The Offensive Minds That Ruined My Life

For those who have a passion for that they do, their drive for success tends to be in the underlying belief that they can do better than those who already have that job. In my case, that dream job and passion is offensive coordinating, and that belief is strong with me. Over the past three years or so, I started to take football more seriously, viewing it as less of a game and more of an outlet for myself. In studying the game closer, one begins to understand and appreciate the more driving factors of the game, namely play design and play calling. As I went on learning and watching football, these driving factors became my passion, and so villians in the field were created.

Dave Schramm and James Franklin- these are the men that compel me to do what I want to do. In this order, these two offensive minds have made me miserable at some point in the past few years, and one of them still does. Analyzing Derek Carr running Schramm’s offense was hellacious due to Schramm’s ignorance and redundancy. Similarly, Franklin brought his high school offense to Penn State and forced it upon a much more advanced quarterback, sparking a large disconnect and regression from America’s should-have-been poster boy Christian Hackenberg.

At the core, these two are the same evil. Their offenses are founded on (very) high percentage passing, inside zone and stripping power from the quarterback. Others that fit this description, such as UCLA’s Noel Mazzone, do a much better job of being creative and manufacturing space, whereas Schramm and Franklin’s offenses are as bland as a box of Cheerios. That being said, there are a handful of differences between the two, albeit both of them still being completely incompetent.

In his final two years at Fresno State, Carr threw the ball 1,170 times in 26 games, good for a staggering 45 throws per game. Had Carr been throwing a multitude of concepts, spreading the field and keeping the game interesting, it would not have been such a drag to watch. Of course, instead of any sort of creativity, Schramm’s offense was largely the same three plays: wide receiver screen, a pre-determined “go” route throw and inside zone, which is an interior running play. Though, with Fresno State having an abysmal offensive line and mediocre talent at the running back position, the inside zone was not used in “normal” volume. Schramm instead used screens as his extensions of the running game, so to see Carr throw 15-20 screens in a game was not uncommon.

Where this dumbed down scheme became most infuriating is that it seemingly stunted Carr’s growth as a player. Aside from the lack of exposure to natural pocket play, Carr’s intelligence was being put to waste. In the small sample of plays in which Carr was truly asked to step back and read the field, he shredded zone coverages and found the open man with ease, often using veteran-like eye movement and well timed pump fakes. Intelligent quarterbacks do not come around near as often as they should and for one to have been, for lack of a better word, wasted like Carr was, is a shame.

As if Schramm could not possibly have been any worse, he left Carr out to die quite often. Most of what Schramm had installed did not have any sort of failsafe vs an impending blitz. The most glaring example of this was Fresno State’s game against San Diego State in Carr’s senior year. SDSU consistently showed five, six or even seven rushers, yet Schramm kept calling for four and five receiver sets with no extra blockers. If you can do the math (Schramm could not), Carr was at a large disadvantage for any throw that was not an immediate screen. To no surprise, this was one of Carr’s worst performances and one many of his disbelievers often pointed to as an example of his fear of rushers. Carr did look frightened in that game, but free rushers on every other snap is going to scare any passer.

Since Carr’s departure, Schramm has made marginal strides to open up the offense, though it is still largely monotonous. Fresno State does not have the quarterback talent to open up any further regardless, but Schramm’s legacy will always be that he did nothing with the talented quarterback that was handed to him.

To that same note, the glaring flaw with Franklin is that he too has done nothing with a talented quarterback. In fact, Hackenberg was a star his freshman year under Bill O’Brien and he looked like a bonafide stud, but the monotony and simplicity of Franklin’s offense has killed Hackenberg’s drive as a player. It is a backwards situation. More often, the system/player clash roots in the quarterback not being smart enough to run the system, whereas Hackenberg is too smart and advanced for Franklin’s pedestrian offense.

Franklin’s offense has a bit more to it than Schramm’s did, though Franklin’s questionable play calling balances the equation. Most of the passes in Franklin’s offense are screens, quick slants and hitches. In other words, it is a simplified West Coast offense, yet it lacks the key element to a West Coast offense: synchronization. A West Coast offense is designed for the quarterback to hit a certain step at the same time his receiver hits a specific depth or makes his break, theoretically creating an impeccable timing dynamic that the defense can not stop. Franklin’s offense tends to ask the quarterback to make just one step, wait on the throw and then pass the ball. Hackenberg does not work well under those conditions.

If there is anything we learned from Hackenberg during his year under O’Brien, it is that he works much better when the play correlates with where he is in his drop. When routes are breaking at the top of his drop or he is able to move to his next progression during a hitch up in the pocket, Hackenberg clicks. This is why a more traditional 5-step drop based system fit Hackenberg more than a 1-step based drop system does. Alas, Franklin could not make any sort of adjustment to the talent he was given and has left those talents to rot.

Franklin’s system alone is an infuriating watch, but his situational play calling is the cherry on top of his mess of an offense. Namely, Franklin is a menace to himself on third down. As opposed to putting the ball in the hands of his most naturally talented player, Hackenberg, Franklin often opts for inside zone- an even more head scratching decision considering Penn State’s offensive line. Time and time again, Franklin fails to convert on third down through his stubborn approach and he has yet to think that maybe, just maybe, letting the quarterback make a play on third down is the best bet, unless it is a very short yardage situation.

More or less, the issue I have with both of these offensive minds is that they have done an outstanding job at stunting, or even reversing, a talented quarterback’s growth. Seeing as quarterbacks are my pride and joy, restricting one of the few quarterbacks with talent is an unforgivable offense. While I have a great deal of brilliant offensive minds that inspire me to become an offensive coordinator, like Chip Kelly, Kyle Shanahan and Gus Malzahn, the blemishes in the industry like Dave Schramm and James Franklin drive me to be something better.

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