Kragthorpe on bringing coherence to Louisville’s offense

ncf_g_kragthorpe_200You know, the more I hear from Steve Kragthorpe, the more I like him. I have no idea if he is a good head coach (and the evidence seems to say no), but he was a good offensive coordinator at one time and is looking to do that again. As I wrote about for Yahoo, it might be coming too late, but some of his ideas for improving the Cardinals’ offense seem quite sound. This year, Kragthorpe has taken on the full range of offensive coordinator duties, including gamplanning and playcalling. In a recent interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal, Kragthorpe explained:

What should fans expect now that the head man is taking over what was once one of the top offenses in the country? Some changes may be far less apparent from the stands than they are to the players.

For one thing, Kragthorpe, a former college quarterback himself, has designed a more QB-friendly” system, beginning with allowing them more input in play-calling. He said junior Justin Burke, who was named the starter on Tuesday, will select up to 10 plays that he likes best to add to the game plan.

“Coach Kragthorpe, as we practice, knows what our strengths are and calls plays accordingly,” Burke said. “But to really hone in on that, he lets us bring in five of our favorite plays before a game … that we’re extremely comfortable with, and (it’s) kind of a go-to in a big situation. He gives us that little option.”

Burke also will have more options at the line of scrimmage. When he breaks the huddle, he will have three different plays he can use, depending on how the defense lines up. Kragthorpe has simplified the reads Burke has to make before selecting the play. Instead of reading the entire defense, he might be able to key on where one player is aligned.

“It’s very simple, especially in the run game,” Burke said. “It’s very black and white. Some of the run checks last year weren’t as simple.”

Kragthorpe also plans to give his quarterback more alternatives on passing plays beyond a primary or secondary receiver. Burke said he will have more “full-field” reads. If his primary receiver isn’t open, he’ll swivel and progress to his second, third and fourth options.

“Time will tell how dramatic those changes are in the fans’ eyes,” Kragthorpe said. “But in our eyes we’ve made some pretty big changes in terms of the way we call plays, the way we determine what play we’re going to select at the line of scrimmage and the way we read certain passing plays.”

I’ve always been a huge fan of letting the quarterbacks suggest plays. In fact, when scripting or gameplanning, I think the head coach, offensive coordinator, and quarterback should all create a list of five to ten plays based on what had been installed and practice. Stuff that all three suggest immediately go into the gameplan, preferably to be run early in the game. Non-essentials plays that none of the three suggest are thrown out.

Also intriguing is Kragthorpe’s increase of the check-with-me system, though a simplified version. This could go either way of course, but it seems like he’s going for that happy medium: he wants lots of freedom at the line to get the right play, but a simplified thought process for determining that. The article is short on specifics, but a common run-game check is based on where the defensive tackles are aligned: you want to run certain runs at the “three technique” (defensive lineman lined up on the outside eye of the guard) and others at the “one technique” (defensive lineman aligned on the inside eye of the offensive guard). Others it is as simple as where the numbers are, how many safeties are deep, or the cornerback’s leverage. As I said, it will be in the execution, but this is something to watch for.

Finally, quarterback Justin Burke’s comment about “full-field” reads was very interesting. Typically on a pass play teams use “half-field” or “full-field” reads. Half-field reads are ones where the QB only reads one side of the field. This can be done by gameplan, by not releasing certain receivers, or by packaging plays together in such a way that the QB will look one side against one coverage, and the other versus a different one. Full-field, on the other hand, have a stricter progression but the QB mostly just needs to cycle through it. I am a fan of both, but if you asked me which is the better choice for the foundation of a passing game — and what the truly great passing teams do — it is full-field reads.

Typically, these involve a “frontside” and “backside,” but that nomenclature is misleading. With half-field reads, the middle of the field is often untended, and it is possible for a defense to cover both sideline routes. But with a full-field read, the “backside” or secondary receivers can be placed in a way that the only way a defense can cover the frontside is by opening up the backside. For example, if the defense took away, say a “smash” concept, on the backside the receivers can run a post and a square-in combination, or a “levels” concept. If the defense rotates to take away the smash (and the RB on a check-down), the backside guys should be open. The run and shoot lived by this principle.

These are good adjustments. It’s just a shame that they might come too late for Kragthorpe.

  • Mr.Murder

    Mirrored tags if you want to stay outside, everything else should trail the action. I prefer to do a shallow/post from the back and change it to an post/in with a read on one of the two. Flatten to a deep in on the post(levels conversion) whenever the backside S stays high in front of the route(in centerfield off the inside post).

    Change who runs it for the kind of coverage you see. One high try the outside man running post because he gets better leverage and a wider window. Two high run the interior backside post and he will get inside the safety most of the time.

    Since it is a beginning level and install time is so limited we go backside post on the smash to front and just read the safety playing one high. If he keeps or gets depth stay low. Starting very deep, don’t waste read time. Gaining depth, see if his hips turned one way and took him off track. None of it even matters if the hitch is open. We run a one step hitch to increase separation and help the Qb see more room to make the corner throw. It’s more a smoke route on the route combo.

  • stan

    When Walt Harris (mentioned in the Akron video in the post which follows this one) was the off. coordinator at Tennessee in the 80s, they put in a very easy series for QBs to read pre-snap. To take advantage of all the track star speed at WR (two Olympians and a bunch of other sprinters), they went 3 wide.

    QB simply counted numbers in the box. Six was run (iso or zone), seven was 3 step game (hitch, fade, slant). Run side was determined by tackles’ alignment. Pass side was based on safety. There were games where they never had to do much else. Defense couldn’t stop the run with six and couldn’t match the speed at WR without lots of safety help.

    They used it for years.

  • Tom

    I don’t know if this is true or not, but the big rumor that went around when Jeff Tedford coached QB’s were blowing it in the NFL was that his passing game only had half reads in it. I don’t know anything at all about the CAL offense except for their propensity for deep play-action, but I wonder if anyone else here can confirm or deny it?

  • Rob

    I think another thing of significance to add to your analysis (potentially). Is “who” Kraghtorpe met with before the season to develop some of the new offense we might be seeing.

    Over the summer he spent time with Mike Shepperd (Bengals WR coach, formerly of the Saints). He also spent some time with the Buccaneers and Jaguars over the summer (no idea who exactly). I wonder how much that could factor into his playcalling…