Lessons from Jeremy Maclin

Readers of the college football blogosphere may be familiar with the work of The Boy, who blogs at Rock M Nation, posted some "Beyond the Box Score" entries over at SMQ, and also wrote a preview about Texas that is nothing short of excellent.  I had a conversation with him about Missouri and Jeremy Maclin because I was interested in learning more about their offense and how they used him.  Maclin is emblematic of the seismic shift in college football in regards to skill players and Texas could learn from him.  Many thanks to The Boy for taking the time to communicate with me, a lowly poster.

1.  Besides his obvious incredible speed, what do you think differentiates Maclin from other players of his size, who may also be as fast as he is?

Honestly, one thing that separates him from others as fast as him is that he's 6'1, 200. He was only about 185 or so last year, and he's bulked up to take some more pounding, but he's certainly not Trindon Holliday-sized.  Beyond that, though, his vision is simply unbelievable. It really comes down to that--vision, instincts, and unbelievable speed. He set the freshman record for all-purpose yards without really knowing how to run routes. They say that's what he worked on in the offseason, and if he actually becomes a better route-runner, wow.

2.  My recollection is that Pinkel took his offense from Todd Dodge when he was at Southlake Carroll.  Is that correct, and if so, how has the offense evolved since then?

I think they had a pretty good relationship with Dodge, but Pinkel didn't actually specifically take the SLC spread. What they did, though, was create an offense adaptable for both Brad Smith types and Chase Daniel types. They adapt based on the personnel around them, and that's the main reason a) Chase Daniel came to Mizzou and has succeeded like he has, and b) Jeremy Maclin caught 80 passes, had 51 rushes, and even threw two passes. When Blaine Gabbert (or whoever else) takes the reins from Daniel, the offense will focus more toward the new guy's skill set (which, in Gabbert's case, is having a bazooka for a right arm).

3.  How has the offense been adapted to suit the skills of Maclin?  How does Missouri like to use Maclin in terms of where he lines up, do they put him in motion often, and how so?  How do they like to get him the ball?

Whoops...just answered that one. They lined Maclin up in the backfield a lot, and they sent him in motion for a quick sweep a lot too. At the beginning of last season, they had Martin Rucker taking a direct snap as part of a short yardage, fullback-QB-TE-and-RB-in-one setup. It stopped working after a while, and they stopped using it, but they've shown the willingness to give unique talents plenty of opportunities. And Maclin's possibly the most dynamic talent Mizzou's ever seen.

4.  How often do they use him as a decoy? Does Missouri have a set of complimentary plays they like to run with Maclin tokeep the defense off-balance?

Well, let's put it this way: in the Cotton Bowl destruction of Arkansas, Jeremy Maclin had 3 catches for 32 yards and 5 carries for 26 yards.  Meanwhile, Tony Temple carried the ball 24 times for 281 yards. Mizzoulines up as many big-time athletes as they can at one time, and tells you to pick your poison. Jeremy Maclin is likely to see double- or triple-teams much of 2008...and what that means is, Chase Coffman and Tommy Saunders and Derrick Washington and (when he's healthy) Danario Alexander could see big-time stats because of it. They're not going to force the ball to Maclin when he's triple-teamed--they're just going to move to their other weapons and move the ball down the field.

The Stage

With the proliferation of spread offenses around college football, the traditional pigeonholing of talent as a running back or wide receiver is archaic.  Speed and a creative offense willing to take advantage of that speed are paramount.  Look at Maclin, Percy Harvin, Trindon Holliday, and Joe McKnight as examples.  None of those guys could carry the ball 25 times a game.  It's likely you aren't going to ask any of them to catch a quick slant across the middle on 3rd and 5.  But they are invaluable because of their versatility.  The Boy is right, by putting as many of your best athletes on the field at the same time, you create incredible problems for defenses.  It's all about how an offense can force a defense to over-allocate its resources, leaving other parts of the field vulnerable.

The Implications for Texas

This discussion draws out several points of interest for Longhorn fans:

  1. Speed kills.  Bludgeoning teams with two-tight end sets has its place, but get the most speed on the field as possible.  Watch The Run by DeSean Hales.  Looks like he has a combination of speed, vision, and instincts, no?  While Maclin's skills may transfer more easily, there's no doubt that Hales would be a threat when touching the ball in space.  Maclin didn't even know how to run routes last year!  And it didn't seem to hurt him that much.  How about John Chiles?  Speed, instincts, vision?  Check.  Should this guy be standing next to Mack Brown most of the game?  Didn't think so.  Speed covers mistakes.
  2. Flexibility.  Just like Texas did adapting the offense to Vince Young, now Greg Davis must adapt the offense to players like John Chiles, Fozzy Whittaker, DeSean Hales, and DJ Monroe.  Be honest in your assessment of whether the current offense is maximizing and featuring the talent that you have.  Instead of using vanilla game plans against the Rices of the world, use those games to throw a bunch of your creative plays on the wall and see what sticks.  Take 2008 as a learning season, a test run so to speak.  The transformation may not be complete until 2009, but. it. must. happen.  
  3. Forgive mistakes.  PB mentioned in a Morning Coffee recently that coaches often become too afraid of players failing spectacularly.  Young players make mistakes.  Playmakers erase mistakes.  I think that mantra needs to be beaten into Mack Brown's head.  Playmakers erase mistakes.  Erase them.  As in, you no longer need to worry about those mistakes.  Jeremy Maclin appears to have made a few with his route-running.  It looks like Missouri survived them, huh?  Maybe the coaching staff will make a mistake, or a play will stop working, like the Rucker package did.  Move on.  

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