This weekend I had the great pleasure of diving into "The Essential Smart Football", the new book from SmartFootball.com writer Chris B. Brown. Firstly, I really have to give a strong recommendation if you're the kind of person who really thrives on the X's and O's. This is a fantastic look at a variety of football topics, and I think it's a must-own. Each chapter is a self-contained essay on a specific part of the game, which makes it easy to read.
It was Brown's look at Gus Malzahn's offense at Auburn that really caught my eye; especially in light of how it related to Cam Newton, and the roster moves the Panthers have made this off-season on offense.
"Newton was an incredible talent, but he was also a transfer from Blinn College who suddenly had to chair a no-huddle, on-the-fly offense in the thick of the SEC- the kind of thing that can go horrendously wrong unless your coaches put you in a position to succeed. The framework of Gus's offense is built on the idea that it will all be called from the no-huddle, so there is no room for extraneous verbiage (as there is with long, never-ending NFL play calls), and the premium is on players' playing the game: "if you're thinking you're not playing," is a common refrain of Malzahn's."
We all remember too well how Newton was skewered last year for not being able to handle calling a typical, NFL-style play call for Jon Gruden during his QB camp. What we have here is a more eloquent explanation of how Cam was asked to run the offense than what Newton gave on ESPN. There's a lot to be said for this 'play, don't (over) think' approach to the game, and what it allows is for the game to become instinctual, rather than analytical. Time and time again we saw Cam's insticts shine through in his rookie season.
More after the jump
Part of the reason some fans feared the selection of Cam was due to this offensive approach. We've become conditioned to the idea of study trumping everything. So when we see a quarterback who plays fast and loose, in a spread offense, and one where he ran so much, it's only natural that trepidation sets in. What we didn't know was how adaptable Cam was.
"Cam Newton, of course, deserves much of the credit for the Tigers' potent offense in 2010. Although his immense physical talents were apparent immediately, his ability to read defenses and understand the concepts Gus presented was an extremely pleasant surprise. And most surprising of all was Newton's impressive leadership of his team in the heat of battle"
These are the qualities the Panthers discovered during the pre-draft process that ultimately made them comfortable with taking Newton #1 overall, despite so many talking heads cautioning against the decision. If you have a player with Cam's unnatural size and athleticism, and pair that with a quick study- you have the player we got to witness play in 2011.
In delving deeper into the piece I saw more similarities between Malzahn's attack at Auburn, and what the Panthers are doing today. This covers the running platform we saw the Panthers use a lot last year out of a single back set, but it was the way Auburn used the option play that leaped off the page. Brown talks about the 'inverted veer', an option play where Cam Newton became the primary inside running threat, and this was executed out of a power blocking scheme.
Essentially this is an option play ran out of a single back formation. In this, the QB is in the shotgun, the RB lined up next to him with four receivers on the field. Immediately the defense is cued in to stop the pass, but post-snap we see the confusion take place. The RB runs laterally in a sweep (this would be DeAngelo Williams' role, as a speedy RB), Cam would watch the defensive end- if the DE fails to move laterally to cover the RB, then it's a simple hand off for a big gain (provided the WRs block correctly). If the defensive end follows the RB then Cam keeps the ball, and runs inside between the RT and RG.
"Obviously, the play works best when the quarterback is not only a good runner, but a dynamic inside runner."
So what makes this so special? Simply put- the left guard. In order to make this kind of option play work when run out of a power set it requires a strong, fleet footed left guard who can pull, move laterally quickly and become the lead blocker who runs in front of the QB between the RT and RG. Here the guard hits the second level, and is asked to single block (read: destroy) a linebacker, paving the way for the QB.
Who did we draft in the second round again?
Amini Silatolu is the perfect player to fill this role as the pulling-guard needed to run Power with regularity. It also explains why the Panthers liked him more than more highly touted, but flat footed OG's like Cordy Glenn. Silatolu routinely pulled from his LT position at Midwestern State to come inside and lead block, and did so with great effectiveness. It isn't always the most highly touted player, but the one who fits the system best who is the draft selection.
In reading more about how Gus Malzahn used an option attack with Cam Newton I have little doubt this is part and parcel of the 'wrinkles' we'll see added to the Panthers offense this fall. Thus far we've seen Carolina do an outstanding job creating a system that allowed Cam to succeed early by pulling in concepts he used in college. I believe the 'Inverted Veer' could be a devestating addition to the offense, and one that would be near impossible to stop. Given that Newton won the Heisman in part to this play, I think it would be great to see him run it at the next level.
'The Essential Smart Football' is available on Amazon.com in paperback, and on Kindle