alternate title: YOU ARE OLD AND WILL DIE VERY SOON
Which of Michigan's current coaching staff should a new head coach keep? Who should he boot? And why?
It is clear that in the absence of DR, we have had a pretty bad running game the last 3 1/4 years and very inconsistent offense. The common thread has been the awful play by our offensive line. It is safe to say that Nuss made a mistake in not making change for the OL coach. I would guess that if he had insisted on bringing his own OL coach, Hoke would have gone along. He does not have a long history with Hoke.
Because the one thing we haven't done is talk about the OL enough this offseason, I would like to address some misconceptions about what OL recruting rankings actually mean and what it takes to play OL on the collegiate level.
First up on the mound, recruiting rankings. Recruiting sites rate offensive lineman on pro potential, not college readiness and "pro protential" for a high school lineman is bascally looking at your frame (aka height and arm length) and how well you move your feet. This is why a guy like LTT, who barely knows what he's doing can be a consensus 4*. Scouts saw long arms, wide hips, light feet and 6'7" and named him one of the top 10 high school tackles in the country and all he did to earn that ranking was grow, it had almost nothing to do with his play on the field. When sites say Kyle Kalis is "college ready," they mean he is 6'5" and has 300 lbs of good weight and that's about it. These guys are graded on the physical part of the game which is only about 10% of what it takes to be a good lineman. HOWEVER, it is important because it is the first 10% and if you can't hold up physically, it doesn't matter how good the rest of your game is because DL will just bench press you out of the way as seen here. Joey Burzynski(LG) is stiff armed by CJ Olaniyan and gets no movement. While it helps, having an NFL body is not required to be good in college and there are plenty of examples of players who dominate in college but struggle to make NFL rosters (see David Molk). What makes those guys special is the level of technique they play with and the ability to anticipate the defense.
Which brings us to the main point of this diary, OL play is basically football math. Think of every play as a math problem, and offensive lineman have to figure the solution to the problem in their heads presnap, while alsonknowing the problem may change as soon as the ball is snapped, meaning that they have to figure out the solution to the problem at hand and anticipate every way it can change and solve those problems as well, all in the space off the few seconds they have once the defense aligns. This is why a certain long haired blogger we all know and love screams at his television every fall Saturday for the offense to hurry to the line of scrimmage, so the line (and the QB) can have more time to solve the defensive equation. Every second not at the line of scrimmage solving the defense is a second wasted, and a win for the defense.
College OL play is like Calculus, and 95% of lineman come into college with a just basic understanding of simple arithmetic(Addition, subtraction, mulitplication and division) and some come in basically knowing how to count (LTT). This is because the vast majority of high school offensive line coaches have the equivelent of an 8th grade education in line concepts if they're lucky and the physical advantage a lot of these guys have in high school makes the equations they face pretty easy. At that stage, it is about 80-90% physical and 10-20% mental, because the DL that can challenge them physically are few and far between and overpowering guys doesn't take much brain power. Once they get to college, the physical advantage goes away and defensive equations get much more complicated and they have to realize that they have to learn real math, which can be shocking to some guys. It is the job of the offensive line coach to take these guys who are coming in at some level of elementary school math and get them up to speed. They have to learn the high school level concepts of algebra (run blocking), geometry(identifying who to block) and precalc (pass blocking) before they can even dream of doing calculus i.e. getting on the field. Every different play and protection scheme has its own set of techniques and they change for every different front the defense throws at you. Offensive line man have to know what foot to step with first, in what direction and how far, what their aiming point is, who they are supposed to block, how they are supposed to block them when they get there, where each hand goes, where their head goes, and where their eyes should be looking, all while remembering to play with good knee bend and pad level. All of this has been calculated down to inch level precision and each mistake opens you up to exploitiation by the defense so you have to be perfect, and even then there is no guarantee that the play is successful because everyone else has to do their job too. And they have to learn all that so well that they can do it in their heads so fast they barely think about it, because if every play is a Calc problem, you can't be struggling with the algebra because there is no way you can solve and execute the solution in time to make your block. This largley is what lineman are doing their first 2-3 years on campus, along with getting in the weight room, and why they shouldn't see the field on a good team. For most guys, things start to click in their 3rd year on campus, which explains why most players on the line who meets this criteria under Funk have at least put forth solid production.
Last year, Borges demanded that a line where the most experience guard (post GG to center) was a RS FR, the equivelent of about a High School Sophomore mathematically, to solve differential equations, limits, integrals and applied calculus. The young guys understandably got overwhelmed and didn't improve as much as they could have and when they didn't, they got taken out, further stalling said improvement. That is one the biggest reasons we have a new OC, because the responsiblity of a Coordinator is to put their players in the best possible position to succeed and Borges didn't do that nearly enough. What we don't is if Funk is a good Math teacher because this will be the first year the 2012 class (his first full class) should be expected to fully understand what they are doing. The only players Funk has had the oppurtunity to mold from scratch are Glasgow and Miller, Glasgow has worked out well and Miller didn't meet the requirements for the physical 10%, which is not on anybody but Miller. Whether they come in as a 5* (Kalis, Kugler), 4*(LTT, Bosch, Dawson, Mags, Cole) or even a 3* (Braden, Samuelson) they all must learn the mental part of the game to have any sort of positive production.
What we should be looking for this year if fot the RS Sophomores to be around where Glasgow and Schofield were in 2013 and 2011 respectively. By the Ohio game we should have a middling B1G OL, we won't be good, but we shouldn't be the tire fire of last year either. I think we had the possibility of being 10-1 heading to Columbus with a loss at MSU and competing for a title. If we see more of what we saw last year, it is probably time to start looking for a new OL coach.
EDIT: Space Coyote actually has two great write up on pass blocking techniques and schemes on Maize 'N' Brew: