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Coach’s Corner: What to Make of this Staff

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Fresno North? Or is this staff ready to take on the Pac-12?

NCAA Football: Fresno State at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The final pieces of the staff were announced over the weekend, and there were a lot of different opinions on the individual hires. Some were underwhelmed by the lack of splashy hires, especially considering some of the rumored names that were associated with various positions like Donte Williams, Orlondo Steinaur, and Kirby Moore. However there’s more to this than just assembling an all-star coaching staff, so while there were more Fresno hires than some may like, I see a well-rounded staff that shored up the right areas to address the most glaring concerns.

Offensive Staff

Fresno State v Oregon Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

The offensive staff should be the least of our concerns given DeBoer’s background, but there were some mature moves that convinced me that he has a plan. Once then-Fresno OC, and longtime DeBoer assistant, Ryan Grubb was tapped to be the OC/QB coach at UW, it was clear that KD wanted to be able to delegate responsibilities to his staff in order to focus running the program. Grubb has been working with DeBoer for over a decade now, and his well-rounded experience coaching the OL and QBs, as well as calling plays at Fresno, makes him a great building block on the staff. Most importantly, he’s well-versed in KD’s offense and program philosophy, so he can take additional responsibilities off DeBoer’s plate and help to quickly integrate the members of the staff who weren’t on DeBoer’s Fresno staff.

The outside hire of Nick Sheridan, as well as retaining Scott Huff and Junior Adams, brings a valuable blend of new blood to DeBoer’s Fresno-heavy staff. Sheridan has ties to DeBoer from their Indiana days, and he succeeded KD as the OC at Indiana. While he was let go from Indiana, its worth noting that he was the play caller for Michael Penix during IU’s tremendous 2020 season when they had 3 top 25 wins and were one score away from beating Ohio State for a berth in the Big Ten championship game. While he won’t necessarily have an impact on play calling as a TE coach, being able to add an assistant with play calling experience (as well as QB experience as a former Michigan QB) addresses some of the shortcomings of Jimmy Lake’s hires who were largely inexperienced and were short on QB development expertise.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Arkansas State at Washington Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As for the Huff and Adams hires, I view their retention as a pure recruiting play that was enabled by the strength of the rest of DeBoer’s other hires. Huff and Adams were two of the best recruiters on Lake’s staff, and neither were particularly bad coaches despite persistent questions regarding their ability to develop the talent they brought in. Huff coached up solid offensive lines earlier in his UW tenure, and he’s done a good job on an individual basis of developing talent (ex. Kirkland & Harris), so the more recent struggles in the run game and inconsistent pass protection could be chalked up to the poor offensive schemes implemented by higher ups. Adams’ situation is similar. His WRs have had strong individual performances at times, and his resume suggests that he is a good developer of talent, but he’s been hamstrung by the overall offensive ineptitude for much of his UW tenure. More coherent offensive schemes/play calling, better QB coaching, and added help from Grubb’s OL background should allow our OL and WR production to rebound while retaining good recruiters.

Fresno State v Hawaii Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

As for the specifics of the offensive scheme that Kalen DeBoer and Ryan Grubb will be implementing at UW, there shouldn’t be any seismic shift in the core concepts. At first glance, the Fresno offense that ranked in the top 30 in points per game this past season (33 pts/game) is built around a 11 personnel, spread it out, pass-happy offensive philosophy. That shouldn’t mean that we’re going to be abandoning the run game at all, but we should expect to move towards a more QB & perimeter-oriented offense than the maddeningly inefficient RTDB offense that we saw under Lake. Despite this shift, the RBs might be the biggest beneficiaries from this shift in offense. Ronnie Rivers and Jordan Mims combined for ~2200 scrimmage yards and 17 TDs for Fresno last year with ~60 receptions and averaged 10+ yards per catch. Cam Davis and Sam Adams have skill sets that could really thrive in this type of offense. I plan on doing a deep dive into the offense at some point before next season, so keep an eye out for that.

Defensive Staff

Indiana v Florida International Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Following a similar theme as the offensive staff, DeBoer brought over assistants from his Fresno staff who he could trust to be a firm foundation for the rest of the staff. Between Inge, Morrell, and Schmidt, KD again valued coordinator or HC level experience when targeting assistants to bring with him. Inge was his DC in Fresno, Morrell was a longtime assistant with KD at Sioux Falls (he also had 9 years of HC experience at Montana Tech), and Schmidt was a DC at North Dakota and a ST Coordinator at Fresno. Those three were key figures on Fresno’s top 20 scoring defense last year (20 pts/game), and to me, it looks like KD didn’t want to tamper with a successful staff more than he needed to.

The one area that he decided to look for an infusion of outside talent was at DL with his hiring of Inoke Breckterfield. Breckterfield is a sneaky good hire that brought immediate credibility to the position and was one of the few DL hires who I thought could be a holistic upgrade over Malloe. Many have already honed in on Breckterfield’s most accomplished former player, Aaron Donald, but perhaps a more impressive was his work with Wisconsin’s 2019 defense where they set the school record for sacks with 51, good for 2nd in the country. That performance without an individual star carrying the load for the defense shows just how solid his DL units are. Additionally, Breckterfield has had the opportunity to work with a number of excellent defensive minds over the years, including Dave Aranda, Justin Wilcox, and Clark Lea, and each had their own defensive schemes and philosophies that have allowed Breckterfield develop a broad schematic background.

Speaking of schematics, the new staff will bring the most substantial shift in defensive scheme since Justin Wilcox was calling plays on Montlake. Inge & Co. bring their version of the 4-2-5 base nickel defense to Montlake, and although much of the defense will look similar to most, there are a few key differences between Inge’s defense and the Coach K and BG versions of the 2-4-5 defense. First, Inge’s 4-2-5 defense is built on 4-3 principles more than the 2-4-5 was. While the DEs may utilize a stand up rush technique like our OLBs did, they are almost never asked to drop into coverage, and their responsibilities are much more aligned with a traditional DE than an OLB. We’ve trended towards larger OLBs over the last few years, so I expect a relatively smooth transition for most to DE. Simplification of the front 4’s responsibilities should also bode well for our players and allow them to play a little faster in this scheme. Second, instead of playing our 5th DB as a slot corner, Inge prefers to utilize a hybrid SAM LB/Safety position known as the HUSKY. This position brings more size near the LOS, and with talented candidates for this position such as Asa Turner, Dom Hampton, and even Kamren Fabiculanan, we could have an opportunity to get more of our safety-heavy DBs on the field. Finally, Inge has a less blitz-heavy play calling philosophy than we’ve seen in recent years. With the front 4 dedicated to controlling the LOS and wreaking havoc in the backfield, Inge’s defenses have relied less on confusion and blitzes to create pressure than Lake’s defenses did. This will be an interesting shift in philosophy, and I’m curious to see if Inge modifies his play calling at first to take advantage of our personnel. Eddie Ulofoshio and Carson Bruener were excellent blitzing LBs who aren’t as comfortable playing in coverage, and our DL group has been stocked with bodies who are more suited to plug gaps than penetrate into the backfield. That being said, guys like Voi Tunuufi and Noa Ngalu could find more opportunities in the new scheme, and Inge has experience coaching LBs in Tom Allen’s blitz-happy defense.

Looking Towards 2022

Heading into next season, there will be a lot of shuffling going on, but while terminology might be new, it looks like this staff should be able to mold a good football team out of the roster that they take over. These are good coaches with a lot of experience, and their schemes look like they suit our players, or they can at least be modified to fit the talent present. We’ll have to keep an eye on recruiting and the transfer portal to see if the talent we target might provide clues to what sort of team we field next fall. Until then, I’ll be digging through Fresno tape, so keep an eye out for future deep dives into our offensive and defensive schemes.