Loeffler, Grimes, and the Future of the Running Game

The staple of Virginia Tech's offense in the Frank Beamer era for over two decades was a bruising running game. While we screamed about Logan Thomas's inaccuracy, the lack of blocking, and playmaking by wide receivers, the complete inability of Virginia Tech to establish a running game was the biggest impediment to winning football games. Virginia Tech had moderate success running off tackle power from the I formation, occasionally got the read option going from the spread, and once in blue moon they got 3 yards on a toss sweep. But, more often than not, the Hokie offensive line went east west, and the running backs went nowhere. The end results were a confused Frank Beamer and 3rd-and-12s.

If the Hokies want to return to dominance in 2013, the first task for new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes will be to establish a cohesive concept for running the football that Virginia Tech lacked last season, and then instill the attitude and fundamentals necessary to dominate using such a philosophy.

The Philosophy

Scot Loeffler has a wide variety of experience. He has coached in pro-style systems as part of Lloyd Carr's coaching tree. He was exposed to the spread option under Urban Meyer. Film of Loeffler coached offenses at Temple and Auburn indicate that Loeffler wants to run the football to set up attacking, down the field routes in the seams. At both Temple and Auburn, he used a two-back rotation. His prototypical back was a 6'0", 200-pounder that looks big, but hits a hole with speed. Loeffler running backs have averaged 5.4 (Pierce-TU), 5.9 (Brown-TU), 5.9 (Mason-AU), and 6.1 (McCaleb) yards per carry in his two seasons as an offensive coordinator. At Auburn and Temple, Loeffler prominently featured the use of skill position blockers that are more of a hybrid than traditional tight ends and fullbacks. Often, he used two on the same play, and used them to influence block or trap defenders while the offensive line zone blocked to the play side. These hybrid players can't just be a traditional battering ram lead blocker, but must move laterally based on the play call, read the defense, and be athletic enough to adjust in space.

At Temple, Loeffler leaned heavily on a quick-hitting north-south running game. His game plan featured a significant amount of cross blocking power plays (pulling a guard to lead up through the hole). Loeffler complemented power plays with trap plays using H-Back/fullback flexed off the line of scrimmage as a pulling guard. The play has the offensive line leave an aggressive defender unblocked, which allows him to get up field, giving an angle for the pulling H-Back to create a hole. In today's lexicon, coaches call this a "wham" play rather than a trap.

The wham play can be run as a trap on a linebacker or defensive lineman. The play develops as the play side offensive linemen allow the defenders to get penetration, but to the outside gap. When whamming a linebacker, as I have diagrammed above, two offensive linemen create double team on a nose tackle or one technique to create a seam, but ignore the play side linebacker. When whamming a defensive lineman, the offensive line will leave the defensive lineman unblocked and attack the play side linebackers. The back side offensive linemen will seal their play side back, and then scoop back to prevent back side pursuit.

The unblocked defensive player most often will crash into the backfield, giving the pulling H-Back a terrific angle. It is a surprisingly simple block because the defender is often so focused on getting in the backfield that he will not see it coming. Because the block catches the defender off guard, the blocker doesn't have to be physically dominant to win the battle. The tailback lines up very deep, but charges the line hard to have quick momentum towards the line. Once he takes the handoff, the back will bend off the butt of the trapping H-Back. Sometimes, the defender will take himself out of the play without the block as long as the H-Back is in between the defender and the ball carrier. Once the defender gets trapped, it often causes them to start reading the play and not attacking, which opens up other opportunities for power plays and options.

Here, Temple runs the wham, trapping the middle linebacker against Villanova.

2:35–2:43

Watching Temple film from 2011, almost 8 out of 10 running plays involved either running power plays with the back side guard pulling and leading through, or variations of the wham play. Loeffler worked some play action off the wham, with the H-Back faking inside and then bootlegging back to the flat for short passes. Temple also ran a limited group of read option and sweep from the shotgun set (especially against Penn State) that looked very similar to the base spread running game we saw from the Hokies in 2012.

Enter Jeff Grimes

Scot Loeffler was brought to Auburn from Temple to oversee the overhaul of the Auburn HUNH spread offense. The perception at both Florida and Auburn was that such an offense could win short-term in the SEC, but eventually recruits would understand that the HUNH system teaches a skill set which damages draft-ability into the NFL. (No one can convince me that Meyer's "health problems" weren't the result of the realization that he was not getting enough offensive talent for his system to work against top SEC defenses like Alabama.) Loeffler had the spread in his background, and looked to wean Auburn off it into a pro-style offense.

Awaiting Loeffler was offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. Grimes' offensive lines had paved the way for Cam Newton's Heisman Trophy, and he is regarded as a well-respected offensive line coach. Collaborating with Grimes, Loeffler's offensive approach changed slightly. Instead of blocking down, pulling guards and whamming H-Backs, Auburn ran plays where the running backs appeared to be running the same plays, but the offensive line used zone blocking to the play side gap almost exclusively. The similarities stem from the fullback and H-Backs, who lined up in a wide variety of sets as wings, double fullbacks, flexed tight ends, but who move east-west and then trap defensive ends or seal trailing linebackers from angles that drive the defense crazy.

The staple of the Auburn running game in 2012 was a zone blocked fullback lead from the "I" formation. The play is relatively simple.

The tailback lines up seven yards deep. At the snap, every offensive lineman reach blocks the gap to the play side. The fullback doesn't lead straight into a predetermined hole. Rather, he must be athletic enough to bend and then attack through the gap behind the uncovered offensive lineman and seal the linebacker. The running back follows the fullback's read and attacks the line off his block. Here, Auburn runs the play two times in a row for big yardage from the shadow of the end zone.

35:00–36:20

Space is created by the offensive linemen taking wide splits, and the threat of getting hooked on a stretch play by the right tackle forces the defensive end to widen out as the play develops rather than close down the hole. If the end starts crashing inside, the same backfield motion and blocking allows the back to bend it outside and get to the edge. Against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, Auburn ran numerous variations of the stretch power lead, sometimes even with two fullbacks.

53:18–53:33

There is one significant downside to zone blocking as your primary run blocking technique. Your center and both guards are expected to take a first step laterally and reach monster defensive tackles who have a shorter distance to cover to get penetration and blow up the zone play before the running back can get forward momentum. Last season, the Hokie guards and centers failed almost without exception when asked to reach decent 1- and 3-technique defensive tackles. I am not sure if Grimes has the tools to make the improvement in first step, reach, and leg drive needed to make the holdover starters successful, or if it will take several years of development and recruiting to get the right pieces in place. I think Laurence Gibson, Augie Conte, Andrew Miller and perhaps Wyatt Teller fit the mold of tall, rangy offensive linemen with a nasty attitude. I am hopeful that Mark Shuman has that nasty streak and enough quickness, and a healthy Nick Acree has a role to play. At the same time, shorter offensive linemen like David Wang, Matt Arkema, and Caleb Farris may struggle, and Brent Benedict must improve his footwork significantly to work in this system. I also expect the Hokies to cast a wider net recruiting for offensive line, which is a welcome change given how poorly Virginia has produced offensive linemen over the last five years.

Watching film of several of Grimes' offensive lines, familiar patterns emerged. A Jeff Grimes' offensive line consistently uses wider splits than Virginia Tech traditionally used. At Auburn, he used tall rangy offensive linemen, but those linemen take very sharp jab steps to the play side on all zone plays. Despite the poor offensive numbers from Auburn this past season, Grimes young offensive line looked extremely fundamentally sound. I loved their first step, head position, and body lean, all of which are critical to get the initial push needed for quick hitting running plays to open up inside. While the jury may be out of Loeffler as an offensive coordinator, I am really excited about Grimes as a hire at Virginia Tech.

At the same time, nobody can discount how poorly Auburn protected the passer last season (109th nationally, 3.08 / game). Some of that burden falls on their quarterbacks, who had a bad habit of not releasing the football in rhythm and taking sacks as result of holding on to the football. At the same time, SEC defensive lines gave Auburn's very young offensive line fits with stunts, and their effort to zone block elite SEC defensive tackles often resulted in negative plays. No doubt, in the video above you noticed the Clemson one technique almost making a safety on the first zone power lead. Well, when you add SEC speed and power to the equation, you will get a safety, as highlighted in this clip of Auburn-LSU.

0:00–0:08

The offseason strength and conditioning program will be critical. Virginia Tech has always been cutting edge in strength and conditioning, but each prospective offensive line contributor, including fullbacks and tight ends, must have a coordinated program that improves footwork (especially first step) and pad level. Given their performance last year, regardless of the system that Loeffler adopts, the Virginia Tech offensive line must improve their athleticism and leg drive.

Spring football will also give us a looking glass into a new backfield. Based on film, Drew Harris is a perfect fit for a Scot Loeffler tailback, but the paperwork errors involved in getting Harris enrolled put him well behind schedule for learning the nuance of the offense. Frank Beamer has made comments that indicate he wants Trey Edmunds to have a significant role in the 2013 offense. Edmunds got a high volume of snaps in bowl practices. I will assume that he will be listed as the starter when spring practice begins. I expect J.C. Coleman to be a change of pace and 3rd down running back, but I didn't see enough of Coleman pushing the pile for extra yardage to see him as an every down back. For me, Tony Gregory just does not fit this scheme, and his chronic knee problems make it difficult to give him first team snaps in practice.

Looking to the future, A Four-Year Plan

I think this process was difficult for the fan base and Frank Beamer. I would be lying if I didn't say I was disappointed that Beamer could not close the deal with Pep Hamilton and announce the staff changes much sooner. Loeffler, Grimes, and Moorehead will have major work to do to shore up relationships with any offensive recruits, especially quarterback prospect Bucky Hodges and offensive linemen. The long wait put everyone in the program in an awkward position.

I think that, while I am disappointed that Pep Hamilton turned down the job, Scot Loeffler and Jeff Grimes bring several positives to the table. I believe that Loeffler will make it a priority for Virginia Tech to run the football. I think he will also use resources at his disposal to recruit offensive linemen from outside of Virginia to make it happen. His running offense at both Temple and Auburn featured the running back attacking the line of scrimmage downhill, with minimal cutting. Based on film, I believe that we will see some immediate improvement in the fundamentals of offensive line play, and that Grimes won't seek to address the lack of athleticism by attempting to recruit tight ends and bulk them up.

At the same time, there are concerns with both hires which come into focus as you watch games from later in the 2012 Auburn season—the players appear to not buy into the system. Kiehl Frazier's struggles have to be lumped partly on Loeffler as quarterback coach, and Auburn's pass protection goes from proficient early in the season to dreadful by the Arkansas game when you watch the season unfold on film. Grimes also will arrive in Blacksburg facing the chore of teaching an offensive line where experienced players do not fit his archetype, and where very few younger options are as big, strong, and fast as his Auburn group.

As an intelligent and educated fan base, we must evaluate this hire with a long term goal in mind. Loeffler and Grimes were not brought aboard to be packaged with Logan Thomas in a "lightening in a bottle" run at a national championship. They have been brought in to re-establish an offensive identity for Virginia Tech, with the goal of returning the Hokies to ACC dominance for the long term future. It is a process. If the system looks broken in spring football, that doesn't mean it is. Short term, I think that seeing the offense have a high compete level against the defense (traditionally the defense has beaten up the offense in spring football) and getting a clear, simplistic vision for offensive strategy will be the ideal outcome. For 2013, winning the ACC Coastal Division and getting a consistent running game which cuts down on negative plays and has a minimum 3.5 yard per carry in the red zone is critical.

Long term success is easier to measure. Beamer values loyalty above all else, but he realized that his offense needed to re-establish an identity with professional attention to detail in order to have the program contend for a national championship in the future. At the very least, he wants the program to be regarded as ACC powerhouse when he turns over the keys. Either way, dominance in the running game is a critical component to reviving Hokie football.

Comments

Establish the run become #MACKTRUCKOFFENSE

I think Grimes is the probably the more exciting hire out of the three men who were hired. French, you didn't mention anything about Morehead, and limited resources, could you make an educated guess on what we can expect out of the receivers this year?

Also, with Stiney now coaching the tight ends, I do expect to see increased productivity out of the tight ends now that Stiney is no longer tied up with game planning, and he's freer to teach the tight ends more.

I am having some excitement about the prospective of this season. Beating Alabama would be a huge program boost and a big ass shot in the arm for confidence for Tech. I'm not saying it's going to happen, but stranger things have happened before.

I am more disappointed with Harris not being able to enroll until May, but I think he might make the tailback spot more competitive. What about some of the other tailbacks on the roster that's coming - Magnus, for example?

I support Logan Thomas and make no apologies for it.

?

Based on what?

I support Logan Thomas and make no apologies for it.

The passing game is tougher to evaluate. Without a full camera angle, I can't determine the philosophy, route structure, etc. I can tell you that Loeffler wants to be throwing play action on 2nd and 4 much more than drop back on 3rd and 7. Also, we have no idea what the wide receiver corps will look like. Not a single wideout who will be in the top two on the depth chart this year caught a pass in the bowl game.

Honestly, I saw very little film on Mangus. He had terrific speed, but he isn't particularly big, and he was just running past guys, not breaking tackles or making mind blowing cuts. The spring will tell us more.

Tight end will be unique. They need someone who can play a traditional Y and threaten the seam as well as secure the edge, but they also need a flexed H-back who can move and block in space. They used Malleck in that role this year, but instead of using him to wham block, he influenced linebackers and then headed to the flat opposite of where he lined up. We disected the counter read in the preseason http://www.thekeyplay.com/content/2012/august/27/counter-option-pistol but Mike O'Cain rarely featured it with the exception of the pass to the flat once ACC play started. I think Malleck is big enough and athletic enough to effectively wham block, but if that is how he is used, can Zach McCray, Duan Perez Means, or Darius Redman handle the normal tight end responsibility? Big question.

Viva El Guapo

Some thoughts

Mangus might be used as a kick off specialist. I think his speed might be a huge asset in kicking off Beamerball revival. Or maybe not.

I have to agree on the tight end. Malleck still need to learn how to block better than half-assing it sometime. Or am I confusing him with Eric Martin?

I also think the biggest question is the offensive line. They are clearly going to have to learn the blocking scheme and can they handle it? Can they block on a high level on a consistent basis? That's my biggest concern. I do have high expectation that they will get better. Grimes is a proven winner. I just have questions.

I support Logan Thomas and make no apologies for it.

Future of Tight ends

I think Malleck needs to be on the field as much as possible. He is athletic enough to be a major threat through the air and is developing his blocking to be better and better. He showed both of these last year mainly the miami game when he was feature in the pass game. I think with Edmunds and Harris (fingers crossed) in a power running game will really open up the play action game and Malleck in the middle of the field. McCray will also definitely get a lot of snaps in my opinion. What does everyone else think because the tight end will be cruicial position this year in the power running game and I think that we have the athletes to finally have a season where the tight end can become a key player in the offense. Thoughts?

Tightends

Yes, we have some talent at tightend. Do not over look Duan Perez-means, He is an every down tightend, who can catch just as good as the receivers, he caught just as many passes for receiving yards as did Malleck and Dunn in the fall and spring practices. He played tightend / receiver and Defensive end in high school. The kid has soft hands and can run routes with the best of them,given the opportunity this kid will shine and probably become one of the best tightends in tech history.

personnel

Dakota Jackson will be thrown into the TE mix as well.

What about our FBs? Do they fit what Loeffler is going to want?

crap

we still not pass block stunting dl.

/takes drink
/passes it around

To be fair, most of the film with bad pass blocking breakdowns was against LSU (who isn't your normal front) and Arkansas (which happened after the team basically had mailed it in on Chizik.) It was also a very young group filled with freshmen and sophomores.

Viva El Guapo

I was surprised at how much more zone-blocking Loeffler used at Auburn compared to his Temple tape.

I'm sure at Tech we'll see both zone and man blocking used, but which do you think is going to be the dominate scheme next season?

And is it just me, or did the short passing game under Loeffler at both Temple and Auburn seem just as (if not more) safe as Tech's was under Stinespring? Seemed pretty basic and uninspiring from the film, although the Play-action action in the flat was usually open.

Do you think we'll see much improvement in the passing game, or will the focus be to improve rushing while not regress with passing?

The film I watched of Temple was very play action dominated. Short stuff focused on screens and working the tight end. Play action was deep, looking to get big chunks.

I expect them to run the football. If Loeffler can't get VT to a 4-6 yards a pop on most runs, this isn't going to work. They are not going to spread people out and throw 40 tmes a game.

Viva El Guapo

Dual Threat QBs

How will this offensive staff utilize LT's size/unique running ability?

VT typically goes after dual threat QBs, does Loeffler's scheme typically utilize QBs like Vick, Tyrod, etc, or will we start to target and recruit more prototypical QBs?

Twitter me

In my honest opinion, the 2013 season will be an atypical season regarding QB usage. I honestly believe they could use him out of the pistol/shotgun in a similar manner as French described in the original post in place of the H-Back IF LT is given the blocks. As far as future, I think it's necessary to recruit the prototypical QBs. We have no problem recruiting 5 or 6 guys that can run the ball. And while it's nice to have a QB that can figure into that equation, it is doubly important for the QB to have the ability to quickly and accurately hit his target down field. LT is not there right now. I pray and hope that between now and 8/31/13 LT returns to his former self (and even improves) regarding passing accuracy. Even at his former self, a 55% completion rate still doesn't cut it. He (and any future QB recruits) needs to be in the 60-65% or greater range. At that completion percentage, I think most people feel comfortable that using a battering ram running game with the occasional pass play will be successful. (As a side note, not a single QB in ESPN's top 40 had a completion percentage under 63% Regardless of the quality of the WR's, way too many of LT's passes were just off the mark this season. Either high or overthrown. It's necessary to include the play action in the play book or else all the opponent has to do is shut down the run game. That's my 2 cents.

That's an interesting take.

Some thoughts:

1. " I think it's necessary to recruit the prototypical QBs." -- I had three thoughts to this:
- We just saw a year where Kapernick, Wilson, RG3 and Newton did well in the NFL. On ESPN Radio on Monday, I heard the discussion "Are the Brady/Mannings of the world the new dinosaurs of QBs?" Basically, if you have Kapernick, Wilson and RG3 throwing it down the field with accuracy and also running it, but sliding and using QB protection rules to their benefit, why would you want a less mobile QB?
- Loeffler, in a radio interview after being hired at Auburn, said, "I don't know what pro-style is anymore. Look at what the pros are doing, how is that different than most college schemes?" To that end, more relevance to point #1.
- The Roanoke Times article this weekend with Loeffler's Temple QB's dad said he ran his QB a lot.

2. Completion % is largely dependent on route structure. Why did Steve Young turn that metric on its ear? Because he extended the running game to short passes, with high completion %'s. Not to say that LT doesn't have room to improve, but he was in 2012 heavily dependent on throwing it downfield. That's not a bad thing, thats one of the skills that differentiates him. He's got a beautiful deep ball, he can see the field on the deep slants. Loeffler, on the other hand, has shown a dependence on short passing. How will that change with LT? I would like Loeffler to set that expectation early in the year, once his passing scheme is developed, to better understand the goals for LT as a QB. It could go either way, LT could become a 70% passer because he is flaring it out all day, or Loeffler could have him PA'ing off the running game and throwing it deep.

I'm going to try to be patient and let Loeffler adapt to what he has on hand. From what I can tell, he has experience in multiple schemes and has adjusted to his talent. But, honestly, he's been OC for two years. We don't have a whole helluva lot of data to go on here.

I'm optimistic and curious to see

What is Loeffler's upside? Seems he still has room to grow at OC, which could work out well for us.

Early on will he use schemes tailored to his available talent, i.e. Wham schemes, or will he try to force a scheme and recruit to it? We will certainly be looking for early success.

I think any scheme can work if the team learns how to run it. It requires practice to learn the timing and techniques. Backs need to know how to read the blocking and hit the holes at the right time with speed.

Great review

Took the time to digest your notes today, job well done. I too like this hire. I firmly believe all success stems from running the ball. I believe the combination of new hires will drastically improve our game preparation, film study, and mental readiness come kick-off. Based on the Roanoke Times article from earlier in the week, it sounds like whomever is QB is going to have to be very heady. I would surmise that future QB's will be more traditional/pro-style build.

Eat your vegetables.

This is encouraging!

tweet in a conversation between Matthew Neal and Aaron Moorehead:

Matthew Neal ‏@mneal25

@Amo8685 Welcome to Blacksburg. And for the love of God, if you can get our WR's to block down field you'll be a fan favorite. Immediately.

Aaron Moorehead Aaron Moorehead ‏@Amo8685

@RickRakes @mneal25 I can say very confidently that blocking will not be an issue!

Now I'm psyched! (Sorry I couldn't get it to show up in those nice little twitter boxes....html challenged here)

Take the shortest route to the ball and arrive in bad humor.

Just met Moorehead in CLT airport

We assured me the kids would block and "work their asses off." He also noted that he spoke to DJ and he has "bought in" and he expects the younger guys will follow.

Moorehead struck me as a good guy, one that will fit into the Hokie family. Also I suspect he'll be strong on the recruiting trail; well spoken, genuine.

@hokietailgate