The University of Georgia has been commonly referred to as “Tight End University” by fans as far back as I can remember.
When you can trot out names such as Ben Watson, Jermaine Wiggins, Leonard Pope, Randy McMichael, Orson Charles and Arthur Lynch (among others), you know you’re doing something right at the position.
Being as though I pride myself on being as neutral as anyone covering the sport, although I love my Dawgs, I don’t believe Georgia should claim that title for two reasons: Its most recent scheme — under former offensive coordinator Mike Bobo — truly went away from targeting the TE’s and most of UGA’s TE’s went on to have subpar NFL careers.
Being as though Bobo was literally learning on the job, which he held from 2007-14, his scheme slowly morphed from a traditional outfit equipped with Jumbo, Rhino and “U personnel,” to one with more college-based deployment: Cheetah and King personnel with spread concepts, and the occasional pace scheme.
Even a player like Charles wasn’t much more than a glorified receiver who could stretch the field vertically and cause mismatches being flexed or deployed from the slot.
So when you combine scheme with personnel, at least in the past decade, you’d have a strong debate between schools like Notre Dame, Stanford and the University of Miami as to which team holds the title of “TE U.”
The Irish, with players like Tyler Eifert, Kyle Rudolph, Anthony Fasano, John Carlson and Troy Niklas, have infused tight ends into a scheme rooted in spread concepts — operating predominantly out of “10” and “11 personnel.”
For the Cardinal — which once had NFL TE’s Levine Toilolo, Zach Ertz, Coby Fleener and Ryan Hewitt lining up in “13” and “23 personnel” being deployed in an all-spread set together – possessing the most tight-end-friendly scheme in the sport is how former head coach Jim Harbaugh loved to operate, while current head coach David Shaw — who was the OC under Harbaugh — and his OC Mike Bloomgren (a former tight end himself) have seemingly found endless ways to involve the position in both the pass and run game.
But it’s the Hurricanes that have garnered the most attention behind a slew of NFL stars: Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow, Greg Olsen and Jimmy Graham. And when you factor in that former Miami tight end coach Rob Chudzinski ended up becoming a head coach for the Cleveland Browns, it’s plain to see why many believe this school is by far and away the premier outfit for the position.
As it pertains to the University of Georgia, the acquisition of new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who brings along a scheme tailor-made for tight end play, a chance to cement itself as “TE U” is as strong as it’s been since the middle of last decade.
This is a fact that will be tough for the opposition to deal with.
Pre-Snap Motion & Shifts
“One of the greatest attractions for me looking at Brian was the fact we do think a lot alike,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said when Schottenheimer was hired earlier this year (h/t to Coaching Search.com).
“How to run the football, how to throw the football, how to protect, formations, run combos at the line of scrimmage, still believing in some two-back running game, but also being able to spread it out and take advantage of formations, motions and be able to protect. The fact we do things very much the same, though we may call it different, but the guts of it is going to be very similar.
There’s no substitute for continuity in football, Schottenheimer being on the same page as Richt is paramount when you talk about the nuances of the scheme.
Schottenheimer’s scheme is rooted in pre-snap motion and shifts, which forces a defense to reveal its coverage type. While most schemes use across-formation motion with outside receivers, Schottenheimer almost exclusively uses his “Y,” “U” and “F” targets for pre-snap motion.
Here’s a sequence on how Schottenheimer will use the TE as a coverage indicator on most plays: As the OC for the St. Louis Rams, he sent the uber-talented Jared Cook in motion — which indicated man coverage — before the quarterback hit him with a quick slant for a sizeable gain.
Don’t think pre-snap motion is relegated to pass plays, either, as the run game receives the same benefit. You have to think versatile receiving “U’s” like Jeb Blazevich and Jordan Davis will get the call for this role. (And don’t underestimate how tough it is to corral a receiver who has gone in motion before the snap.)
Once Schottenheimer feels comfortable with his personnel, expect plenty of pre-snap confusion for defensive players.
Formation You To Death
My favorite aspect of Schottenheimer’s philosophy deals with his ability to deploy his outfit with an infinite amount of multi-tight sets. It’s one thing to generate creativity from spread sets, but it’s a whole ‘nother ball game deriving it with multiple tight ends and fullbacks.
This formation, Ace Tight, was the most commonly used for Schottenheimer with the Rams. The versatility of his top two TE’s allowed for a plethora of sets within the same personnel grouping: “12 personnel.”
Here, in “22 personnel,” the Rams were aligned in a tight-wing formation, which is just awesome for off-tackle runs; you can also run the “Smash” concept from this alignment.
Deploying multiple tight ends forces a conflict of assignment — at least from a personnel perspective. On one hand, you need to keep base personnel on the field as the offense has two extra blockers on the field for the run game.
But how many linebackers can really cover a good receiving tight end?
And if you counter with extra defensive backs, you put yourself at a size deficit and your rushing defense is at a greater risk. And if you are in possession of a swing player, which UGA is with the versatile Quayvon Hicks, you have the ability to absolutely drive defensive coordinators nuts.
Just look at the conflict of assignment the San Francisco defense faced against U-Tight personnel: As this was a short-yardage situations, the entire defense guarded against the potential inside run only to have the “Y” run the ‘ol engage-and-release play for a touchdown on a corner route.
The tight end position will be integral to Georgia’s success under Schottenheimer; check back for part two where I examine UGA’s current tight ends/H-backs.