By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
The offensive system being developed at the University of Texas is a run-heavy system; that has been the intent since head coach Tom Herman got the gig in late 2016 and a run-first offense has been his blueprint since his earliest days as an OC at Texas State in 2005. It’s a system rooted in the A and B gap run game, often using the quarterback’s role as a runner more than a passer. When he is asked to throw, he’ll rely on more play-action or push the pocket concepts to present a dual threat on the perimeter. The national audience got it’s first taste of this with the success of Ohio State University quarterbacks J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller who thrived as dual threat players when Coach Herman was an offensive coordinator in Columbus. Now he’s working to replicate that same success in his second year in Austin and he is equipping himself with the assets to do so with dual threat quarterbacks Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele competing for the job. They both combined for over 700 yards rushing last season.
In the hierarchy of importance is in this system, the tight end sits a step, albeit a small one according to Coach Herman, behind the quarterback. Coach Herman is an 11 personnel disciple; it’s a grouping he coveted since he began studying film of his later protégé Urban Meyer while Meyer was the head coach at Utah. He has made it clear that he wants to play with a tight end (current starter Andrew Beck told us so in spring meetings this April). In fact, he thinks playing without one is senseless. “With true zone read being a dying play because the ends are so well coached, I don’t know how you run the ball without a tight end,” Coach Herman told us. “We are going to align in a two back set or we are going to create a two back running game with the use of a tight end. We are an A gap to B gap run team.” But one thing is certain; if you’re going to commit to keeping your tight end on the field, you better find one that is versatile.
With the healthy crop of tight ends that Texas has coming into this spring, using at least one of them shouldn’t be a problem. When Tom Herman got the job in Austin, he said he wanted to be in 11 personnel about 98 percent of the time. Injuries at that position may have limited that possibility in 2017, but consider the following as an indicator of what’s to come this fall: Let the following information serve as an indicator heading into the fall: the Longhorns were in 11 personnel in over 94 percent of snaps this spring. It seems now they have the tight ends to do it.
But in order to play that many downs during the course of a game, the Y must have a broad based knowledge of the entire system, because he will often be the adjustor to line up in different formations. “You can line up the first three plays of the game and play three different positions,” tight end coach Derek Warehime told us. “You need to be pretty good at all that stuff.” All that stuff is essentially every concept in Coach Herman’s system.
The good news is that the staff at Texas makes it easy for this player to learn and retain information. Each concept has a name, and each of those names is tied to a concept. They lump their run game into three types of concepts: tight zone, wide zones, gap runs and man runs. The pass game is separated into quick game; drop back, play action and pocket escapes. Sure, this may not be different than other offensive systems, but how many of those systems account for the tight end being asked to handle the following job descriptions all within the course of one game?
- Know the 56 formations in Texas offensive system that the Tight End is on the field.
- Know the 12 run concepts that are most commonly used in Texas offensive system, including the dozen tags that correspond with it.
- Know the 6 pass protections that Texas uses with the tight end involved.
- Know the 10 route concepts that involve the tight end.
Coach Herman wasn’t kidding when he said how important it was that this player be versatile. He would know; in his 12 years as a coordinator, he coached three that ended up in the NFL: James Casey (Rice), Collin Franklin (Iowa State) and Jeff Heuerman (Ohio State). The purpose of this study is to help coaches provide their tight ends with the necessary tools to be successful in this type of system, where much is put on their plate. We were impressed with the ways in which these players absorbed information in the short time we were there this spring considering many of these players were either hurt or played an entirely new position last season. Of the top three Y’s on the depth chart this spring only one saw significant playing time last season. The other two were redshirts. But the learning curve has been sharp. The unit has nearly doubled their catches (from 18 to 34) from last season seven practices into spring.
In this case, we wanted to present a general overview of the Longhorns’ system and transition into the role that the tight end plays in it. We will detail the formation classifications, the kinds of motions that this player is expected to know and the tempo in which he is asked to execute these rules. In subsequent cases, we’ll detail the specific types of blocks he’s asked to learn and the techniques he’s taught to execute them.