Let's get to the stories and notes from first day of spring practice. I will start with a scoop I have been sitting on for little more than a week. Well Tracy Pierson from Bruin Report Online first officially broke the news on March 30th that the Bruins are going to "experiment extensively with a new formation" borrowed from Nevada Wolfpack's "pistol" offense. More on that formation below but what is also interesting to me is how UCLA coaches how studied up this formation this off-season.
While the gossipers were too busy speculating about the relationship between Rick Neuheisel and Norm Chow, both of these guys were meeting up with Chris Ault - another offensive guru in college football - who has gotten rave reviews for his "pistol" offense in Nevada. Guess who helped make the connection between Coach Ault and Neuehisel/Chow. Well that would be none other than Lisa Savage, the other half of the head coach of the undefeated UCLA baseball team (which just recorded another nail biting win to run their surreal streak to 22).
From what I have heard thanks to Mrs. Savage's efforts (who understandbly is a huge supporter of our athletic program) CRN and Chow were able to connect with Coach Ault and spend a good amount of time with Nevada staff going over their much reviewed "pistol" offense this off-season. It will be interesting to see how much of it UCLA borrows (which CRN is calling the "revolver) this year. I am guessing Chow will be incorporating some elements of it in his own scheme to take advantage of the athletic potential we now have in our program.
Anyway, the LA Times discovered yesterday that UCLA was running a variation of Nevada's "pistol" offense during first day of our spring practice:
Prince may be more of a rabbit this season, as UCLA coaches have the Bruins running the "pistol" offense, used with success by Nevada, this spring. Prince and backup Richard Brehaut worked exclusively out of the shotgun in the first day of spring practice Thursday, keeping the ball several times.
Offensive coordinator Norm Chow was coy, saying, "I don't know why you're calling it the pistol. We ran the same formation last year."
But Coach Rick Neuheisel said that "it's an experimenting of sorts. It is an effort to increase our run production. We want to make sure we are exploring every option to be a more effective running team."
This offense is familiar to Prince, who said he ran a similar one at Encino Crespi High School. But it will require him to run the ball more than he has in the past, using the type of sleight-of-hand fakes that Oregon has used with success in its offense.
I am not sure where Foster is getting the idea that Prince will be required to run the ball more compared to last year. Coach Neuheisel offered up the nuanced points that offense is about using the athletic abilities of Prince (and Richard Brehaut) and turn them into viable multi-dimensional threats from the backfield:
"I don't worry about Kevin running the ball, but you got to be careful of the number of times he runs the ball," Neuheisel said. "But as you study the teams do the different stuff, you realize the quarterback doesn't carry it a whole bunch. It's the threat of him carrying it."
We saw Kevin has that potential in his scrambling abilities late in the season (yeah I am sure he has heard all the mouthpieces and sliding references by now). If this offense is run efficiently it has the potential to help our running game:
"I don't think it does anything for the throwing game," Neuheisel said. "We can do everything we've always done.... The question is what can we accomplish in the running game, and that remains to be seen."
More on this pistol offense from Mike Kuchar at American Football Monthly:
These days, most college football teams are figuring out a way to get their best players in space, while spreading defenses out. Nevada is no different. Head coach Chris Ault developed the Pistol offense in 2004 as a way to level the playing field by getting one-on-one matchups with receivers on the perimeter and having his undersized offensive linemen block people in space. While the foundation of the run game is being able to mix the inside zone (slice) play and the outside zone (stretch) out of different formations, the backbone of the Pistol pass offense is running the play action off both of those plays.
The equalizer in the Pistol scheme is the alignment of the quarterback and the tailback. With the tailback being directly behind the QB, it provides instant deception to the defense - particularly for the linebackers who are trained to key the tailback. In fact, the popularity of the zone read play has changed LB's reads to keying the offensive tackle to the side of the back. But in the Pistol, often times those LB's can't see the back because their sight is distracted by the motion of the quarterback. "It's a lot easier to run play action out of the Pistol because of where the back is," says offensive coordinator Chris Klenakis.
Chris Brown from Smart Football, deconstructed Nevada "pistol' offense last year at Yahoo!'s Dr. Saturday . Chris described Nevada's offense as "old school with a new school twist" that integrates the classic I-formation philosophies with concept derived from the spread offense. As Chris notes when the offense is "rolling" it gives coaches the best of both worlds:
When the offense is rolling (which it is most of the time these days), the pistol gives a team the best of both worlds: It has at its disposal all the Urban Meyer/Rich Rodriguez spread offense stuff, like the zone read and other gadgets, as well as the advantages of a "traditional" I-formation or pro-style single-back attack. Among these are that the runningback, aligning as he does behind the quarterback, tips no hand to the defense on the direction of the play, and the offense can get both good downhill running and play-action off those looks. Let's take a quick look at some specifics.
Just shoot me. The Wolfpack, like most other teams, rely heavily on the inside zone and zone read plays -- the now-ubiquitous shotgun play that came into vogue at Northwestern under Randy Walker in the late nineties and made Rich Rodriguez a rising star at West Virginia -- but the play that's really made Nevada's offense go the last two years is one Ault added to take advantage of quarterback Colin Kaepernick's running ability: the veer.
That term has traditionally referred to a specific type of triple-option some coaches use, but really is just one part of that concept. Nevada's version of the veer, a variety now coming into vogue again with spread teams like Florida, requires the line to "block down" to the side the run is going while leaving some normally very dangerous defender entirely unblocked -- that is the man the quarterback will "read." The reason the veer works so well, including when compared to the zone read, is that with the veer guarantees two things the zone read can't: Double-team blocks at the point of attack, and the ability to make the man the QB reads wrong, every time. (With the zone read you're just trying to control a backside pursuit defender. If he "stays home" for the quarterback, forcing a handoff, there is no guarantee the line will get double teams to the other side or that the back will find a hole.)
Read rest of the analysis here.I don't see UCLA using a lot of "veer" formation with either Kevin Prince or Richard Brehaut (I could be wrong of course). However, from what I gather I get the sense that this offense could be intriguing for the coaches because it potentially adds a much needed element of versatility from our QBs. It could also help get our athletic guys in space and put them in situations where they can optimize potential mismatches.
The basic formation in this offense would allow our QB to see more easily over the LOS and make down field reads. It could also allow Kai to get the ball faster to our QB putting him in more advantageous position for quick strikes, putting the defense off balance. When the defense gets off-balance the threat of play action becomes even deadlier. Also, this offense could be helpful because it might allow CRN and Chow to go with two tight end formations using the athletic abilities of Joe Fauria, Corey Harkey and Morrell Presley.
Per Jon Gold CRN was jokingly calling it UCLA's "revolver" offense:
"It's Nevada's name, so we're borrowing it," Neuheisel said. "We'll have to change it. `Revolver,' that's what we'll call it. I don't want anyone to think we're trying to be plagiarists, but that's exactly what it is. It's an experiment that needs to be given a certain amount of time to mature, or you're never going to know."
Either way it sounds like the offense looked crisp during the first day of practice:
The UCLA offense wasn't exactly about to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" on Thursday in its first practice of the spring session, but there was a crispness and timing to the unit that might mean big things for the Bruins come September.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince, who enters the spring as the clear-cut starter ahead of sophomore Richard Brehaut, found receivers near and far, hit guys in stride and worked the ball efficiently.
New wideout Josh Smith, a sophomore transfer from Colorado, hauled in deep pass after deep pass, returning receivers Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario used their size advantage against smaller cornerbacks and running back Johnathan Franklin bobbed and weaved his way through holes.
But September is months away, and the Bruins know all the laughs and hugs and backslaps mean nothing until that scoreboard gets switched on.
"Definitely improved, but it could be a lot better," said Franklin, who led UCLA with 566 rushing yards and five touchdowns. "We're trying to find that connection on offense so we can really click. It's not there yet, but it's getting there.
We have long way to go to get "there." The first day reports are always exciting but as always we should temper our excitement given how many times we have all been burned with reports of great practices, good vibes coming from various sources during the Dorrell era.
What I do like hearing is the impressing that timing and rhythm of our offense looking improved and our QBs looking more comfortable compared to previous seasons. Yet as soon as I think that I remind myself Brian Price and Jerzy are not roaming in Spaulding terrorizing our backfield. So we will have to see how it all shapes up rest of this spring.
The OC register has a quick report on bumps and bruises from the first day. I am sure you have read Captain's firsthand account here. If you were out there please feel free to share notes here or put them in fanpost. We always appreciate pictures! We can't get enough of information concerning our Bruins.