New Grantland: Back to School: How Mike Shanahan Is Using RG3′s College Offense With the Redskins

It’s now up on Grantland:

Coaching is about putting players in positions to succeed. Griffin’s potential is nearly limitless, but as a rookie playing his first game, he’s not Tom Brady just yet, and asking him to throw 40 or 50 traditional drop-back passes was not going to give Washington its best chance to win. Shanahan has clearly gone into this year with an open mind — something many otherwise excellent pro coaches don’t do often enough — and he’s blended his tried-and-true West Coast/zone-blocking offense with some of the best andsimplest principles Griffin executed so well at Baylor.

Read the whole thing.

Nick Saban Doesn’t Teach Backpedaling?

Former Alabama and current Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick caused something of a stir when he told the media that he “never backpedaled at Alabama.” Apparently, this is something Bengals coaches value, as Kirkpatrick had to learn to backpedal. Some fairly questioned whether this was hyperbole — How do you not teach defensive backs to backpedal? — but, although he does teach backpedaling, Saban very specifically focuses on other techniques.

Seems to work pretty well

As Saban tells it, he used to teach backpedaling until he was with the Cleveland Browns with Bill Belichick. The ownership signed the legendary Everson Walls, who, much to the dismay of the young defensive backs coach, Saban, ran about a 4.8 forty yard dash and simply could not, under any circumstances, backpedal. He was awkward, couldn’t accelerate, and there were other guys on the roster much better at backpedaling.

Walls also, however, was being paid significantly more than his coach, and it was clear from the ownership that Walls would be starting. He also, it must be said, was still a great player, and just happens to still rank 10th on the all time list of most interceptions in NFL history. So Saban began teaching his now famous “shuffle” technique, rather than the traditional backpedal. There’s a good deal to it, and it can adjust depending on the receiver’s exact release, but essentially it is a three-step shuffle technique, at which point the defensive back may break on a short route or can turn and run and play the receiver down the field.

Complementing this is that Alabama’s cornerbacks spend about 90% of the game in a press coverage position, from which they either stay in press or can bail to a zone or off-man position. They do this because it threatens the offense and helps take away screens and quick passes, and they feel that if a defense doesn’t press it’s a huge advantage to the offense who is simply throwing routes on air. I have to say that having excellent corners like Saban has had at Alabama helps, but, as more of an offensive guy, I would much prefer my corners to show a lot of press (even if they bail a lot) and use the shuffle technique as opposed to the backpedal. There’s nothing easier than seeing a bunch of corners lined up at seven yards backpedaling at the snap; you can run just about anything at that, and they simply will not be able to react quickly enough.

I was reminded of this as I have spent a little time catching up on the games from the past few weeks. Of special note was the tremendous job Alabama’s Dee Milliner did against Michigan in week one. Other than a few extremely poor throws/reads, for the most part Denard Robinson’s throws were on the money, but Alabama and Milliner in particular shut down Michigan’s receivers, who were simply not up to the challenge. Watch and judge for yourself.

And next time you hear someone talk about defensive backs backpedaling, you can tell them you know of what is, at least in the view of many (though certainly not all) coaches, a better way.

Keep the seat warm for me

Although something very important is happening soon — the start of football season — something even more important is happening for me: I’m getting married. Aside from my general good fortune, this also means that I’ll be out of the country on my honeymoon for the next few weeks, until the second half of September. So if you’re wondering why I’m not updating or writing for Grantland despite the start of football season, this is why. Both of those things will resume once I get back.

So keep the seat warm for me. In the meantime, the best way to get your Smart Football fix is through the book, The Essential Smart Football, available in paperback from Amazon and B&N and on Kindle, each at this link. If you have an iPad, iPhone or Android device, the Kindle application is free. It won’t be available for Nook until sometime after I return.

Lastly, I ask a favor of you, my readers: If during the first few weeks of the season you see anything that might be of interest — some strategy trend, scheme, tactic, communication method or anything at all — please mention it in the comments to this post. It’ll be the first thing I check when I return, as I try to figure out how things have evolved from last season and where they might go.

Thanks to you all, and see you soon.

New Grantland — The Future of Playcalling: “Packaged plays,” Tecmo Bowl and a revolution in how we define “football play”

It’s now up on Grantland:

Admittedly or not, most fans think of real-world play calling as a slightly more complicated version of this “Tecmo Bowl model.” The offense’s job is to “keep the defense guessing,” and the defense must “guess right” to make a stop. On some level, even with their lengthy play sheets and reams of data, professional coordinators are engaged in a version of this same psychological battle, employing little more than educated guesses about the opponent’s tactics. Until recently, even the best, from Bill Walsh to Bill Belichick, have been playing what amounts to a complex game of Tecmo Bowl, improved only by the marginal differences coming in the form of various checks or audibles by the quarterbacks.

That seemingly straightforward screen pass to Ryan Grant suggests that now things are no longer so simple. There’s a new game, and it takes those time-tested plays and blends them into something new. It blends them so seamlessly that it threatens to upend the very idea of “run” and “pass.” These are the “packaged plays,” and because of them real football is ahead of the video games — both old and new. The answer to “What play was that?” is no longer so simple, because it’s increasingly “All of them.”

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: S-A-C-K: Why Pass Protection Might Be the Jets’ Biggest Problem

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Saturday night was an example of the preseason problem of hodgepodge lineups that haven’t spent much time together. As the game wore on, the Jets routinely failed to pick up very simple blitzes, and the result was sacks, hurries, and, according to some reports,an extremely frustrated Tim Tebow.

Pass protection is extremely difficult. Individually, it’s a brutal ballet, requiring the larger, less athletic human to step backward while a superior specimen (like Jason Pierre-Paul) sprints, swims, rips, spins, or hurdles his way to the quarterback. Collectively, it’s all thatand some kind of diabolical logic game.

Read the whole thing.

Smart Links – Mortality Rates, 4-2-5 straightline, Magic, Double-Stick Shovel, Fitzgerald – 8/20/2012

From Coach Joe, the stick/draw but with a shovel pass instead of a draw:

- Mortality rates for football players (and baseball players).

- Dave Raley on the future of defense: 4-2-5 straightline.

- Short story from F. Scott Fitzgerald.

- Former women’s soccer goalie Mo Isom might be LSU’s next kicker.

- Our long-time fascination with magic.

- Richard Posner on How much is enough?

- Will Apple TV crack the TV market?

New Grantland: Matt Barkley’s Favorite Play — the West Coast Offense Classic, “Sluggo Seam”

My breakdown of west coast offense staple — and Matt Barkley’s favorite play — is now up over at Grantland:

To understand Barkley’s answer, it’s necessary to understand USC’s offense. When Pete Carroll took the head-coaching job at USC, he hired longtime BYU assistant coach Norm Chow as his offensive coordinator. Carroll wanted the vaunted passing offense the Cougars had used for decades to topple superior foes and develop future NFL quarterbacks like Jim McMahon and Steve Young. To go along with that philosophy, Carroll also wanted to incorporate some of the latest NFL schemes, and his two young offensive assistants — former BYU quarterback Steve Sarkisian and a young Lane Kiffin — were assigned the job of bringing those ideas to USC.

Kiffin in particular relished this task, spending long hours in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers film room with Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. Gruden was a student of the West Coast offense, the pass-first, timing-based offense designed by former 49ers head coach Bill Walsh. Kiffin absorbed everything he could about Gruden’s brand of the West Coast offense, and quickly USC’s coaches began meshing some of the latest NFL concepts with the core of their offense.

Read the whole thing.

Of course, “Sluggo Seam” is not a secret play unique to Southern Cal. It’s got a long history, but maybe the best Sluggo-Seam-stopper of all time might be the guy who orchestrates the USC’s defense.

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Quarterback Helmet Cam with Kentucky’s Maxwell Smith

I’m generally a fan of these. It’s obviously not *really* what it is like being a quarterback, but it’s useful coaching film because you can see if the QB was looking in the right spot on a given play:

It also reminds me of when former Houston Cougars receiver Patrick Edwards, who is currently battling to make the Detroit Lions roster, wore a helmet cam to a Houston practice:

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Smart Links – Texas A&M, Podcasts, No Punts, Cam – 8/16/2012

Bill previews maybe the biggest wildcard in the SEC, Texas A&M, and the Aggies have finally named a starting quarterback. Below are some highlights from A&M’s most recent scrimmage:

- My podcast with CougCenter, part 1 and part 2.

- No touching 28 in Vikings camp.

- Cam Newton on his rookie year, as well as his need to mature.

- Rocky Long is considering forgoing punts after crossing his opponents’ 50 yard lines.

- GQ with a short piece from Joe Posnanski’s Paterno book.

- YouTube re-imagined: Think channels, not videos.

- Le Tableau Vert.

- Daily deals are dead.

Alabama linebacker play

Solid (short) video from ESPN: