Ask The Experts: Coach Welsh
Dec 16, 2004
Coach George Welsh
That quote by George Welsh was the inspiration behind TheSabre.com's newest feature, “Ask the Experts.”
The idea is for coaches and players to answer questions about their sport, teaching what amounts to an ongoing course in Advanced Football or Advanced Basketball.
Welsh, appropriately, handled the first set of questions from TheSabre.com's John Galinsky. From now on, however, the questions will come from you, the fans. The questions should be primarily related to schemes, strategy, responsibilities, etc. - things that will make you a more knowledgeable fan once you have the answers, and hopefully allow you to enjoy the games even more.
Please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org under the subject header "Ask the Experts," and we'll select the best ones for Coach Welsh and other experts to answer.
But first, here are five to get you started…
1) When did you first see the spread offense, how has it evolved over the years and what have defenses done to combat it?
It started in the NFL with formations with four wideouts and one back, or sometimes with no setbacks - what they call an empty backfield - and everybody was spread out. But the first time I remember it being a total offense was when Tommy Bowden went to Clemson (in 1999). They had a running quarterback (Woody Dantzler) and they had everybody spread out and I don't think people necessarily knew how to defend it then. They would pull linemen and either hand the ball to the one setback or the quarterback would keep it. We had to coach against it my last two years and it was tough. We never defended it right. Dantzler was such a good runner, he was a single-wing tailback in that offense. Plus they had some big-time receivers. Dantzler wasn't a great passer but he threw it well enough to beat you. One year he hurt us throwing the ball. We were playing a lot of three-deep zone and he hit the seams against us. We just didn't have good enough cover guys in '99. Then in 2000 Dantzler ran for 200 yards against us. The way we lined up, they had too many good angled blocks on us, and our down linemen weren't good enough to beat those blocks. A couple times, the linebacker missed the tackle, then Dantzler cut to the sideline and beat the safeties down the boundary. That wasn't necessarily the fault of X's and O's; it was more missed tackles.
A lot of teams started using the spread to keep defenses from crowding the box, and the response I've seen is more nickel defenses. You know, a lot of college teams never played the nickel defense. They didn't have a fifth defensive back. In the NFL, you had nickel and dime defenses 25, 30 years ago. I think George Allen with the Redskins in the '70s had six defensive backs sometimes. I don't remember six defensive backs in college until recently. The problem is it's hard to find good cover guys in college. If a team has three or four good wideouts and you want to play man to man, you have to have good cover guys, and there aren't that many around. That's why teams play a lot of zone. They can't match up. There are more wideouts than corners who are big and fast.
The spread invites the blitz, too. If the quarterback can't run and there's no option in it, it invites teams to blitz you. Especially if you don't have a tight end in the game, they can overload the defense to one side and try to get someone free right away. As I understand it, Steve Spurrier (while at Florida) never protected the fourth defender on the weak side; he thought the quarterback was going to be good enough to get rid of it. But I think he wasn't as effective when teams started to do a lot of that to him. You get your quarterback hit a lot that way.
Same thing with running quarterbacks like Dantzler. You get hit a lot, and that takes its toll, I don't care who you are. You run the ball three or four times, you land on your shoulder and then they want you to go back in the pocket and throw a 20-yard strike. That gets harder and harder to do as the game goes on. So I think coaches are less prone to doing that anymore.
I think defenses have caught up to the spread in a lot of ways. They're better organized to stop it. To me, the best way to defend it is to get six guys in the box - three down linemen and three linebackers - and five defensive backs. That way you can get more guys in the box than they can block. Then you can play zone, you can blitz, you can zone blitz. But you have to be able to stop the run with six guys. If you have the right people, I think you can do it. If you run a 3-4 defense, that allows you to rush three and play eight in coverage, which helps.
Still, there's another version of the spread that works pretty well from what I've seen. The way Utah runs it, there's a lot of option in it. That makes it harder to defend. Because once you have the option in your offense, defenses have to play assignment football. Defenses don't like to blitz against the option. If you blitz and everyone gets sealed off and they pitch it, there's basically only one guy left to make the tackle. So an option helps you a lot if you want to spread the field, and you can still have an effective running game with it. From what I saw of Utah, they run some option and you don't know whether it's going right or left. That's hard to defend. But if you don't have a quarterback who can run, it's not as effective. If you have a stationary quarterback back there who's throwing the ball from the pocket, he's probably going to get hit too much.
2) In your opinion, what are the three most important qualities (tangible or intangible) for a quarterback to possess, and why?
This is hard to define. I think the most important thing is that the quarterback needs to have leadership qualities. There's a lot that goes into that. Poise, presence in the huddle, intelligence, understanding the offense, making the right decision. It's all tied in together. The leadership qualities go hand in hand with being poised and not making many mistakes. Your quarterback doesn't necessarily have to be able to beat the other team, but he can't let the other team beat you because of his mistakes.
Most quarterbacks have to develop those qualities. It usually takes a few years, but all the quarterbacks who played for me eventually did. Mike Groh really had them. Aaron Brooks did his last two years. Shawn Moore had them from the very beginning. Some quarterbacks aren't necessarily smarter than others; they just grasp things quicker. When you have a second and a half to make a decision, some guys can do it right away. It doesn't take them two years to learn to pull the trigger at the right time. Don Majkowski was good enough as a sophomore, but our offense was much simpler then. It was easier for quarterbacks in the '60s and '70s and early '80s. Defenses are so much more complicated now, you have to be able to read them and you have to be able to convert routes, so quarterbacks and receivers have to see the same thing. Things were easy for Shawn Moore, too, because our offense wasn't that complicated then. It was diverse because you had a quarterback who could run the option, he could run off tackle and he had a good arm, plus he had a lot of help. We could power off tackle, we ran some option, we play-actioned to Herman. That was the best offense I've been around, but it wasn't complex. A lot of it was called in the huddle.
The next thing is accuracy. You don't have to have a strong arm, but you have to be accurate. Because if you're not accurate, you're going to get passes intercepted. The most important thing about being accurate is not only letting the receiver catch the ball, but throwing it so he doesn't have to reach behind for it or jump for it. Just put the ball right in his chest and run after the catch. That can be crucial; that's much more yardage.
That's really the two main things: leadership and accuracy. Nothing else is that important. A strong arm? I think you can't have a weak arm. You have to be able to throw it with a little zip. But it's not that important to me. Joe Montana didn't have a strong arm. The West Coast offense has a lot of easy throws with the idea that if you hit the receiver on the run - a back out of the backfield, or a crossing wideout or a tight end - he can get yards after the catch. Aaron Brooks has a great arm, the best I've ever been around, but he had to learn to take something off the ball. It took him a couple years to absorb everything and learn touch passing.
Is height important? It helps if you're 6-3 as opposed to 5-10. But there have been some great quarterbacks in college in the 5-10, 5-11 range - Doug Flutie, Joe Hamilton. It depends on your offense and what you're doing.
3) As a Weather Channel junkie, how much would you alter your gameplan over the course of the week based on weather forecasts?
I never did that thing where people dip footballs in water the day before the game to practice for wet weather. I didn't believe in that. In spring practices and in the preseason, you practice sometimes in the rain, so that should be enough to prepare for it.
To me, the only thing that changes the game is the wind - 25 to 30 mile-an-hour gusts, because that affects the kicking game and the passing game. Then it changes your approach a little. You might emphasize the short passing game more, or try taking advantage of the wind when you have it. But not wholesale adjustments. In some ways, the offense has an advantage if it's really wet and the field is soft. Offensive guys know where they're going, so it's harder for the defense to react in that kind of weather.
For me, watching the weather was more of a habit. I guess it's just one of those things I brought with me from the Navy when I was an assistant navigator. Even now, I still watch the weather.
4) What plays did you run for Herman Moore that you never or rarely used in other years?
Mainly we ran the same routes everyone has - all the out routes, the in routes, the crossing routes. But one thing we liked to do with Herman was run him up the field for about 15 yards, then break him in, either coming all the way across or sitting down in the hole. We'd do it with play action and hold the linebackers so he'd have an extra half second to get to the 15-, 16-yard mark and make a break. If it was man to man, he'd try to beat the guy across the field. If it was zone, he'd stop in the seam of the zone. We got a lot of yards out of that.
In those days, we had terminology that told three receivers what to do. For instance, we might call Pass 32-519. 32 was a draw play, but Pass 32 meant it was play action. Then 519 told the receivers their routes. That meant the split end would run the 5 route, the in route. The tight end would run the 1 route, the crossing route. The flanker would run the 9 route, a post route. Herman was the split end, so he'd do the in route on that play.
A lot of times with Herman, we'd just run him deep and we'd throw the ball out. That was an 8 route, which was a streak. It was either straight ahead, or maybe a little bit of an inside release and go, or an outside release and go, or a stutter and go. In that case, if it was play action, it would be a Pass 32-819. Herman would run the 8 route. We just threw the ball up to him a lot. We told Shawn to throw it up there, just don't overthrow him. Give him a chance for it.
We did a lot of other stuff with him, too. One play got us a lot of touchdowns. It was Pass 41, a fake off tackle. We'd fake the handoff inside, then the flanker (usually Derek Dooley) would come around and sometimes we'd give him the ball on the reverse. And then probably every other week, we'd fake the reverse and Shawn would roll outside with a pulling guard to protect. We'd use the tight end to block, too, and it would get the defense discombobulated. Then we'd run Herman all the way across the field from the left to the right side of the end zone. Sometimes he'd be all alone. Sometimes the corner would stay home, but we'd still throw the ball up to Herman anyway. If one guy was on him, we liked his chances.
The alley oop was the only thing we did with him that we didn't really do with anyone else. We tried to save it for crucial spots, not just call it as a normal pass. We did it from dropback and play action. Our play-action pass was either Pass 32 or Pass 36. Pass 32 was a fake draw to the right and Pass 36 was the tailback shuffle fake, so we'd just call Pass 32 Oop or Pass 36 Oop - we didn't say Alley Oop. Our dropback series, I think it was Pass 50 or Pass 60, depending on the pass protection, and we'd just add Oop to it. Pass 50 Oop or Pass 60 Oop.
It wasn't that effective, actually, but there were some crucial ones. One got us a touchdown against Virginia Tech in '88, I think, and it got us some key first downs in some key games. We didn't run it that much. If it was third and eight and we needed a first down, we'd run it 10 to 12 yards downfield. I think Shawn would either take three steps and throw it or he'd shuffle back and throw it. He wouldn't do the one step and throw like you see a lot of teams do today. I think we did it a little bit with Tyrone Davis, too, but it wasn't quite as effective. He was a big man, but he wasn't a 7-foot high jumper like Herman. That makes a difference.
5) On a sweep or screen pass, what are the responsibilities of a pulling guard and what makes someone like Elton Brown suited for that role?
The last two years, maybe not so much this year, Virginia had a great screen pass, one of the best I've seen in years. What they'd do is pull the guard and the center, not the tackle, because that gives it away if you use the tackle. So what you do is back the tackle up and chicken fight the rush end to get him coming up the field. Then you try to throw it over him or to the side when the back slides out. The guard and the back ought to be coming out at the same time. The guard should be looking for support, to get whoever's coming first. Then you want to get the center out, too, and he's looking back inside for a pursuing linebacker.
The guard is the lead guy and he has to be able to run and make a decision on the run. Sometimes it's a corner coming, sometimes it's a safety, or sometimes it's a linebacker who reads the screen. The guard just needs to block whoever the first defender is. The back is right with him and reads the block. I think Elton Brown is more effective than other guards because he's so big and so agile. He can block anybody. I think teams have tried to take that screen away from them this year because they were so effective last year.
With sweeps, there are all different kinds of ways to use pulling guards. What we used to run at Navy and then here for many years before I got away from it, was we used to pull both guards. The lead guard - the right guard if the sweep's going right, or the left guard if the sweep's going left - is probably responsible for the first linebacker. The second guard is supposed to trail and lend blocking support if the back turns back inside. Later when we ran the sweep with the one-back set, we just zone-blocked it. Everyone went front side and we didn't pull anybody. That works well against a 3-4, because if you have a tight end who can block, you can block the outside linebacker and seal guys off. It's all zone blocking in the NFL. It's up to the back to read the play and make the cut at the right time.
I don't think you necessarily call certain plays or do anything special because you have an All-American guard. With one or two Elton Browns, no matter what you run, you're probably going to be effective.
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