Guest post by Craig Ross.
I talked to Coach Darrell Funk for a bit before his three sessions (all on the inside zone game) and asked him about his impressions re: the defense last spring. He said, “I could feel it in the spring that the defense would be good. Coach Mattison was doing little things that drove us crazy.” The coach indicated that he thought his offense would be decent, so he knew that Mattison had a chance to show a lot more than the defense had in 2010. Indeed, Coach Funk stated he had been pretty certain of his assessment.
Funk is a very engaging guy. Like a few other coaches I have talked to (Mark Smith on the current staff, Rod Smith, Scot Loeffler and Mike DeBord on prior staffs) he considers it a priority that the listener understands what he is getting at. And, it doesn’t seem to matter whether the listener is a coach, a wanna-be coach, or just some schmo off the street (me, for example). He is a teacher, first, and it shows. At the close of his last session (he was three hours in) I bugged him (well, Brian goaded me; his fault) about the offside’s guard first step into the A gap (some call this a “bucket” step, a term Funk doesn’t prefer—he likes to say the OL is “giving ground to gain leverage”), and he was pleased that I asked him, demonstrating the technique to make sure I understood the point.
He started his first session saying that he could talk “for two full days” on the inside zone, if anyone was willing to listen. When Brian joined me for session 3, (he had spent sessions 1 and 2 with Coach Mattison) he (kinda) groused about not having the background to learn the “minutia” of these blocking techniques. But after building upon the first two sessions, I could have easily have listened to a few more. Not that I can swear that I was getting more than the various tips of isolated icebergs. And, probably I have some of it twisted around. But, my notes from the first session were close to pristine, before my energy waned.
Here are Coach Funk’s basic principles from the first session [the philosophy of the Inside Zone] with the caveat that I am just an ordinary fan. [Though Funk said, “If you just get a tidbit out of this I will be happy.”] Jargon is always tough for the non-coach but I think I have most of this “right.”
When zoning, Funk and Borges are seeking “hard double teams” at the line of scrimmage. Even though it is zone, they still want physical, hard downhill combo blocks.
The hard double team at the LOS is more important than getting one of the double team blockers to the second level, though, clearly, that’s the idea. But, between late on the second level and not getting hard double team blocks at the LOS, Funk chooses “be late.”
He doesn’t want the offensive line blocking “rules” to vary. He prefers that there not be a lot of exceptions to blocking assignments; it is best if the OL have a few rules, and not a lot of exceptions. Practice time is limited, you can only learn so much. [I have heard coaches say this over and over. Get good at what you do.]
Funk wants the offensive line and the RB to work for “squareness” with their shoulders. He thinks the shoulder angles of the OL and RB should match, as much as is possible. He stressed this a couple of times so I assume this is a key point for him.
He says if your RBs are running with square shoulders and “downhill” the back has a greater opportunity to take advantage of cut backs. He prefers that the RB press the gap and stay square, implying less bounce to the outside and, when there, the opportunity to find a lane (a cut back) when the defense has over-pursued. [I found this very interesting, not something I had heard before, especially the “match” between RBs and OL.]
When they are running zone with “number 16,” they often have a read to the backside (but not always). The key for Coach Hoke “and I have heard him say this a hundred times” is that he wants the back to “press the A gap until he can’t.” Hoke stresses simplicity.
Targeting. Who is going to combo what DL and to what backer? The Coach says the guards never say/call anything but the Center (Tackles? They may communicate with guards on the 30 or Bear fronts) is responsible for making “exception” calls. In the UM offense the exceptions are (primarily) a “30 front” (odd front with a NT right over the center) or a Bear defense. Otherwise, they have primary rules to determine who is doubling and who the target LB is. My assumption is that an OL blocks a lineman if he is covered. If not covered he doubles to the next linemen to his play side. Depending upon the movement of the DL, one blocker releases and looks to the second level, the targeted LB.
OL Splits. The basics are that center to guard is about 2 feet. Guard to tackle, about three feet. But he isn’t dogmatic about this or with stance, so long as the lineman isn’t tipping run or pass.
Landmarks. Doesn’t like angles. He wants each OL to work from “his backside eye to the play side number.” He feels this gets back to principle #1, hard doubles at the LOS. And then work to square, finishing North. “Stay low, don’t stand up.” [As he shows tape in subsequent sessions, he critiques OL play primarily looking to footwork, working to square.] So, let’s say the backside guard has a DL over him. The landmark is still BSE/PSN. He wants the OL to work a line of his backside eye to the DL’s play side shoulder, thus protecting the backside A gap. In the subsequent sessions, when reviewing tape, I would say these are the keys for Funk.
Footwork. “First step, get out of your footprint.” [And gain ground.] The second step is the most important, has got to “get into the ground.” Funk makes the second step as the most important coaching point. [He provides examples.]
Get out of your footprint, “get into the ground with your second step,” work backside eye to play side number, work to square, finish north. This is the homily.
Oh yeah, “don’t stand up.” Funk says he has one, young promising OG who “will get there” as soon as he stops standing up.
Two small things that cropped up in his presentation that I found interesting. First, Funk’s theme that there just isn’t enough time to teach/practice, so getting good at a couple of things is better than doing a lot of stuff not very well. I have heard this from coaches a lot.
Second, and this wasn’t that explicit but it was clearly there, was that Al Borges isn’t a huge fan of zone schemes. He would prefer to be in a man or gap system. I think Funk can go either way, and might even lean to zone constructs, but Borges isn’t convinced. Whether or not this is a tea leaf for the future I don’t know. Coach Funk seemed to indicate that it would take him a couple of years to get his zone scheme in sync (a bit different that RR’s scheme). So, we get the zone into gear next year and then we transition when Denard graduates? Or not? Next time I get the opportunity, I will ask.
In sessions two and three there was a lot of video demonstration and refinement of the basics outlined in session 1—ergo Brian’s comment. In the second session there was a lot of talk about defenders “spiking,” specifically “spiking down.” That’s when a defender attacks a gap from (say) outside of the right guard, looping back into the A gap. Funk talked about the techniques for protecting the A gaps, which were, in fact, variations of the BSE/PSN theme, but with an OL always taking a “bucket” step to the protect the gap to his play side, even if a short jab step and if the OL was “covered.”