Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Replacing the Best Passer in the Conference

The most accurate passer in the Pac-10 last year snapped every pass backwards.   His consistency and reliablity led his team to a perfect 12-0 regular season record and a second straight conference championship.

Oregon ran 1024 offensive plays last season, and nearly every one of them started with a center snap from Jordan Holmes, backward through his legs, and 95% of those hit Darron Thomas and Nate Costa between the numbers.

In a timing offense like the Ducks', Holmes dead-on dependability was a crucial element.  The 6-5, 300-lb. Yuba City product took over for Max Unger in 2009, made the cover of  Sports Illustrated, and played 94 snaps in the double overtime win over Arizona.  That first season as a starter he led the team with 55 pancake blocks.

As a senior, the biggest improvement in Holmes' game was that five-yard toss to the quarterback.  By his senior year he'd perfected it, when the year before it seemed the Webfoots would have four or five ruined plays a game due to center snaps that were high and away.  Of course, a critical part of the improvement was changing from a 5-9 quarterback to one who was 6-3.

Chip Kelly doesn't run a complicated offense.  The Ducks win with fundamentals and execution, not gadgets.  At a clinic talk he gave in 2009 he said, "I'm a big fundamental coach.  You must practice the shotgun snap with quarterback and center every day.  If you are not going to practice that, do not get into this type of set.  It is not something you can do on Tuesday, use it in the game on Friday, and expect it to work.  You have to spend a lot of time on the snap."

Karrington Armstrong and Hroniss Grasu have to master the bust block and line calls and assignments to earn a starting job.  But it all starts with a quick, accurate toss to the quarterback, 1,000 times a season.  One of the things to look for at the spring game is which of them proves himself more ready to replace the most accurate passer in the conference, giving Darron Thomas a crucial extra split second to make winning decisions downfield.

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