Ohio State's new offensive coordinator 'can't wait to put the pads on' in spring drills
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Coaches hate labels. So forget the spread. But as the Ohio State coaches have spent eight hours a day in recent weeks creating an offense under the direction of new coach Urban Meyer, let new offensive coordinator Tom Herman get more descriptive with just what it's going to look like.
"We're going to be a [shot]gun, spread, run-oriented football team that has tremendous balance through the play-action pass.
"We want to be no-huddle, we want to be up-tempo and use that to our advantage. And we want to be balanced. We want to run the football first to set up the throwing game.
"This is what we do, this is what we believe, this is how we are. You guys can call it what you want. We call it the Ohio State offense."
So it will be rather different from what fans have seen from the Ohio State offense in the last decade?
"That would be a true statement," Herman said in a recent interview in his office with The Plain Dealer.
A former offensive coordinator at Iowa State, Rice and Texas State, Herman will be dealing with elite talent for the first time. But he won't waver from his ideas about how to move the ball.
"Growing up in this system, when we first started, it was the 'underdog offense,' if you will," Herman said. "The places I've been have always had a talent deficit compared to 90 percent of the schedule, so I think this offense helped. I used to say, 'If I ever get to Ohio State or USC or Texas, we'd get in the I-formation and we'd just come off the football and maul people every Saturday.' And I took a step back the last few years and said, 'Why would I ever do that?' Now you've got an underdog offense and you put really good players in it and it's even better."
The head coach has won with elite talent at Florida, and it is clear the offense belongs to Meyer. He said he has spent little time with the defensive staff while focusing on imparting his ideas to his offensive staff, which he hired to follow him.
"I really took my time hiring coaches because I did not want to sell our style," Meyer said. "I'll tell them what do and expect them to do the very best they can, and I'm very pleased so far.
"We're knee deep in that. We're going to do what we do, we're going to run our offense, the Ohio State offense, and once we get that done, we'll take more ideas. The first thing is, 'What is the foundation of who we are?' and that's what we're really working on. As we grow, we'll take more outside influences. But not right now."
Meyer holds a news conference Tuesday to preview the spring practice, which begins on March 28. Here is what you need to know about the offensive ideas, as explained by Herman.
• The no-huddle will be the biggest change for the players:
"I don't know if culture shock is the right word, but that's a major philosophical change that these kids need to understand and get used to," Herman said. "We could call the whole offense without saying a word if we wanted to in terms of the skill guys. It's our own sign language and the kids learn it and it doesn't change over their careers.
"The tempo of not huddling, and once they blow the play dead you hurry up and get to the ball and be ready to snap it at any time, is going to be a learning curve."
View full sizeMarvin Fong, The Plain DealerHerman isn't worried about the physical demands the spread will put on sophomore QB Braxton Miller. "His body is his body. If he's banged up, we'll protect him," Herman said. "If he's not, we'll turn him loose. He's pretty darn good when he has the ball in his hands."
• Quarterback Braxton Miller will be in the shotgun most of the time, but there will be a package of plays under center:
"And we will huddle at times, too. I think that's important to deliver a mentality that we are a power, physical tough-running football team," Herman said. "From the gun, under center, it doesn't matter where are, that will be what our personality is going to be.
"If you have the ability to go under center, there are a few things that open up to you, but I think you have to be creative in the way that you do it. Just lining up in the I-formation and running power -- there are too many people in the box and defenses are too good. When we are under center it might be a little more creative than days of old, but we will get under center."
• Former coach Jim Tressel and his staff talked at times about the quarterback not taking too many hits and had an idea of how often he should run the ball. That isn't a real concern now. Herman thinks shotgun, dual-threat quarterback play will continue to get more popular in the NFL as well, so fearing for quarterbacks is out.
"They are so used to running that they know how to protect themselves a little bit more," Herman said. "When you're in space, that's not when guys get hurt. Guys get hurt in the pocket when they don't see guys coming and guys fall on their legs.
"But what, Braxton is 6-2, 215? That would be like having a 6-2, 215-pound running back out there. His body is his body. If he's banged up, we'll protect him. If he's not, we'll turn him loose. He's pretty darn good when he has the ball in his hands."
• The staff is getting the basics down in choosing terminology, most of it borrowed from Meyer's previous stops, and hand signals and a playbook. But Herman thinks a playbook is almost antiquated.
"Playbooks are very overrated. They help make sure your coaches are aligned and saying the same things, but if we gave the kids a playbook, it would be overwhelming," Herman said. "They don't learn that way. You've got find creative ways, like checkers on a board and walkthroughs and power point presentations, to teach them.
"Yes, we have a playbook, it's still a work in progress. But the main thing is to make sure the staff is using the same terminology and buzzwords with our players."
• The Buckeyes hope they get everything they want into the offense by the end of spring practice. Herman said the offense is fluid, so he does not ever believe in saying 100 percent or 70 percent or 50 percent of the offense is "in."
"We'll get in enough to be good at it, and we aren't going to move forward until we feel like we mastered our core values," Herman said. "How far we get is how far we get, and that will be the whole offense."
• The key to mastering new terminology and hand signals is forgetting the old: Herman used the example of learning "agua" in Spanish. That word doesn't mean "water," it means that clear liquid you drink.
"You don't want them ever to say, 'Deuce right,' that's what we used to call 'Slot right.' No, no, no. That's 'Deuce right' until the day you graduate," Herman said. "But you've got to train them not to think that way, because it's human nature to want to translate it into what you already know."
• A lot could change once the staff gets out of theory and into the practice of finding their playmakers starting with spring practice. And they are eager to do it.
"I can't wait to put the pads on," Herman said. "You understand that no matter how much detail you go into so everything on that first day is so precise, it's still day one of spring ball in a new offense, so you have to temper your expectations a little bit. But at the same time, your prepare yourself and the kids and your staff to go be as detailed as you can.
"Coach Meyer was just telling them you are going to be the best-coached team in America. We may not win them all, but you're going to be the best-coached team and you will play with the best fundamentals and you will be the toughest, hardest-playing team in the country.
"From there, we'll figure out how to teach the zone-read and all that stuff. That's the exciting part, to get that time on the field to wrap your arms around them and really teach them."