PAID MY DUES, TIME AFTER TIME – LEOS NEW 2021 OFFENCE
The Queen and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra song, ‘We Are the Champions’ begins with the following opening lines’.
I've paid my dues
Time after time
I've done my sentence
But committed no crime.
That opening stanza resonates as a B.C. Lions fan. I feel that I, along with my Lionbacker colleagues, have paid our dues, time after time, while cheering for our Leos offence. At the same time, the only two offensive systems that were implemented in B.C. for almost two decades were often a sentence, rather than a reward for dedicated support.
Our 2021 B.C. Lions will feature a new offensive system under new offensive coordinator Jordan Maksymic. Third time lucky, I am hoping, after enduring the Buono Spread and the Jackson RPO.
Its been a while since there was a new thread on Stukes Chalk Talk so here goes. Its a long read so you might want to skip it or read it on a rainy day with not too much on your plate. Now when does that happen?
Maksymic served as the Eskimos’ quarterbacks coach and pass game coordinator from 2016-18 before being promoted to offensive coordinator for the 2019 season. He was also an assistant coach in Ottawa previously.
We’ve only utilized two offensive systems in Leo Land since part way through 2004. Those two systems were the Buono Version Spread Offence and the Jarious Jackson Version RPO Offence.HISTORY OF OFFENSIVE SYSTEMS IN LEO LAND SINCE 2004 or "SOMETHING OLD, RARELY NEW, ALWAYS BORROWED, OFTEN BLUE"
For the first half of that 2004 season, and the 2003 first season of Buono, we utilized a multiple formation pro offensive system under Steve Buratto, But for the last 1/3 of the 2004 season, Buono stripped Buratto of play calling duties and sent Buratto to the spotters booth. Buono handed play calling to receivers coach, Jacques Chapdelaine, as we progressed towards full implementation of a Spread Offence system.
Dave Dickenson enjoyed his most outstanding season in the CFL, playing in Steve Buratto’s pro offence in 2003. Dickenson's 36 touchdown passes, and 5,496 yards were both the second-highest single season marks in Lions' history behind Doug Flutie. Dickenson was the West’s MOP for 2003. Under Steve Buratto in 2004, Casey Printers also threw for over 5,000 yards and wOn the MOP season in his first season as a pro starter.
That all this would be ignored and Buono would switch over to Chapdelaine calling plays and implementing more of a Spread Offence 2/3 of the way through that season is almost unimaginable. Buratto was not rehired after 2004 and Chap became our offensive coordinator.
From 2005-2017, each and every season we implemented basically the same Spread Offence, whether our offence was coached by Chapdelaine, Dorazio, Chapdelaine again, George Cortez, and Khari Jones. Our Spread offensive system varied somewhat in 2007, under Steve Kruck, with the influence of Hufnagel as a consultant for that season. It also varied following our seventh game in 2011, as a desperate Wally allowed Chapdelaine to open up the offence, following another shaky start to a season.
The changes continued into the first half of the 2012 season and then reverted towards our more familiar and simpler Spread offence going forward. Even under Jeff Tedford, who promised a new offence, utilizing true tight ends, the new offence never got off the ground, the tight ends were used as slotbacks, and the Spread Offence remained.
What was the Buono version of the Spread Offence? Basically, Wally took a volume and complex offence (and very successful offence) developed by John Hufnagel in Calgary and simplified the hell out of it, reduced the running game to one zone read play, along with a ‘stick your head into the pile’ short yardage play. The passing game was also reduced dramatically from Hufnagel’s playbook, confining our Leos offence to a limited and predictable set of pocket passing plays.
THE BUONO SPREAD OFFENCE or “FOR EVERY COMPLEX CHALLENGE THERE IS AN ANSWER THAT IS CLEAR, SIMPLE, AND WRONG”
The Buono version of the Spread Offence offence was very simple and restrictive. It was also very predictable and became very stale. It was not uncommon for defenses to often call out our offensive plays before the snap. CFL defensive coordinators at various times, commented, in one way or another, that they had a lighter workload to prepare for our offence, because they knew what we would be doing – after all, we did the same thing, game after game, year after year. “Wally is not going to try to fool you” was a common refrain.
Wally said the same thing. He never hid that fact. He made it clear – football was best played when it was kept simple. He didn’t care if the opposition knew what we were going to do. He believed that it didn’t matter – that the offensive plays that we ran were so well designed that all that was required for success was simple, effective execution. If the offence was dealing with any adversity, Wally simplified it even more. The notion that football had changed a hell of a lot from the time Vince Lombardi coached football and he should change with it, never entered Buono’s head (and Lombardi’s offence was actually innovative for its time).K.I.S.S. OR “LIFE SHOULD NOT BE A BOX OF CHOCOLATES, NOT KNOWING WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO GET”
“Wallyisms often abounded” and if one was a ‘true believer’ in Wally, then it was easy to drink up Wally’s folksy football Kool Aid sayings as if they were truly inspirational and divine. For example, Wally would often say that we needed only to focus on ourselves and the execution of our assignments and not worry the opposition. But I’m the kinda person that wants to know what the opposition may have in store for me – kinda makes common sense – but Wally was able to justify poor or absent scouting and poor game planning with his comment of just focusing on ourselves.
Smart phones may have become popular, but Wally still loved the simplicity of that old landline, in spite of their restrictions. Computers were the new ‘in thing; but for accuracy Wally still believed you can’t beat that old abacus. CFL coaches all used head sets but Wally still believed that yelling his head off over the noise of the crowd was more sensible.
We all can feel nostalgic about a time when our world was simpler but Wally tried to live in that simpler world, especially when it came to football, each and every day. The reality was that the world was becoming increasingly complex and football had become increasingly complex. But in Leo Land, keeping things simple remained the prevailing motto. No question that simple was clear but simple can also be unwise.
When Charles Darwin gave us an explanation of human survival and success, based on a concept of survival of the ‘fittest’, some folks chose to interpret ‘fittest’ as the strongest or fastest and even the most selfish. Darwin was actually talking about wisest and wisest was based on who adapted best. Those that adapted best also used a lot of empathy. If simple and selfish had been the answer, we would still be living in caves and scavenging for left over scraps from other animal kills.
Humans did not become the apex creature by continuing to focus on ‘keeping it simple’ and ‘looking out for #1, or just being ‘tough’. Instead, we continued to adapt and change our ways of doing things. To succeed, we increasingly moved towards the concepts of change, complexity, empathy, and cooperation. However, Wally, tried, as best he could, to keep his football as far away from the concept of ‘adaption’ as possible, for as long as possible.
I almost swear, that Wally, at the time of its introduction, would have banned the ballpoint pen, with the belief that the ink well and quill built character.
Therefore, to Buono, football was all about ‘execution’ and ‘making big plays’. It was also about fear based game call decision making rather than a good sense of risk/reward but that is an aside. When the opposition has a good idea of what you are going to do, when the element of surprise and unpredictability are removed, your players are disadvantaged. I believe in the notion of advantaging your own team and disadvantaging the opposition.
Execution has to be implemented at an extremely high level and the ability to constantly make big individual plays also becomes essential for success without the advantage of unpredictabliity. Wally's offensive philosophy required superior talent, tremendous discipline and dedication, and outstanding execution to overcome a predictable offensive scheme.
The philosophy was also self-serving. If success was based solely on execution, then only Leo players could be responsible for failure – i.e. they failed to ‘execute’ the sound plan. However, when success happened, well then, success was shared – the players had executed the sound plan but Wally had set them up for success in the first place, therefore deserving the most credit. The more this way of looking at things became prevalent, the more players, media and fans slid down the rabbit hole into Wally’s World. Wally could then disperse the Kool Aid at will and make anything look big or small at his choosing.
Wally could also play the Queen of Hearts, using fear to motivate or he could contact members of the press and media and become the Cheshire Cat. In this world, Wally had the ability to take any person of his choosing and make them who he wanted them to be – the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the Caterpillar, or the March Hare. Just ask Paul McCallum, as one example of many. Wally decided it was time for McCallum to decide to retire, after the first week of training camp, without McCallum ever every saying he was retiring, after Wally decided that Richie Leone was a good (and cheaper) replacement.
Time and again, during football playoffs, even when we had better talent that the opposition but that talent edge was not overwhelmingly superior, we often lost in the playoffs, as opposing teams were able to gain a tremendous edge due to their superior game plans in comparison to ours.
I wrote an article, a number or years ago, on Stukes Chalk Talk, titled ‘The Spread is Dead”, which it mostly was, as a volume offence, except in Leo Land. Wally’s version of the Spread had deserved a funeral for many, many years. As is the case for all plug and play style offensive systems, defenses eventually adapt. The plug and play systems are not abandoned. Instead, they are reduced and become an aspect of an overall pro offensive system.
For example, in the NFL, in almost every offence, we see elements of West Coast, Run and Shoot, Zone Read, Spread, and RPO. We see Shot Gun and Pistol, as well as the quarterback directly under center. On occasion we see Wildcat and Option. We see up tempo and no huddle as well as taking time off the clock. We see two backs and single back and empty backfields. We see fullbacks, at times. We see one tight end, two tight ends, three tight ends, and no tight end We see split back, off-set, “I” formation, and H Back formations. We see wing and veer and zone read and outside read, jet sweeps, and power style of run plays. We see zone blocking and man blocking, we see pulling linemen and we see trap blocking.
In 2018, Buono decided to step down as GM and focus on Head Coaching duties for his final season. Buono hired Ed Hervey as GM, who in fact was really hired as a glorified Player Personnel Director to sign free agents and talent, (while Wally retained power) in order for Wally to have one last crack at a Grey Cup victory.
Hervey, wanting to hire or sign anyone or anything that ever had worn green and gold advocated the hiring of Jarious Jackson. Buono was on the same page with the hiring too, as he had hired Jackson as a coach, had previously named him a team captain as a player, even when Jackson was not a starter, and was an advocate of what could be referred to as Kool Aid hiring – Wally much preferred assistant coaches who had been weaned on Buono Kool Aid early and often.
However, the surprise of the 2018 season was not the Jarious Jackson hiring but that Jackson was allowed to implement a new offence to B.C. – the RPO offence that Steve McAdoo had implemented in both Edmonton and Saskatchewan (with mostly dubious results).b]OH NO, ITS RPO or RPO GOES WITH TRAVIS AND JONATHAN LIKE PEAS AND CARROTS (ER LIKE PEANUT BUTTER AND BROCCOLI) [/b]
The Philadelphia Eagles had won the Super Bowl the previous season, using some RPO plays and a few NFL teams had also implemented RPO plays, when they had a starting quarterback who had been college trained in that offensive system.
So, in 2018, with Buono and Hervey’s support, Jarious Jackson, in his first stint as an OC, implemented (and promoted) his new offensive system. Jackson’s RPO involved a quick post snap read, with a goal of getting the football to offensive players quickly in space using a much quicker passing offence. Also promoted was the concept that defenses would not know whether we would be running or passing. The quarterback would make the post snap decision based on the movement of a single defender, usually a safety or halfback or linebacker lurking on the second level of the defense, directly after the snap.
Our offensive players also would not know if it was going to be a run or a pass play until after the snap of the football – no one knew - not the offensive line, who would be run blocking on every play, not the receivers, who would be running routes and never blocking for running plays, not the running back, who did not know if he would be getting the football or not, not the quarterback, who had to make a split second post snap read, and not the coaches either, because it was all predicated on how the defense was lined up at that crucial split second after the snap.
After so much simplicity and predictability with the Buono version of the Spread Offence, with our Leos giving up more sacks than any other CFL team during the era of the Buono Spread Offence (and with our Leos having won only one playoff game since 2011) there was fan enthusiasm for offensive system change (to make an understatement). But this would not turn out to be the offensive change fans were looking for.
Jarious Jackson implemented a total RPO (Really Bad Offence) offensive system in 2017. What most media and fans were not told and what most did not did not understand was that in the NFL, RPO plays were an addition to a pro-style offense. They were a set of plays that were an option to punish an aggressive run defense. No NFL team pro team had ever fully implemented an offence totally based on RPO and no NFL team would be crazy enough to attempt it.
In that 2018 season, when RPO plays were most utilized in the NFL, only a few teams used any RPO plays at all. Those that did, did not use them as the major component of their offences. Here are the teams that used RPO the most that season and the amount of RPO they used. Chiefs: 18.1%, Eagles: 18.0% Packers: 15.1% Bengals: 11.6% Jets: 11.0%.
But here in Leo Land, media and fans were not just given a glass of orange Kool-Aid about our new offence. We weren’t even given a tumbler of it. Instead, we were given an entire 45 gallon load of the stuff and all would be sweet and tasty. Of course, we weren’t told that not one Leo offensive starter, had EVER played one down of that style of offence.
Now, there could have been some advantages of a new offence in B.C. – for example, less predictability, less staleness, etc. However, at the pro level, coaches who have been successful over time, realize how important the quarterback’s skill set are to an offence.
For example, you never saw the Patriots using a lot of rollouts and bootlegs for Tom Brady nor is that happening in Tampa Bay either. Our Leos did not roll out Jerry Tagge often either, in the days of the Cardiac Kids. The Jacksonville Jaguars have not attempted to make Lamar Jackson solely a pocket passing quarterback nor has Seattle done that to Russell Wilson either. Most pro offences make adaptions to their offence for their quarterback’s strengths and favored style of play and some pro offences design or revamp their entire offensive system around their quarterback’s skill set.
Well, in B.C. that concept would have been considered sacrilegious by Buono. Plug and play and then execute was the prevailing and only philosophy. That’s why we ran so much pocket passing for Casey Printers, Buck Pierce, Jarious Jackson, Travis Lulay, and Jonathan Jennings, who were all very mobile quarterbacks, when in our Spread Offence.
So, why would we ever consider our quarterback’s skill set or previous experiences as part of the equation of whether and how much to implement a total RPO offence We never had so why would we start now.
Both Jonathan Jennigns and Travis Lulay had a two week training camp to completely and utterly change their styles of play and their entire ways of thinking from their entire high school, college, and previous pro careers, as quarterbacks. It must have felt like going from planet Earth to planet Pluto in warp speed.
Of course, significant issues became evident with our new RPO Offence. But the problems would not be blamed on Jarious Jackson or Ed Hervey or Wally Buono, all of whom were either the architects or decision makers, in terms of implementing this offence. Instead, like Machiavellian charlatans, they avoided all responsibility. Hervey dumped the entire load of blame on Jonathan Jennings, making him the entire scapegoat due to his ‘lack of dedication’ (to the chagrin of not only Jennings but Lulay too, who knew better).
Jarious Jackson also got into the blame game (after all, he learned from the best) and more than implied that Jennings was not smart enough to run the offence. The keys to the offence were then turned over to Lulay, who experienced the same issues and challenges as Jennings.
Even being down 25-0 at half time, on Wally Buono night, never spurred our ‘brain’ trust to make offensive adaptions. Our brutal and embarrassing playoff loss to Hamilton would be the last game Lulay would ever play. The loss was a fitting end for Wally, whose rigidity and stubbornness were the key factors in that humiliating loss. But Lulay deserved a more fitting end to his career.
But Lulay was not alone, in being handicapped in his pro career as a Leo in the Buono regime. We took fast tailbacks and turned them into plough horses, as we ran them up the gut often thoughtlessly. We made Andrew Harris miserable and often, whether it was trying to turn him into a defensive back or running the same zone read play over and over. We inserted Rainy into the backfield rotation and ran him right up the gut too, ignoring his outside speed. Wally considered ‘juking’ almost sinful for a tailback. Just ask Jeremiah Johnson. A designed run outside the tackles was treated in the Buono era as if it was a rare infectious disease and a back who bounced it outside was quickly reminded his contract was not guaranteed.WHAT THE HECK or “STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES”
Fast receivers were often turned into possession style receivers and slower but skilled possession receivers were usually given a lot of of vertical ‘go’ decoy routes. We usually ran an overdose of crossing patterns against zone defense. We used slotbacks to block the blitz and we very often overdosed on deep patterns or long developing intermediate routes, with no safety valve in place. The fullback, when inserted, was treated like change in a jeans pocket – how do I use this?
You couldn’t screw it up worse ,at times, if you tried. Screen patterns were banished from the playbook and only reintroduced on rare occasion. Any run play that attacked the edge was considered ‘flaky’. Any play that was not in a 1940’s football playbook was considered a ‘gimmick’ play’. Quarterback rollouts, bootlegs, sprint outs, as well as any quarterback movement, except taking a drop step or two, was considered ‘collegy’. Reverses, counters, misdirection type plays were considered ‘trying to fool the opposition’ and therefore placed in the ‘unmanly’ scrap heap.
The same pass plays, and pass patterns were used against man or zone defense. No sense complicating things so we often ran crossing patterns again and again against zone defenses and the notion of a pick play against man defenses would have been considered ‘sly’ at best and not even considered at worst.
It was kinda like this scenario ‘here are all my weapons’ and I know you are hiding many of yours’ but I’m honorable (or stupid) so let’s have a battle. Another scenario was that our Leos were kinda like the guy in the Indiana Jones movie who pulls out a knife and then Indiana Jones shoots him.
But perhaps the scenario which reminded me most of Wally’s World were the Zulu’s, who at one time, were told by their witch doctor, prior to entering battle, that their shields would protect them from bullets. When the shields did not protect them, the witch doctor’s response was that the Zulu warriors had had not held their shields properly – in other words, the problem was a lack of 'execution', not that there was something wrong with the plan in the first place.
DUM AND DUMMER, MIND BOGGLING, OR “STUPID IS DOING THE SAME AND EXPECTING A DIFFERENT RESULT
Buono walked away from our Leos after the 2018 season. He had been a CFL Head Coach for 22 years, he led the CFL record for both victories and losses, he had been to the Big Dance and won a number of times, (but not for a long while) and his comeback had not turned out as planned. His net worth at the time was considered to be around 24 million, he was past normal retirement age, and each day in the life of a Head Coach is a long one. The time had more than arrived for Wally to walk away and enjoy retirement life.
For the 2019 season, Ed Hervey remained in place as Wally’s chosen successor as G.M. Hervey hired Devon Claybrooks, who at the time was considered to be the front runner for the next available CFL Head Coaching position. Claybrooks hired his own coaching staff, with the exception of Jarious Jackson, who had been signed to a two year contract. While Jackson deserved to be fired, based on the ineptitude of his offence in 2017, Hervey had played a role and had also been enthusiastic regarding Jackson’s hiring, as well as totally supporting him in 2017.
So, Jackson returning for a second season as OC did not surprise. This is Leo Land. However, what was a shock was that Jackson kept the same RPO offence for the 2018 season, only this time Mike Reilly was stuck attempting to quarterback it and make it work. Reilly even had some previous experience with an RPO offence in Edmonton when McAdoo and Jackson coached there. But Reilly’s significant success happened after both McAdoo and Jackson left with their playbook to join Chris Jones in Saskatchewan.
It is beyond mind boggling that we allowed Jackson to use his RPO offensive system again and continued to stick with it for another year and another set of 18 games. Reilly could not make it work. The evidence was so obvious that this was a failed offensive system that even the occasional fan was opening a puke bag each time our offence went onto the field.
Jackson being so stuck on his offence was one major issue. But zealots and blind people do exist. However, another question is why did Claybrooks or Ed Hervey (who was never been shy about interfering) not order Jarious to burn it and run something different or at least make adjustments. Jackson had played quarterback in a spread offence and had also played in Toronto and Denver. It was not as if RPO was all he knew or understood.
An interesting sidelight is that, at different moments in time, both Chapdelaine’s Spread Offence playbook and Jarious Jackson’s RPO playbooks both went missing. Chapdelaine’s play book went missing from his home (or so he said) whereas Jackson said his playbook was stolen from his vehicle, after he left it in the open, while going for drinks while watch an MMA fight, after a home game. Both incidents were considered news by the sports press and media. However, there should have been no sense of concern. There would be no need to steal a Leos Spread or RPO playbook. Everyone knew what we were doing anyways.
If there is something important to learn in all of this is that the ego does not distort facts, when it wants to believe what it wants to believe and wants to do what it wants to do. It ‘just plain’ ignores facts if those facts don’t work with the original concept that suits their agenda.WHAT IS THE REAL AGENDA? or “ENLIGHTENMENT IS EGO’S ULTIMATE DISAPPOINTMENT.
In this case of our Leos offensive systems, for almost two decades, “Simple was better because simple was a philosophy favored by Buono and therefore adopted by our coaching staff. It lived and breathed on the philosophy that life its much better if you simplify, even though that may not be the best approach. It was also based on a formula that if nothing would ever be Buono's fault when things didn’t go well, but ensured he receieved most attention and credit when things did go well. It was fool proof unless one looked past the surface of things.
The sports media in Vancouver alsp priortized accssiblity over good analytical coverage. A Wally quote or a Wally interview was much more integral to their jobs than ever giving their fans and viewers the 'real stuff'. They knew Buono would likley be around for a long time so it was a I scratch your back, you scratch mine scenario.
That basically summarizes life as a Leo fan for me for almost two decades. With Buono and Hervey gone, with Jarious Jackson gone, my hope is for a fresh start and most importantly, in that fresh start, is that we will see accountability and responsibility not just heaped on Leos players but also coaches and all members of the Leos who play a direct role in our team’s success.
SUCCESSFUL OFFENCE OR “MY MAMA ALWAYS SAID YOU’VE GOT TO PUT THE PAST BEHIND YOU BEFORE YOU CAN MOVE ON”
Successful offensive schemes have a foundation in both a running and a three-level passing attack that stretches the field both horizontally and vertically. The key to every offence today is the following 1) the run sets up the pass 2) the pass sets up the run and most importantly 3) play action is the key and in both ways – you can play action run to set up a pass or you can set up a play to look like a pass to set up a run. It’s more than the scheme, of course. But the scheme goes a long way to explaining the bigger picture.
Even more importantly, within successful offence, is the notion that every play looks like five other plays. This methodology puts the defense in conflict. But to make it work, the offensive coordinator and head coach need to know not only the what and the why but the players need to know also. The days of plug and play only are over. When players understand the concept and the why, they buy in.
Within the passing game, every receiver needs to have an arsenal of cuts, so the defensive backs have to honor all angles of a cut of their stem. In today’s game, those cuts look different than they once did. Those cuts not only happen a lot quicker at times, but the angles are also not just 90 degrees and 45 degree angles anymore, like the old post and corner and out and drag patterns. The patterns are also much more precise.
THE RUNNING ATTACK or THERE IS AN AWFUL LOT YOU CAN TELL ABOUT A PERSON BY THEIR SHOES.
Almost every football coach will say they need an effective run game and then many of them will spend most of their practice time on offence running skeleton pass plays. Studies of effectiveness prove, time and again, in a variety of settings, that time on task is often the best predictor of success. For example, and an analogy, the research on effective learning proves that the amount of time on task is the best predictor of student success, followed secondly (but importantly) by teacher effectiveness.
Another good example is that many high school basketball coaches will constantly yap about the importance of defense but rarely practice it – as if good team and individual defense is just dropped down from above from a cloud or can be magically conjured up with a desperate plea.
The same holds true for football. If you want to run the football successfully, you gotta spend time at it. The same hold true for special teams. Head coaches will say that special teams are important – that its 1/3 of the game. But talk is cheap if they spend 10 minutes son special teams at only one practice during a week.
If a team is running the football 40% of the time, then 40% of offensive practice needs to be dedicated to the running game. The best job I have ever seen a Leos coach perform in teaching the running game was Vic Rapp, who coached the running backs, while Head Coach of our Leos.
Watching Vic Rapp coach the off-tackle run play (the fullback was the lead blocker who kicked out the outside linebacker, while the tight end and tackle doubled down on the defensive end) was something to behold, in terms of attention to detail. Watching him coach the inside counter trap to John Henry White was in the same realm.
For quite a while, in the modern era of pro football, the run game was continually devalued. In the CFL, that trend had become even more prevalent, until John Hufnagel returned to the CFL, first of all in 2007 as a guest coach and consultant with our Leos and then as GM and HC of Calgary in 2008. CFL offences had become much too much just about spread ‘pitch and catch’.
Hufnagel’s first time around had been an innovative approach to the passing game. This time Hufnagel brought a renewed emphasis on the running attack, along with some different approaches to its success. Unfortunately, in the Buono era, despite Buono’s constant assertion of the importance of running the football, offensive practice overfocused on passes and blitz pickup rather than run skeleton. Our offensive line practiced run technique but the run game also needs a lot of skeleton, using backs and defensive personell.
Time allocation is very important to very effective run-blocking. If your offence can run the football effectively, then the offence can build passing-game concepts off the run concepts, which allows the offense to keep the defense guessing (which, conceptually, is how successful offenses from as old as the hills have been built)
But the key overall, is to never become stagnant offensively. While foundation concepts are critical for offensive success, constant adaption and innovation are also essential. The world moves more quickly than ever now. The pace of change continuously increases.
For most of human history, stability was mostly a constant in human life and change usually happened slowly and incrementally (unless one was being chased by sabre toothed tiger). However, in today’s world, change is the new normal and stability has become more rare, rather than mostly a constant. Therefore, as a football coach, one must be increasingly adaptable.
PUT THE PRESSURE WHERE IT BELONGS or STRESS IN THE RIGHT PROPORTION ENHANCES THE FLAVOR OF THE DISH BUT IF THE PROPORTION IS WRONG, WELL…..
A much more prevalent notion than yesteryear is to make everything easy on the players and hard on the opponent. But first some background.
At one time, it was common for the quarterback to call all the plays, to call all the offensive line blocking calls, to call the pass pattern design, to read the defense, or go through pre-snap reads, to call an audible if necessary, and to execute the play successfully (going through progressions on pass plays)That was a lot of pressure along with a lot of execution. That was a lot to deal with, while also sometimes playing in pain while a 300 pound lineman was trying to rip his head off or unattach his leg from his torso. (Now they are just attempting to break his ribs)
That was a heck of a lot of things for a quarterback to deal with. Plus Joe Kapp had to think about selling peanut butter too.
One of the changes that has taken place at the college level has been to simplify the game for the quarterback. That way, college football coaches can take a first or second year highly talented quarterback and make him a starter. The zone read and the RPO offence were, in part, designed for that reason – a simple read (or so it seemed) and quick success.
But at the pro level, simple offences or even the same offensive system, run over and over again, are not the recipe for success. Defenses game plan too well and adjust very quickly to simple offences or seeing the same style of offence over and over again.
However, the offensive system at the pro level cannot overtax the quarterback. So, how does a coach take the load off? Well, decades ago, we took a chunk of the load off by not having quarterbacks call their own plays. That is not even necessary now, even in up tempo or no huddle now, as the offensive coordinator can send the play call in wirelessly to the quarterback’s helmet.
Offensive line blocking was also taken away from the quarterback. Now the center makes all the offensive line calls. Centers now (and for quite a long time actually) have to be the most cerebral guy player on the team, other than the quarterback.
Good offences also do a lot of motion and shifting before the snap for advantage. The Buono predictability of having receivers waggling up to the line of scrimmage was an advantage in terms of the receiver hitting the line of scrimmage at full speed but greater advantage could have been derived more from motion and shifts than waggling.
Importantly, formation, motion, shifts or even personnel change cannot tip off an offensive play. There have to be five or six plays that come off every ‘look’ and these plays need to be complimentary to each other or set up each other.
One of the best ways to take pressure off the quarterback is play desgin to get rid of the football quickly, with quicker passing plays and the utilization of safety valves on every pass play. A recipe for stress, excess challenge, failure and injury at the quarterback position is to have the quarterback pressured too often, hit too often, and sacked too often. For example, if you look at the teams who made the NFL playoffs this season, they are teams that don’t get their quarterbacks hit very often and that is by design, not just due to offensive line play. The pass plays are designed for quicker throws.
Of course, when we had our Leos quarterbacks leading the CFL in receiving the most pressures, hits, sacks, and injuries, the notion of offensive philosophy change was the furthest thing from Wally’s mind. Instead, his response was “That is why we have four of them on the roster”.
Designing an offence with a philosophy of making it easier on your offensive players while placing maximum stress on the defense is the complete opposite of ‘this is what we do” and the increased pressure of attempting to execute at a very high level on every play and an impossible level at times to. I can’t think of anything worse than trying to block or execute a short yardage play, when the opposition lines up more defenders than blockers, while knowing exactly what you intend to do, and still you are sworn at by your Head Coach for the failure of the play. That is the definition of crazy making.
By making things easier on offensive players, and especially the quarterback, by using scheme and play calling and formation and motion and play design to put stress on a defense, it also allows an offence to focus on some other details that can make a difference.
For example, watch a CFL game and see how often the football is snapped on one or after the first sound after the play call. Why does that happen? It’s because the players the players have to focus so much on purrfect execution, that changing the timing of the snap often leads to procedure penalties. Therefore, coaches and quarterbacks use the same snap count for most plays and losing a key offensive advantage. Get off is important and especially for line play.
Changing the snap count often is a real advantage for an offence and can also lead to defensive off-side penalties. The key once again is to put stress on the defense and an offensive philosophy that takes pressure off offensive players enables these details such as snap count. The over-riding concept in all of this is not to stress the defense, and not your offensive players.
But simplifying the offensive playbook while increasing pressure on players to execute predictable play calls is not the answer. Instead, its having an innovative offensive system that players understand the ‘why’s of. It also makes football exciting for the players.
Imagine two scenarios. You come to practice each day and run the same short set of plays over and over and over again, practice after practice, game after game, season after season or a second scenario, where you have a fundamental set of plays (that you can make look very different with formation motion, shifts, personnel, etc.) and other group of plays that are introduced to take advantage of the opposing defense, enhance unpredictability, etc. Which excites you more? What would make you excited about practice? What would you feel would give you the best advantage in winning?
What I am hoping for in our new offensive system for 2021 is an offence that has some spice, some variety, some unpredictability. We have not had that since partway through the 2004 season. That is a very long time. What we have enjoyed watching, at times, are some very talented and dedicated Leo players make plays when they could, while overcoming schemes that handicapped them or restricted them.
OUR NEW OFFENSIVE SYSTEM OR “ALWAYS LOOK BACK AND BE ABLE TO SAY I DON’T LEAD NO HUMDRUM LIFE”
Jordan Maksymic was instrumental in helping Mike Reilly win the CFL Most Outstanding Player Award in 2017. Reilly was also the league’s leader in passing yards in each of their three seasons together and tied Trevor Harris for the most touchdown passes (30) in 2018.
Prior to landing with the Eskimos, Maksymic spent two seasons (2014-15) as running backs coach and offensive assistant with the Ottawa Red Blacks.
What do we know? Well, there is There is no doubt that Maksymic will bring a different philosophy. Maksymic has been involved as a coach in an offensive system in Edmonton that has ranked in the top three of total yards in every season to 2016.
We know, as a passing game coordinator, he allows his quarterback to have freedom to use his instincts and natural ability. Last season Trevor Harris was on a pace to obliterate his career-best in passing yards. When you look at Mike Reilly‘s numbers when the passing game was coached by Maksymic, compared to Stephen McAdoo or Jarious Jackson, they are night and day.
For further evidence, look at Reilly last season under Jarious in comparison to his previous season working under Maksymic, using Maas offensive system. Dickenson, in Saskatchewan, has dumped the RPO style offence they utilized in the past under McAdoo and Jackson.
What are some things we can anticipate in a Makysmic offence?
It will be aggressive in its use of tempo, motion and willingness to stretch the field. It will attempt to use motion and blocking schemes in such a way to attack pre-determined weakness.
In that regard, it will be very different than what we have been used to in terms of the Buono spread and the Jackson RPO. It will not be plug and play regardless of the opposition team’s style of defense. Game planning will involve a lot more analysis of our opponents defensive formations, style, etc.
It will use horizontal motion to get a running start and we will not just see slotbacks waggling to the line of scrimmage. That will make me happy because the defender will not know at what juncture the receiver will break his motion to go up field. It also means that defenders can get caught up in the wash in man defense and it can also create assignment confusion against zone.
The passing game is designed to create one on one matchups and take advantage of mismatches. The offence will be up tempo most of the time, meaning that the offensive play will get off in less than 2/3 of the normal clock. We should not see nowhere near as many of those delay of games calls, we so often saw in the Buono era.
Maksymic’s offence will be designed to take shots downfield while also being able to play the pass possession game.
Defense may win championships, but offence is the most exciting spice. What are you hoping to see in a new offensive system? What would you emphasize or what would be your priorities as part of a new offence? What do you not want to see again? What gives you the most satisfaction when watching an offence operate?Just a few questions to spur you into sharing your thoughts about our Leos offence for 2021.WRAP