I remember the first day of my first class as a college freshman at the Penn State Altoona Campus. On the first day of freshman chemistry the professor gave us a syllabus and one hundred pages of reading with 50 questions to answer before the next class. Every class after that pretty much went the same way. I hated that first week. You're trying to adjust to new classes, new roommates, new campus, new professors and they swamp you. I think they were almost sadistically trying to weed out the lazy ones. Sometimes I lay awake at night in cold sweats still thinking about it. With preseason practice starting this week, I thought I would give the players and coaches a little homework of their own to focus on the next few weeks of preseason practice.
Open Up The Playbook
The 2006 offense was too predictable. We ran Tony Hunt between the tackles and threw short to mid range out patterns to the wideouts. Once in a while we would try a deep throw to Deon Butler or a bubble screen or end around to Derrick Williams. It was so predictable that Deon Butler commented after the Illinois game that the defensive backs were cheating to cover the outside throws and we still threw it out there.
How about...a slant pattern? (Gasp!) Or a post pattern? (Blasphemy I say!) Or how about play action on first down instead of hopelessly plodding up the middle for two yards? Or how about a sweep? Remember that naked pitch play we used to run to Larry Johnson? Everyone would break to the right. Zack Mills would turn like he was going to hand it off to the right, but then pitch it behind his back to LJ who took it left. Did that play ever go for less than sixty yards?
Mix Up The Personnel
I understand the whole putting people in position to succeed thing, but you can't be too limited. Derrick Williams rarely lined up in the back field last year. But when he did he got the ball probably 90% of the time. Don't you think defenses can catch on to that pretty easily? Every time A.J. Wallace came in the game they knew the end around was coming. We shocked Youngstown State with it, but nobody was fooled again.
I'm concerned with all of these talented wide receivers we're going to specialize them too much to get them on the field. Want to run a deep fly route? Let's put in Butler. Want to run a ten yard out pattern? Put in Derrick Williams. Crossing pattern? Jordan Norwood. Oh we're in the redzone now? Put in Chris Bell for a jump ball. Let's work on some creativity before the season starts.
Work on Red Zone Execution
How many times did our defense give us great field position with a short field last year? The correct answer is a bunch of times, and this is a good thing. How many times did we watch the offense drive it down to the 20 yard line and stall? The correct answer is too many times. And worse yet, how many times did we watch in frustration as Kevin Kelly blew the 35 yard field goal? The correct answer is I don't want to talk about it right now.
The really aggravating part of our poor red zone performance was that most times we shot ourselves in the foot with stupid penalties or poor execution. We cannot afford to waste scoring opportunities again this year. We can't have offsides penalties. We can't miss key blocks. We can't drop third down passes.
Blitz! For the Love of God, Blitz!
We love Tom Bradley here at BSD, but he tends to live and die by the bend-but-don't-break defense. Faced with a high powered offense he tends to drop his guys back and tell them to keep everything in front of them. The result is usually a slow death by an overdose of seven yard passes. See Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, and Minnesota.
Don't play it safe so much. You have the best set of defensive backs in the league. Cut the front seven loose to go after the quarterback. Take them out of their game. Force the quarterback to make quick decisions. Don't let him stand back there and keep checking down to the safe six yard play. Blitz! Blitz I say! Blitz like you have never blitzed before, and then blitz them again.
Pick An Offensive Line and Stick With It
Everyone knows the fate of this team rests on the shoulders of the big uglies. In order to play like a unit they have to play as a unit. When you shuffle them around and change personnel like you change underwear they don't get a chance to settle in and build cohesion. Pick your five best guys in the first week and go with it. Personnel changes should be considered very carefully and the upside to putting in a different person should be obvious to everyone.
That being said, get the younger guys some experience. In games against foes like Buffalo, FIU, Temple, Purdue, Michigan State, and Indiana the second string offensive line should get at least one series.
Get Pat Devlin The Damn Ball
Good job on not blowing his redshirt when Morelli and Clark went down against Michigan. Nobody questions this is Anthony Morelli's ride to cruise into victory lane or smash into the wall in turn four. But Pat Devlin is the future of this program. He needs to get reps in practice and he needs to see some meaningful playing time. For all his physical talent, Anthony Morelli was not mentally prepared to start in his third year in the program. Do not make that mistake again. Give Devlin one series per game to gain some experience. Giving him 100 pass attempts this year will pay huge dividends in 2008 when quarterback will be one of the few positions we need to replace.
Class has begun. Homework is due September 1st.