Is the Rodriguez offense evolving?
Michigan message boards have been roaring lately about the commitment of Drew Dileo, a lightly recruited slot receiver from Louisiana. Nine months before signing day 2010, Michigan fans are wondering why Rich Rodriguez would offer – let alone accept a commitment from – a player whose next best offers come from Stanford and Northwestern. Fellow Michigan commits Antonio Kinard and Tony Drake still don’t have any FBS offers besides Michigan.
Watching these message boards flutter with activity about Dileo, I began to wonder what Rodriguez might have in store for Michigan’s offense. My mind took a not-so-huge intellectual leap from Rodriguez’s spread offense to those of his good friend Urban Meyer at Florida and Mike Leach at Texas Tech.
Looking at Meyer’s roster for 2009, I made an interesting (to me) discovery:
Going into the 2009 season, Florida has only two scholarship running backs (Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody) on the roster. Fellow “backfield mates” Jeff Demps and Brandon James are both listed as “athletes” on their official roster, and both are 5’8″ or smaller and about 185 lbs. The class of 2009 adds only Mike Gillislee to the running back stable, which means a total of three designated running backs. Meanwhile, Florida has nine scholarship receivers and one incoming (Andre Debose) to give them a total of 10 receivers.
In 2008, Florida threw the ball 329 times (37.7%) and ran the ball 545 times (62.3%).
Meanwhile, Texas Tech has 15 returning scholarship receivers and four freshmen joining the team in 2009 to give them a total of 19 receivers. They threw the ball 465 times (59.5%) and ran the ball 317 times (40.5%).
Both are spread offenses, but they’re vastly different.
Michigan currently has eight receivers. Two will graduate after this season, but four are incoming this year and six more will arive in 2010. Hypothetically, this gives Michigan a total of 16 scholarship receivers for three spots on the field in 2010 (assuming no position changes, for sanity’s sake):
Cameron Gordon, Je’ron Stokes, Jeremy Gallon, Teric Jones, Drew Dileo, Jeremy Jackson, Ricardo Miller, Jerald Robinson, D.J. Williamson, Tony Drake, Junior Hemingway, Martavious Odoms, Terrance Robinson, Roy Roundtree, James Rogers, Darryl Stonum
With the entrance of Tate Forcier to the fold (a polished passer with a slight build), I think it’s safe to say that Rodriguez’s offense might be evolving into a pass-first spread. I sincerely doubt it will turn into Texas Tech and their standard of four- and five-wide sets, but I think it’s clear that he’s trying to develop the depth at the wide receiver position to throw the ball at will. Not only does a bloated number of receivers increase the chances of finding impact players at the position, but it allows the coaches to rotate players in and keep them fresh for running downfield and blocking. I would not be surprised to see more sets with four wide receivers in the next two or three years, but I think three will remain the norm.
I’m excited to see what the Michigan offense will look like in the next couple years. I’m fairly certain that Michigan’s offense will not replicate that of West Virginia circa 2005-2008. Forcier and, arguably, 2010 recruit Devin Gardner are better passers than Pat White was coming out of high school. Therefore, It would seem counterintuitive for Rodriguez to bring in an accurate, polished quarterback and 16 receivers to run the ball 60% of the time like Meyer is doing in Florida. Once Rodriguez gets his offense going at Michigan, I would expect that the Wolverines will be throwing the ball 50 to 55% of the time.