rebuilding year coming after a 10-1 record in 2007, leading to the switch.
"You can win with lesser players," said Jerome Learman, whose Lake Michigan Catholic (St. Joseph, Mich.) team has earned three winning seasons during his four-year tenure there. "Obviously, if you've got great players, it makes them even better. But if you've got 11 average guys, it can make them pretty successful."
The single wing club
One year, it's on the West Coast. The next, it's in the East. Another time, a Midwestern school hosts it. It's the Single Wing Symposium, an annual clinic for coaches of youth league teams on up. (Bliss estimates between 75 and 150 coaches attend each year.)
Speed is a necessity for teams running the "Wildcat."
And it's hardly the only way for single wing enthusiasts to stay connected. Other, smaller meetings take place yearly. There's the National Single Wing Coaches Association, which keeps track of schools running the offense and lists them on its Web site, nswca.org. There are blogs like Weseloski's, which spreads information about the offense and its various evolutions.
That's the thing with the single wing -- sharing. Although coaches try to keep the secret from prospective opponents, they like spreading the word around the nation. Bliss, as coach at Las Animas (Colo.) High School in the early 1990s, learned from now-retired Manitou Springs (Colo.) High School coach George Rykovich, who "told me he would love to plant a seed, because it's a dying offense," Bliss said.
Now Bliss likes being the single wing's gardener; Edwardsville even is hosting this year's big get-together.
Selling the single wing
The wins are there. The information also is available. And yet, no U.S. state has more than a handful or so programs running the offense primarily.
Coach Mark Bliss' team has rallied around his unusual offense.
The reason, single wing coaches say, is twofold. One: It's just so … strange.
"I think they don't want to be the oddball, they don't want to be different," said Berg, the Baldwin coach. "[They say], 'Why would we want to run that? No one else does it.'"
Another factor: It's a tough sell. Players, parents and fans themselves worry about the outcast image that accompanies the offense.
Plus, there's the star problem, particularly at quarterback. In his early years at Menominee, Hofer had parents approach him with those concerns, saying: "You don't have a quarterback. Well, my son wants to be quarterback."
That, though, has a flip side, which ultimately can work to the offense's advantage. Instead of one "superstar" getting the ball on every down, teams have three, four, even more players who can put up big numbers.
"It's brought our team closer together, because they all know they have a chance to get yards and to carry the ball," Berg said.
The single wing's spread
Years ago, few high schools ran the spread offense. Now, it's popping up everywhere, with prep programs trying to keep up with the colleges.
Will the single wing see a similar surge?
"A lot of stuff is cyclic," said Learman, the Lake Michigan Catholic coach. "Teams are going to adjust, and so on. And 20 years from now, everyone might be running the single wing and nobody's running spread."
Maybe, or maybe not. One thing's for sure, though: Every time Florida's Tim Tebow lines up somewhere other than behind center, and -- especially -- each time an NFL running back takes a snap, the single wing's profile increases. If only a little bit.
"It does give you credibility as a coach when a pro team is trying to do what you do," Lake said, adding: "It's going to be interesting to see [what happens] in the next couple of years. Coaches are always trying to find something new. And to do that, sometimes going into the old is new."
Patrick Dorsey is a high school sports reporter for The Indianapolis Star.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
De Soto — A winning record and interceptions highlighted this year’s summer football league for the Baldwin High School football team here.
For the small group of Bulldogs that participated in the 7-on-7 passing league, the 2008 season was a success. BHS finished the four-week campaign with a 4-2-2 record.
“This year was fun,” senior Sam Beecher said. “You could tell we got better week to week. The quarterback and receivers also started connecting better and the timing of the routes was better. It was fun, especially when you win.”
Beecher was one of the two players who played quarterback for Baldwin. He was joined at the position by fellow senior Clad Kueffer. Both switched games and managed to lead the Bulldogs to a winning season.
Although winning is a nice feeling, BHS coach Mike Berg was just happy to see his players improve each week and grow as a team.
“This was a very successful summer league,” Berg said. “I am very proud of our guys and their effort. For not throwing the ball very much last year, we actually looked like a passing team.
“It’s exciting as a coach to see we have kids who know how to run routes,” he said. “We’ve got two new guys at quarterback who are throwing the ball well. We had fun and that’s what this was about, just having fun and working on things.”
While the offense produced dozens of touchdowns and helped win a few games. Berg was also enthusiastic about the Bulldogs’ defense, especially one senior in particular.
“Andy Thurlow had eight interceptions in three weeks,” Berg said. “He wasn’t here this week. If we would have had him here tonight, we probably would have won both games.”
Baldwin went 0-1-1 during its final night of action Monday. BHS lost to Shawnee Mission North, but tied Piper with a last-second touchdown from Beecher.
The BHS players improved their skills and timing during the summer league. Another improvement, that can’t be seen, is camaraderie.
“It’s really fun playing with these guys,” Beecher said. “I am friend with all of these guys. We are a really close team. It’s really intense, but we have a fun time out there. We play as if it’s a game, not life or death.”
Of course, any of the BHS players or coaches would be the first to say that improving as a team is the primary goal of the league. The passing game is the main area of focus, since no running plays are allowed.
“We can’t practice with them, so this is their practice,” Berg said. “I saw some rhythm as the weeks went on. We kept getting better and improving. Guys knew where to be on routes and where the ball was going to be thrown. The object is to get better and it worked.”
BHS seldom passed the ball last fall as its single wing offense controlled the line of scrimmage by running the ball. Although Beecher and Kueffer are fairly new at playing quarterback, Berg is hoping they can improve the Bulldogs’ passing dimension.
“To be more balanced offensively can only help us,” Berg said. “It was great to be able to run the ball as much as we did last year and we’ll still be able to do it this year, but we have that passing threat now. Teams will know it, because they saw us out here. It’s going to keep them honest and putting 10 guys in the box.”
“This year coach Berg is planning on us throwing a bit more than last year,” Beecher said. “This helps us a lot, because neither Clad or I have played quarterback much before. It helped us learn some of the routes and how to better play the quarterback role.”
Although the position is new to him, Beecher enjoyed his time as the signal caller.
“I enjoy it a lot,” he said. “I used to go out and play catch all of the time, so I always thought I could throw well. Just being able to throw good isn’t even half of it, because you have to read all of the routes.”
Now that the 7-on-7 league is over, the Bulldogs have begun to focus on their team camp and the season. Their camp starts July 28 and the players know it.
“At Bulldog Days this morning, players were chanting out ‘two more weeks,’” Beecher said Monday. “Everybody is excited about camp and getting a lot better this season.”
Many of the BHS players have been lifting weights and running at Bulldogs Days to get stronger and faster for the upcoming season. Berg has been proud of those players and even he is excited about camp.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that have full-time jobs and they still find time for the weight room,” Berg said. “That’s how much heart they have. They are just kids that want to keep the tradition going and win again, because last year was a fun ride.
“Camp can’t get here soon enough,” he said. “With all of the rules, we can’t coach our guys, so we will love to coach them during camp.”
On the similarities between himself and West Virginia quarterback Pat White …
“I think I was more physical as a quarterback. When you’re running the option and you take it up in there you’re basically a running back. I think he is more finesse,” Harris said, adding that White is much, much faster.
“He’s way faster than me. To be honest, I was not that fast. I was probably more quick than fast,” Harris said.
“If I was a running back it would have been a different story if I went up in the hole and tried to take on somebody. As a quarterback it’s easier on you than as a running back if you’re quick. A quarterback can get away with that.”
On coaches opening up their playbooks and attacking all parts of the field …
“The way you call plays a player can tell what type of confidence you’ve got in him,” Harris explained. “That’s one thing I don’t think a lot of coaches realize. Even if you are backed up in your own end zone - if you’re throwing it then the quarterback says, dang, this guy really trusts me. You’ve got to do that because that’s where the confidence comes in. He’s not stupid. He knows if we’re not throwing there it means they don’t trust me.”
On the no-huddle, spread offense that has become the latest fad in college football …
“One thing about the spread, to be honest, I was more comfortable up under center because when you’re back in the shotgun as a quarterback you are out on an island,” he said. “When you are in the shotgun everything is right in your face. For a quarterback to be consistent in a spread offense he’s doing a heck of a job because you are going to have one or two games where things don’t go right.”
Harris’ views on the spread are somewhat ironic considering the roots of the system date back to the single-wing when coaches used to take their best athlete and put him at quarterback to run, throw or kick the ball. What West Virginia did with Major Harris in the late 1980s was essentially an updated version of the single wing and an early version of the spread that is being used so prominently today.
“You take New England in the Super Bowl,” Harris said. “All year they played out of the shotgun but then they ran into a team with a heck of a pass rush and you get no play action. When you are up under center you’ve got the threat of play action to freeze people. If you run up against a good front seven you’re going to have problems with the spread. Even though Tim Tebow won a Heisman and put up great numbers they lost, what, three games or something like that?”
Harris likened it to the days when he played and teams began preparing for the quarterback draw.
“It was almost like when (Don) Nehlen kept calling quarterback draws for me,” Harris said. “That defense is going to catch up with it.
“My thing was, even when I scrambled I was always looking to throw because when I threw it the defense couldn’t prepare for that. Even when I went out of the pocket I was still looking to throw so now they’ve got to freeze,” Harris continued. “Once they froze up I knew I had them.”
Wednesday, 16 July 2008
Panthers enjoy success at BHSU football camp
Rejuvenated. That word alone describes the Powell High School football team following what head coach Jim Stringer labeled a solid showing at the Black Hills State University summer team camp July 6-9.
Overall, 31 Panthers took part in the event, and Stringer said the squad left Spearfish, S.D., with a great deal of optimism about the upcoming 2008 slate after finishing second in both the seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 competitions. PHS earned spots in the championship game of both events, and each of the title matchups were decided in double-overtime.
Stringer believes the confidence gained during the camp will go a long way in helping the Panthers put to rest the memory of last season's 3-6 record during a campaign that saw PHS lose a number of hard-fought, close contests.
“Our entire coaching staff came out of there feeling rejuvenated,” Stringer said. “As for the players, they came away from the camp feeling energized and ready to go.
“The whole time we were there, we got a lot of compliments from other coaches. We got as many compliments as we did when we went there in 2006 (with the group that went on to win the state championship). The coaches were really impressed with how hard our kids played and how well they were flying around the field. What impressed me the most was how much we improved. I’ve taken teams with more talent to camp, but none showed as much improvement as this team did. If they will continue to work hard in the weight room and when we start two-a-days, I’ll be pleased.”
Among the highlights of the camp, Stringer said, were the efforts of the Panthers’ offensive and defensive lines. Though undersized compared to the majority of the teams they faced at the camp, the Panthers showed they were more than capable of holding their on against bigger, stronger units.
“One of the biggest surprises was the play of our offensive and defensive lines,” Stringer said. “We went in there with only nine known linemen from last season. Our linemen were undersized compared to most of the guys they went up against, but they were scrappy and used good technique. When were were on offense, we pretty much moved the ball at will most of the time, and that's a credit to the guys up front.”
Among the top performers along the front lines were Zach Wagner, Tyler Showalter, Drewe Metzler, Randy Bullinger, Chris Rodriguez and Rustin Myrick.
Wagner, at 6-2 and in the 220-pound range, excelled in individual competitions as well as in team-oriented drills, Stringer said. Also, Stringer credited Myrick for the way he handled his move last week from running back to the offensive line. Myrick and Bullinger are vying for time at center, a position that takes on even more importance this season because of the need for efficient and effective snaps to a quarterback lined up in the shotgun.
Stringer also said Myrick could see time as a pulling guard.
“We were in need of linemen, and Rustin embraced the move,” Stringer said. “He’s a hard worker, he’s scrappy and he’s smart. Rustin’s in the 180- to 190-pound range, and he can really help us and be a major contributor for us on the line.”
Stringer said a good portion of Powell’s offensive success also can be attributed to the ability of the Panthers to pick up a new scheme, which is similar to the single-wing offensive attack used by his high school coach.
According to Stringer, the deuce set used last week varies from the single-wing offense in that it is a more balanced formation and doesn’t offer an obvious strong or weak side in which defenders can key on. The scheme uses a receiver on each side, and two wings, which line up about a yard and a half off the tackles and two yards deep. The quarterback is constantly in the shotgun position about five yards deep and with the fullback on either side of him and about four and a half yards deep.
“It incorporates a lot of motion and deception, and it’s really hard to tell who has the ball until they are at the line of scrimmage,” Stringer said. “There will be times were it won’t work for a lot of yardage, but it also has the potential to produce some huge plays. It caused teams a lot of problems, and it left a lot of defenders frozen and second guessing themselves. We’re still learning to be more efficient with it, but so far the kids are picking it up very well.”
Among those who made considerable gains on the offensive side was Galen Mills, who shifted from the running back spot he manned last season to quarterback.
“He played very well,” Stringer said. “He made some mistakes, but he learned from them. He’ll continue to get better, and he’s a good fit for what were doing on the offensive side. He’s going to do a great job for us.”
As for the running backs, they also played well throughout the camp. Stringer said Trevor Donarski excelled on sweeps and ran well on counter plays. Matt Kifer and Billy Harshman also had strong efforts each day, as did fullbacks Cody Kalberer and Reed Hackworth.
“We’ve got three or four more backs that will help us during the season who didn’t go to camp,” Stringer said.
“Those guys that did make it did a great job, and we were pleased with they accomplished.”
Stringer added that the Panthers were more effective running outside the tackles during the camp, and that’s an area where PHS struggled last season.
Stringer also noted the play of the receiver corps last week. Gavin Mills, who has developed of reputation for being able to catch almost any ball thrown in his direction, is looking to build on the success he’s had as a wide out the previous two seasons. Also, Ryan Brandt, a veteran player, and Jordan Brown, a senior and first-year Panther football player, enjoyed success at the camp.
Defensively, the Panthers are under the direction of Mike Heny, who replaced departed defensive coordinator Josh Hays. Stringer said Heny is using a scheme similar to what Hays used, and believes the Panthers will be prepared for anything an opposing team use to attack PHS’s defense.
As expected, Donarski was one of the top performers last week from his linebacker position, Stringer said. Outside linebacker Dalton Harris made considerable strides in his ability to play against the run and the pass, and Hackworth’s dedication to preparation and the weight room were evident as he manned either the outside linebacker of strong safety positions during the camp, added Stringer. In the secondary, corners Kifer, Harshman and Brown were steady, and safeties Gavin Mills and Galen Mills turned in solid performances.
Along the defensive front, Myrick helped the Panthers supply plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Overall, Stringer said the camp experience was a good one and could serve as a springboard into a successful 2008 campaign.
“After we lost the 11-on-11 championship game in double overtime against Delta (Colo.), our guys were pretty disappointed,” Stringer said. “The way it was set up, in overtime each team got one play from the 10-yard line. You could either score or they would mark the ball where you go to. The first overtime was a wash, and in the second overtime we were a victim of a bad snap. (Delta) then ran a quarterback sneak for half a yard and won it. It was a tough way to lose it, but after they had time to think about it, our guys realized how far they had come in a very short time.”
WITH THE opening of high school football practice just 18 days away, here are 10 things to ponder before a new season kicks off around the state:
Assistant Sports Editor
WITH THE opening of high school football practice just 18 days away, here are 10 things to ponder before a new season kicks off around the state:
1. Will the beat go on at Parkersburg? The Big Reds won 27 of 28 games and a pair of Class AAA championships the last two years, but face a major rebuilding task this time around. PHS returns just three of its defensive starters from the 2007 Super Six, and only two on offense. However, the schedule is more than favorable - only one of the Big Reds' first seven opponents (Riverside) made the playoffs last year, and PHS meets only three postseason teams in all.
2. Can St. Albans continue its climb? Under coach Derek Christian, who begins his fifth season, the Red Dragons have improved every year, from 2-8 in 2004 to 6-5, then 8-4 and 12-2 with a close loss to Parkersburg in the Super Six finals last year. SA does return two accomplished running backs in Marcus Fox, who ran for 1,304 yards and 19 touchdowns in seven starts before a season-ending knee injury, and backup Marcus Guy, who rushed for 1,380 yards and 11 TDs in his seven starts. However, six of the seven blockers up front last year were seniors.
3. Is Taylor Robertson of James Monroe the frontrunner for the Kennedy Award as West Virginia's top player? He is the top returning vote-getter for last year's Kennedy (finishing seventh) and the only non-senior among the top nine. The 6-foot, 185-pound hybrid running back-quarterback led the Mavericks' single-wing attack by rushing for 1,871 yards and 28 TDs and passing for 497 yards and three scores. But six of the seven starting offensive linemen from last year's title-game loss are gone to graduation.
4. Can Bluefield keep it going? Competing in AA, regarded as the most competitive class in the state, the defending champion Beavers have made it to the title game a remarkable eight times in the last 13 years, winning three crowns. However, Bluefield returns just three starters on both offense and defense.
5. Will anything get in the way of Wheeling Central, and will anyone hear about it? The Maroon Knights, four-time defending single-A champs, begin the season with 33 straight wins, three shy of the state record set by Ansted (1970-74). The potential record-breaker could come Sept. 19 in a home game against Morgan (Ohio), although the Knights play on the road against a very good Shadyside (Ohio) team the week before. Central lost a three-year starter at quarterback, its top two running backs and leading tackler, but it's hard to gauge the Knights against their schedule, because several state teams dropped them. They play six Ohio teams, three from Pennsylvania and only one from West Virginia - Linsly in the regular-season finale.
6. Whither Nitro? The Wildcats, who racked up points and yards by the bushel basket for more than a decade, face their first game since 1995 without offensive guru Scott Tinsley on the sideline. Tinsley, the team's head coach since 2002 and formerly the offensive coordinator, stepped down in March to take the job at WVU Tech. He'll be replaced by 31-year-old John Sowards, who spent six years on Tinsley's staff at Nitro before taking a sabbatical in 2006 for the birth of his son. The transition also includes a new quarterback, since Nitro loses three-year starter Michael Scott, although C.J. Crawford is expected to transfer in from Huntington for his senior season.
7. Can Martinsburg and Morgantown, two major AAA players, bounce back from subpar showings? Martinsburg had played in the state finals four of the previous six years and was 9-0 and ranked No. 1 last season, but lost its momentum when it forfeited two victories for using an ineligible player, dropped to the 11th seed, then fell in the opening round of the playoffs to Bridgeport. Morgantown, with four titles since 2000, only made the playoffs as the No. 15 seed after picking up a forfeit win against Martinsburg (a game it lost 29-3) just a week before the playoffs. The Mohigans then lost in the opening round for the first time since 1997.
8. Will Williamstown make its move to the top? The Yellowjackets have played in four of the last five Class A championship games and just last year had a regular-season winning streak snapped at an astounding 57 games. But with no titles to show for all its success, Williamstown doesn't want to go down in history as another footnote alongside Valley Wetzel (five title-game losses in six years from 1993-98).
9. How will reclassification affect the playoff field? Jefferson, formerly the state's largest school and a contender for a AAA playoff spot in recent seasons, will be split to form the new Washington High, and both will compete in AAA. Winfield and Logan also moved up into AAA, Greenbrier West and Tug Valley went up a division into AA and Iaeger dropped a notch to single-A.
10. Can Scott shake the reputation of being a one-trick pony? The Skyhawks made great strides the past two seasons in Class AA, winning 19 of 25 games behind Jordan Roberts, the Kennedy Award-winning running back who is walking on at West Virginia University. With Roberts gone, can Scott extend its postseason run to six straight years?
Daily Mail Sports Editor
When the Big Ten Conference reveals its 2008 preseason football poll later this week, Rich Rodriguez's new team isn't likely to be mentioned.
That's because the conference (let's don't embarrass anyone) only reveals the top three finishers of 11 teams. The anointed are likely to be Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois or Penn State.
Michigan, in Rodriguez's debut season after his soap-opera exit from West Virginia, is likely to be a middle-of-the-pack (fifth?) projection.
However, the retooling Wolverines figure to be the Big Ten team with the most intrigue.
Rodriguez is going to bring a different brand of football to a conference that has been slowly trying to open up offenses for years since Red Grange, Alan Ameche and the Woody and Bo Show.
It would be simplistic to say the Big Ten isn't ready for the spread -- after all, Purdue and Northwestern have used versions of it and Illinois Coach Ron Zook did more than OK with a version of it last season.
However, running it is one thing, defending it another -- and Rodriguez's no-huddle spread option is different -- even when the fast tempo isn't part of the equation (and it is). It isn't simply a combination of the old single wing and option, as many spreads are.
The spread is also a great equalizer if you have less talent (see Urban Meyer, pre-Florida, at Utah) -- if you have the speed to run it (which Michigan will recruit to in the future). It also minimizes the need for size and depth.
The conditioning of Rodriguez's West Virginia team was one of the program's main strengths. The zone blocking (and reading) schemes are something the Big Ten hasn't seen much, either. Michigan, as soon as it can morph to quicker, smaller linemen (with quicker feet), will see that.
The blocking is done with lateral movement up front, forcing the defense sideways, and then blocking down to seal off the backside. It's more precision than power, more footwork and technique than size and strength.
While it would be an overstatement to say the former WVU coach could revolutionize Big Ten football as Steve Spurrier once did the Southeastern Conference with his alma mater's spread-'em-out Gators, you could see a lesser version of that.
Whatever notions and feelings Rodriguez torched in leaving his native state, there is no denying he is a superb football coach, and one who gets more from the available talent than most.
The Big Ten is going to find that out. Hey, Michigan saw a dose of it last season in the Appalachian State shocker at the Big House, and that's what other Big Ten teams need to consider.
See, Rodriguez is like another coach Michigan landed from West Virginia -- basketball's John Beilein. Will both be able to recruit better at Michigan than they did at WVU? Sure ... but only if they want to do so.
That's because both are recruiting to proven systems that they have developed, and to which each coach holds the key. Getting a bunch of five-stars wasn't an option for Rodriguez (or Beilein) in Morgantown -- but then his option attack has done pretty well, hasn't it?
After a 3-8 debut at WVU in 2001, his Mountaineers had more success than expected in every season (either in league standings in the early years and major bowls later in his term).
Another flawed notion floating out there is that Rodriguez's spread won't work in the cold, snow-flurried Midwest weather of November ... please. It doesn't get much colder in Ann Arbor, Madison or State College in the 11th month than in Morgantown, Pittsburgh or East Hartford.
That notion is rooted in the fact that many see "spread" and think "pass." Rodriguez's attack couldn't have been more grounded at WVU had it tried -- more than 70 percent of the offensive plays were rushes in recent seasons.
Another facet Michigan will find -- besides keeping the attack on the ground -- from Rodriguez's teams is the attention to ball protection.
His best WVU teams were giants in the turnover tables. That's different from many spread teams, too (because of the ground-oriented style of play).
Rodriguez's last six WVU teams played 40 games with zero or one turnover, and only six games with more than three giveaways. His last four Mountaineer teams were 33-1 when they won or were even in turnover margin.
Playing eight Big Ten foes will be tougher for Rodriguez than the seven he faced in the Big East. His debut includes visits to Notre Dame, Penn State and Ohio State. The Wolverines' have ND, Wisconsin and Illinois over a four-week span in the first half of the season.
It's impossible for Rodriguez to live up to what a fellow Marion County native did with the Wolverines. A century ago, Fairview's Fielding Yost was already on his way to six national titles, 10 Big Ten championships and 165 wins in 25 seasons at Michigan.
Ultimately, what the Michigan Men (and women) will want from Rodriguez are wins over Ohio State and Rose Bowl or bowl Championship Series appearances (and victories).
It may take some time for Rodriguez to get there, but for starters, it surely will be intriguing -- and different -- for a conference that has been as conservative and classic as Joe Paterno's helmets for a long time.
Charleston Daily Mail
W.Va.'s White may leave Tebow in his dust
Article Last Updated: 07/26/2008 10:53:33 PM EDT
There are some categories that can be measured in yards, touchdowns or victories. Others areas of evaluation are more ethereal.
With that in mind, we take a preseason look at the best and the worst the Big East football conference has to offer:
Pat White, QB, West Virginia - Forget the reverse compliment, maybe Florida's Tim Tebow is a poor man's Pat White. White has the fastest feet of anyone at his position and a pretty good arm, too.
George Selvie, DE, USF - He's a monster. No, really. Quarterbacks have nightmares about Selvie waiting to blind-side them walking out of the dorms.
Hunter Cantwell, QB, Louisville - He won't make Louisville fans forget about Brian Brohm, but Cantwell could put up very similar numbers and become a good NFL prospect himself.
Greg Romeus, DE, Pittsburgh - A former basketball star whose raw ability helped him find some success last season as a freshman. If he refines his technique, look out.
Scott Lutrus, LB, UConn - Another player who made big strides as a freshman,
Lutrus, from Brookfield, already has outstanding speed for a linebacker. If he bulks up some and keeps that speed, he could be the best in the league.
Milan Pusker Stadium, Morgantown, W.Va. - You would think that 60,000 people singing a John Denver song would be a little odd. You would think that the formation of a funny looking state like West Virginia by a band might be unimpressive. You would think wrong.
Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati - If a few more fans showed up or a few more of them made noise, this could be one of the toughest places to play in the country. As it is, it's a terrific setting in the middle of an urban campus.
Rentschler Field/Rutgers Stadium - Fans of these two schools love to debate who has the better program, coach, player, stadium and everything else among college football's "new money" teams. Let's just say they both have improved greatly in the last decade, but both schools and both fan bases have yet to reach their potential when it comes to the game day experience.
West Virginia's offensive scheme - It's a good offense with good principles, don't get me wrong. But good athletes can make anyone's X's and O's patterns look like A-plus material.
UConn's luck - Opponents thought the Huskies had control of the weather, the refs and even gravity everywhere they went. The Huskies got a few breaks, but also were on the other end of a few last year, too.
The national rankings - It's fun to look at, but there are better determining factors in judging how good a team really is. With one poll (ESPN/USA Today) featuring coaches, some of whom use the ballot with political intentions, and another (Harris Interactive) featuring many who barely follow the game, it's a bit misleading.
Cincinnati's punter - Kevin Huber is as important to his team as quarterback Tyler Lorenzen is to UConn. Don't believe it? Just watch him boom a few kicks or glance at his average.
Darius Butler, CB, UConn - Cincinnati's Mike Mickens might be the league's best; then again, he might not be. Either way, Butler's ability to cover, return kicks and play some wideout is greater than the praise he receives.
The schedule maker - In the league's unbalanced format, having four home conference games in a season instead of three makes a huge difference in a season-long race.
COACHES ON THE HOT SEAT
Greg Robinson, Syracuse - His middle name is Hot Seat. Actually, it might soon be his first name. Nothing short of a .500 season in league play (something that would be pretty darn good for the 'Cuse) saves Robinson's job.
Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville - OK, it's only his second year and he should be given time to make the program "his." However, Cardinal fans don't like the idea of nearly moving up into the college football elite only to be forced to rebuild again a few years later.
Dave Wannstedt, Pittsburgh - He silenced many of his critics with a nice finish to the 2007 season and with yet another outstanding recruiting class. But wins will have to come soon and this could be a make-or-break year.
College Football News
Posted Jul 24, 2008
By: BE Coleman
Hoover, AL - The scene is the Hoover Hotel, the event is the annual SEC Media Days. The chaos is fighting 850 some odd media reps to get a word in with the dozen coaches in attendance. Words cannot begin to describe the standing room only shuffle. It is a Hollywood affair complete with carpeting and the trimmings.
The Ted Nugent adage "Free For All,” is aptly correct this week as the feeding frenzy is well underway without haste. The first coach to speak was Urban Meyer of Florida.
In his fourth season in Gainesville, Meyer said that he "has a real clear picture of what it takes to compete in this conference and what it takes to be successful at the University of Florida." With Georgia expected to be the higher ranked team and a Tennessee team that may be better than advertised, is a vivid image.
Meyer spoke last season that it was very tough for him to walk in the shadow of former, “Mr. All Everything Florida,” in Steve Spurrier. Making no mistake that it is an important attribute for Meyer to beat Spurrier annually without saying the words.
Questions immediately tuned to Gator QB Tim Tebow as Meyer fielded questions.
Tebow Mania Going Strong
If you thought the media purported Danica Mania was bad, then the Tim Tebow love affair will set new standards this fall. The Indy league will sit in the dust and take a back seat row for college footballs brightest and biggest star.
Tebow was the one person that everyone wanted to speak with and that took over center stage on the first day. Flanked by security guards who would not allow him to walk through the forty or so Gator fans, Tebow saw what SEC royalty was all about.
On the popularity of Tebow; Meyer had this to inject to the crowd," he deserves the attention - he deserves it. He's a helluva guy!” The last player that the SEC Media adorned with such flavor was Peyton Manning. Tebow experienced that firsthand on this day with elevated status.
Tebow was more than overwhelmed with photographers and videographers asking for one more take, one more sound bite. Tim, one more, Tim - Tim, one more….Hey Tim over here! Tebow smiled and posed graciously with the polished shine of a man on his way.
Meyer insisted there is no better leader in the SEC than Tebow, he injected – “ask anybody in here,” that question. After his record setting performance last season as a sophomore, there is little doubt he is Mr. SEC.
Questions upon how some of Tebow’s discovered traits were called out. One item noticed by film reviewing media analysts were in finding Tebow is able to fake a toss to himself convincingly.
"We started it at Utah with Alex Smith. - It actually goes further back than this," noted Meyer who may have been a little surprised to hear the question.
Talent On Offense
Meyer said there are more options to his spread offense, (still a version of UT's single wing offense) and he has, "two very good tight ends - you'll see two tight ends in the game at the same time quite often."
A beefier Percy Harvin, Cornelius Ingram, Keystan Moore, Chris Rainey, Mike Pouncey, Phil Trautwein and speedster Brandon James all return in form to compliment Tebow.
“If Rainey becomes a very good player, he'll take maybe a couple carries away from him (Tebow). Just a couple carries coach?
Fan Reality Cant Be Controlled
The Gators coach said keeping fan expectations within the realm of reality, "is not going to happen…in an era to even concern yourself with that, you're wasting brain.”
Meyer said he is very comfortable with his offensive line strength and there is little more to add as three of them will play in the NFL, and the depth is good behind his starters.
Tennessee Running Back Coaches
Losing running back coach Stan Drayton to Tennessee due to the failure to use the position in the spread offense. Meyer went to Vanderbilt and hired the ‘Dores running back coach Kenny Carter. "He's doing a very nice job. Glad he's with us," noted Meyer.
It was a defense mode reaction after Drayton let it be known that Florida was doing nothing in real terms of a running game the previous two seasons. Vandy finished 7th in the conference rushing the football last season.
Working On It
After having measured two-minute drill issues fall apart last season Meyer said this, "we've worked hard on it. That's all you can do. We have worked at it." Got it?
Meyer said he is looking for LB Brandon Spikes to be a leader on defense as Tebow is on the offense. Spikes finished last season with 131 tackles behind Tennessee's SEC Leader in Jerod Mayo. Spikes will be leaned upon in 08 heavily.
Nine Coaches - 9
Meyer said he feels there are, "nine coaches who feel they can win the SEC Title." The Gators are one of those teams with great consideration having the deep talent and in having Tebow alone. What other 10 players are needed? Sit back and watch Tebow pass deep to himself, maybe hit himself on a hot route
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
This is the second part in the series on the UT offense and the Single Wing. The first part may be read here.
In the previous post in this series, I noted that Clawson experimented with the Single Wing formation in the Spring scrimmage game. Most of the previous post was spent explaining what the Single Wing looks like, and a few of the advantages that the formation gave to the offense. Here, I will take a look at the real action: what happens once the ball is snapped?
Prior to the snap, the Single Wing simply looks like a run-heavy formation - something that may be used in goal-line situations, perhaps. The classic Single Wing has no wide receivers, 4 players in the backfield, and 7 blockers. But the fundamental theory behind Single Wing football is quite different from a pro-set offense, beginning with the instant that the center begins to move the football backward. At that point, football begins to look a little bit less like today's NFL game and a little bit more like a rugby match.
So let's take a look at the snap...
When the Single Wing was created around the turn of the century, the direct snap was not legal (e.g. today's QB-under-center snap). Instead, the ball had to be tossed back to a ball carrier in a manner similar to the modern shotgun snap. (Earlier, during football's very early years, the ball was put into play rugby-style, by being sort-of kicked back by the center. The American changes instituted the handling of the ball by the center, but the distance requirement remained and the ball was put into play in a shotgun-style snap for a long time.)
Here, the center snaps to either ‘back as the play dictates. However, it's not just a matter of snapping to one of two slightly skewed positions; the ball was usually snapped to some position in front of the receiving ‘back in their line of path. This gave the initial ball handler an extra step on the play but required much of the center. Aside from the usual snap-then-get-your-head-up-and-block skill, the center had to have sure hands and be full of self-confidence. (Hmm... do we know where a center with those traits might be found?)
But why move the center to the side? Couldn't he snap the ball like that from his now-customary position? Certainly. Actually, there are balanced-line Single Wing formations; the Single Wing displayed in the O&W game had a balanced line, in fact. But take a look at what is gained by moving the center:
FIGURE 4 - A DIFFERENT LOOK AT THE LINE
Take a look at the line -- not in terms of player position titles, but from the inside out. Remember that the center, because of his task of snapping the ball, is always about a half step behind the rest of the linemen in getting out of his stance. In modern formations, that means that the hinge of nearly every blocking scheme lags the rest of the line. In the Single Wing, that lag has been moved slightly to one side. If you consider the ends as linemen (which is what they were, historically) then you have the awesome result of having four linemen in a row that can all move in true unison at the snap of the ball. Take a second look at that in the above formation and let your mind wander just a bit on the possibilities.
By now, you've probably also noticed that those same linemen also have the backfield focused behind them. The Single Wing has an incredible amount of running power focused to the strong side once you start imagining the blocking and running possibilities. (Again, remember that the quarterback here is not Peyton Manning; this quarterback calls plays but he is usually a blocker, occasionally a receiver, and occasionally a runner. He may pass, but that would be rare.)
With all that power to one side, the natural defensive response is to overshift -- to place more players on the strong side than the weak side. As you know, no formation sees widespread use unless it can attack both sides of the field. That is true of the Single Wing as well. There are many reverses, counters, passes, and sweeps to the weak side that can really cause problems for an overshifted defense. But that'd take a long time to explain. For now, just trust me on that and know that others have written on the weakside far better than I could.
I'll continue next time by drawing up a few Single Wing plays. Once we get a good feel for this offense under our belt, we can look at how it might help UT. The results may surprise you.
Rocky Top Talk
Back in the Spring, at the suggestion of Aerobab, our favorite officer-in-training, a few of us tried to meet up at the Orange and White game for a get-together and a chance to see Clawson's new offense (or at least a few hints at it). We very quickly learned that we're not all that good at coordinating a get-together amongst people who've never met, but Joel, Aerobab and I managed to find each other and get prime seats in the end zone. During the game, we saw some outstanding play from the first team on both sides of the ball - particularly from the Berry/Morley duo.
But one moment caught my eye in particular...
Note the 0:54 mark in the above video. You can't really see the formation from the camera angle, but it's a Single Wing. Crompton was split out wide, safely away from anything resembling contact. Jones took the snap and passed for a TD to Denarius Moore. To be fair, the play looked a lot like a running play - a sweep - which allowed Moore to get behind the defense. But the use of the Single Wing formation was quite intentional by Clawson, and there may be more to learn of the upcoming UT offense from that one play than it may seem.
So with those few seconds of a single play, I decided to read up on the Single Wing and try to see a little more what Clawson was experimenting with. Let's face it: other than some grainy pictures of Neyland's teams and the "cloud of dust" reputation, few people know much about the Single Wing. Yet Clawson just used it for a long pass from Jones - something that Cutcliffe never even attempted last year.
Before exploring the Single Wing with regards to 2008 UT football, a question must first be answered: what is the Single Wing? In short, the Single Wing was the dominant offensive formation in the first half of the twentieth century. Due to its relative lack of use in recent times, however, the formation is not particularly familiar to most fans anymore. So before I look at its implications for the upcoming season, let me review the basics of the formation and how it differs from modern formations. As with all things football, pictures tell all:
The above picture shows the offensive formation that is perhaps the archetypical Single Wing formation. The linemen are in circles and the backfield players are in squares (as if you didn't already figure that out, I know, but it doesn't hurt to point out that I'll stick with that convention). The abbreviations for the linemen are: C = Center, E = End, G = Guard and T = Tackle. The abbreviations for the backfield are: F = Fullback, Q = Quarterback, T = Tailback and W = Wingback. Other than the lack of wide receivers, this formation has 4 features that are almost never seen in modern (read: pro-style) offenses. Can you guess what they are? I'll explain after the pretty picture that follows (which, if you've scanned ahead, gives away much of it).
Figure 2 - Key Positions in the Single Wing
Ok, the answers:
1. The Center is not between the Guards. This is known as an unbalanced line formation, whereas formations with the center between the guards are known as balanced line formations. (Gee, those football term-makers are creative...)
2. The Quarterback is not behind the Center. In the traditional Single Wing, the Quarterback was usually a blocking back while the Tailback or Fullback received the snap. The Quarterback, however did have the playcalling responsibilities that the modern quarterback has. (This is the main reason why our modern quarterbacks are still called quarterbacks. When the T-formation was created, the quarterback was moved behind center where to coordinate the playcalling with the new-fangled direct snap.) At any rate, remember that the Single Wing was born in an era of run-first (and second and third and ... nth) football; passing came into the formation as a matter of evolution rather than initial design.
3. Neither the Tailback nor the Fullback are lined up directly behind the Center. The center would snap to either ‘back, depending on the play call. More on this in a bit.
4. The Wingback. In pro-set offenses, you don't commonly see somebody lined up behind the tight end. Even the slot receiver is usually a fair distance to the side of the line in order to spread the defense and open up some running room.
At this point, it's a good idea to notice how much sense some position names make when seen in their historical context. Before the Single Wing, the Center truly was the Center of the formation. Guards were so named because they were the blocker who assisted the Center as he was recovering from the snap. Tackles were the guys who, when on defense, made most of the tackles (remember that early football required players to play both ways). Ends were simply the ends of the line, with the term evolving to Tight Ends once receivers became popular. In early formations, the Quarterback was a quarter of the way back from the line, the Halfback was next and the Fullback was the farthest back. Wingbacks flanked the line and Tailbacks lined up askew of the Fullback (like a tail). As you can see, the position terms were once simple to understand, but evolution of the game has made terms like Quarterback and Offensive Tackle a little odd.
Next time, I'll take a look at the dynamics of the formation: what happens once the ball is snapped? It is at this point that the Single Wing really diverges from contemporary offenses.
...Or does it?
Rocky Top Talk