Heading into this week, I had already planned on writing about Bruce Arians on Monday and the man who replaced him, Pep Hamilton, on Thursday. My decision was validated by the response to that Monday article. Reading through the various comments, I was amazed at just how interested and passionate fans were in the position - and a little surprised that very few people seem even a little disappointed that Arians is leaving.
So today, let's have a Pep talk. Who is Mr. Hamilton, what does his hiring mean for the Colts, and what in the name of Blue the Mascot is the West Coast offense? I have the answers to NONE of those questions, but we'll fake it together after the jump.
Who is Pep Hamilton?
If this were twitter, the first line of this section would read something like this: I had no clue who Pep Hamitlon was until the Colts hired him #EmbarrassingConfessions
I did watch a lot of Stanford ball in 2011 as it became more and more likely that the Colts would earn the #1 overall pick in the 2012 draft, but the name of their offensive coordinator never really seeped into my consciousness. So let's start with the easy stuff, here's Hamilton's resume, as it were:
1993–1996 Quarterback (Player) - Howard University
1997-2001 QB Coach - Howard University
1999-2001 Offensive Coordinator - Howard University
2003 Quality Control - New York Jets
2004 QB coach - New York Jets
2005 WR coach - New York Jets
2006 QB coach - San Francisco 49ers
2007-2009 QB Coach - Chicago Bears
2010 WR Coach - Stanford
2011–2012 Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach - Stanford
I like that Hamilton played quarterback. I like that he's worked his way up through the ranks, and that he's been a position coach for both QBs and WRs - I think the perspective of both positions can only help him be a better coordinator. I also love that he's had NFL experience. None of these things are a requirement for success as the Colts Offensive Coordinator, but they can't hurt, either.
Then there's the fact that Luck and Hamilton have a relationship. Again, this isn't vital for Hamilton to be successful, but I do believe that there needs to be a level of trust and respect between a QB and his coordinator, and these two won't need time to develop it.
Finally, the biggest reason to like Mr. Hamilton is obvious: his first name is Pep! Pep Rallies, Pep in our step, Pep Talks (new name for our podcasts, anyone?), and thousands of yet-to-be-explored jokes involving "pep" food items: pepper, peppers, pepperoni, Pepperidge farms, etc... No one knows if Pep Hamilton is a good hire for the Colts, but we do know most media members will be too busy exploring these puns to find out.
The only thing I don't like about Pep Hamilton? HIS NAME. Just think of the thousands of HORRIFIC puns people are going to make. And let me set the record straight - I was the first one to use the "Pep Rally" joke. ME. ME!!! Not Jake Query, not ... ANYONE. ME! GIVE ME MY FAME AND ATTENTION.
What does his hiring mean for the Colts offense?
It's always hard to judge a scheme change, philoshopy change, or a new hire in January. I know it's cliche, but actions really do speak louder than words. For example, around this time last year, Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano - then recent hires by the Colts - were waxing poetic about building a team that would run the ball and stop the run. Only to field a team that did neither.
So let's look at Hamilton's opening quotes - doing so fully aware that they may mean nothing, but we have little else to go on at this point.
"It will be a variation of it," Hamilton said when asked about bringing the West Coast offense to Indy. "Short passing game, high completion rate. But I enjoy watching our guys coming off the ball and trying to knock the opponent back. I'm a big believer in the power-running game, I believe that opens it up for your passing game. I want to be flexible schematically in that we find ways to get the ball into playmakers' hands."
Hamilton also went on to compliment the 2012 Offense, and said he would take a look at some of the things they were able to do.
Okay - small quote, big impact. That's a lot for me to digest, to be honest. As you probably know, I'm a passing guy. While I disagreed with some of Bruce Arians' play calls and decision making, I absolutely loved the vertical concepts he installed. So to go from the most vertical, down field offense in the NFL to a power running, short, efficient passing attack? Not the greatest news I've ever received. And while it's true that, for now, these are just words, remember my anecdote about Grigson and Pagano last off-season: perhaps Hamilton was hired to execute their vision of a more run-oriented offense.
So let's take Hamilton's comments at face value, assume he'll install his offense, and weigh the pros and cons.
- The Colts will be forced to do something they were likely to do anyhow - fix their offensive line. There's no way they can run the type of offense Hamilton wants with the current unit.
- Many people felt as though the Colts "wasted" their 2nd and 3rd round picks in the 2012 draft. Not because TEs Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen aren't good, but because they were under-utilized in Bruce Arians' offense. Kiss those concerns goodbye! Fleener and Allen will be two of the biggest beneficiaries of this new offense.
- The play action passing game will be featured, which is something I begged for under Arians.
- Andrew Luck will get hit less. This can only be a good thing.
- Andrew Luck's efficiency stats will improve, causing people in the media - who are incapable of seeing anything more than a box score - to finally appreciate Luck! Clearly the most important "Pro"!
- I believe the best way to attack NFL defenses is by spreading them vertically, and applying maximum pressure via an aggressive down-field attack.
- I don't think you need a dominant power running game to make play action work. And despite what you'll read and hear, you don't have to run the ball to win.
- I want the offensive line improved, but I don't want to invest so many resources - draft picks, money, etc... - that it hampers the Colts ability to plug their other holes (of which there are many).
What is the West Coast Offense?
This is a great question. A quick definition: an offensive system perfected by Bill Walsh that centers on horizontal passing concepts and timing routes in an effort to stretch the defense horizontally to create running lanes and big plays.
There is a ton of information that I could write about the WCO. There is a lot to learn about the WCO. If you want to learn about it, I suggest you do it from someone who is much better at writing about these concepts, Chris Brown at Smart Football and Grantland. Here is his post on the core principles of the WCO.
So there's my brief take. I'll have a more "formed" opinion after free agency and the draft. What's your take on Pep and the WCO? Let me know below!
Wow a lot of long responses, my biggest worry is what does this mean for Hilton, how will be fit into the new offense. Other than that I feel pretty good about it, I am just ready for the offseason.
I really think that Luck is so good and so smart he will make anything work... and make it his own.
With Luck, being OC for the Colts becomes a King Maker position. In the not too distant future, Hamilton will become a hot candidate to be a head Coach.
The Colts offense will be effective as long as Luck stays healthy, even if I were the OC. The only question is how fast it will take Luck to get to absolute elite status.
Here is hoping that Hamilton is the guy that can help get him their faster than anyone else.
So I think it's hard to argue with the Pro-Con list Greg made, simply going off of the black letter of what was said. As such, I completely agree with them (ESPECIALLY PLAY ACTION!!!!)
But with that said, I feel we often forget the other side of the "goods"!
For instance we talk about the chances Fleener and Allen are gonna get in this supposed new scheme, which is absolutely true given Pep's track record with TEs. But the other side of that is the use of other draft picks like Hilton and Brazil. As we have it right now, this scheme could completely negate one HUGE aspect of their game.
I mean yes, Hilton has shown to have some amazing moves in YAC and short passes (and even Brazil has showed flashes of being good in those situations) but we still can't forget that a huge part of both of their games is the vertical aspect.
I have little against WCO (prbly not true, but I know very little about it as well), but what i do know is that I'm not sure the WCO as i know it fits into the players we brought in (especially drafted) last year, and idk if restarting the offense in year two would be ideal IMO
I'm sure there are other flip sides to both the good and the bad that i could find once i actually sit and think these through, but we'll prbly know more by the summer so I figure i might as well comment now lol
@mshah9008 Pep has stated publicly he still intends to take shots down the field, and if you want to see what quick receivers can do in a YAC system just look no further than the season that Percy Harvin was having in Minnesota before his injury (677 yards in 8 games, 542 of them were YAC, had a target comp. % of 76.5, highest in the league), Minnesota threw deep less than anyone in the NFL, which I wouldn't anticipate would be the case with the Colts. I could see TY being utilized in a very similar way.
I don't think the Colts would hire an OC that they didn't think would fit their personnel, if anything I'd argue the WCO, whatever variation Pep decides to run, fits our personnel better than Arians vertical offense did. We all bemoan the departure of the vertical passing game as if it was so effective last season, if I recall throughout the year many of us (including me) were begging Arians to incorporate some plays that wouldn't get Luck murdered, would allow him to maybe sniff something over 50% comp., and would cut down on all the turnovers. I think there's a happy medium somewhere and I trust Pep to find it.
@Colt_Following @mshah9008 True, but Harvin is way bigger and has much more strength than Hilton, and is built to go across the middle and take contact, shots down field are good, but if that is the only way we use Hilton we might run into some problems with being predictable. I guess we could always run him on some quick screens as well.
Ok, in all seriousness now: I'm with Greg on the good stuff. Dammit, when you've got weapons like Fleener and Allen, you don't pull an Arians and make them irrelevant 80% of the time (and note that they still set some records *despite* being limited by the Arians scheme... tells you something about the TEs Indy's got). Also, hell yeah on efficiency and Luck getting hit less. The guy is a passing records player waiting to happen, and they've got to give him an offense that didn't pat itself on the back for "risk taking" and yet minimized chances for success by playing to *bad* risks (waiting for long routes to develop) instead of good ones (spreading the completions around, properly adjusting linemen so none of them are blocking air while one's being overwhelmed, allowing the QB to call more of his own stuff in a no-huddle, etc.). While I'm not sure the Hamilton WCO will allow some of these things, we're at least seeing some of the limiting influences be removed. Just in time for the QB to start to really blossom in his role.
The bad? I'm in agreement will all of them. Vertical offense being superior? Hell yeah. Manning was feared because he just marched teams downfield with his arm. It was enough to make a guy like Bellichick chance a 4th and 2 play because even pinning Peyton deep wouldn't have given the odds of defensive success it would have had he been facing a lesser QB. Face it: Bill would've punted had he been facing Rex Grossman or David Carr because LOL and ROFLMAO at their passing skills. But Manning... I think it would've taken a 4th and 10 to make Bellichick punt, and even then he would've been tempted. That's how Manning's arm is. And you unleash that threat via a vertical passing offense that pressures the hell out of the opponents' defensive backfield.
Dominant running game? Agreed with Greg too. I'll forever love Edgerrin James... but let's be honest, he wasn't needed nor missed for the '06 Super Bowl. It pains me to say it about one of the most lovable players ever to grace the squad, but I can't see how I'd be wrong. On top of that, the 2010 team that went to the SB was far, FAR from being dominant on the ground. Hell, they were barely acceptable. Greg's right; you just need a "good enough" running attack if your QB is halfway decent. And Luck is considerably better than that.
But there is one more thing I fear above and beyond what Greg wrote. The WCO often has immense playbooks. To me, that's always been the hallmark of overcoaching and overthinking. And that bothers me. The recent decade of Manning teams under Dungy (and one good Caldwell year) was marked by well executing but simple offenses and defenses. Remember: Neither unit actually ran that many variations on plays. The offense was based on Manning's reads and ball placement along with the receivers' discipline in route running, and the defense was based on the cover-2 area denial, rush to the ball type offense that didn't offer much in the way of tricks but was based on proper, disciplined execution. People ripped on the defense quite a bit, but the thing that was killing it on bad years wasn't the lack of a diverse playbook, it was the failure to execute properly. Look what happened when Coyer tried to tweak it with a bit more complexity in terms of attack and blitzes: Disintegration.
My point here being that the best sports leave the unnecessary complexity behind and focus on execution. And that's true in *sports*, not just football; you'll see the same idea in the Knight & Krzyzewski motion offense and man defenses, as well as a very different but yet still simplicity and execution based dribble-drive offenses that men like Calipari took to the NCAA. The thing that really worries me is having players have to concentrate on whether they're supposed to wiggle their ass left-right-left instead of right-left-right after the snap and then understand which of the 450 pages the instruction applies to. And if the playbook is overly immense, the players do get caught up in worrying about the trees at the expense of understanding the forest. Even if you didn't like them, say what you will about the Dungy years Colts but you cannot say that their players were lost conceptually. Whereas the one, biggest thing I fear about WCO coaching philosophy is exactly this: Players not really understanding the overall goals and seeing their execution suffer accordingly. Overcoaching and overcontrolling. As we've seen in far too many games, lots of excellent execution can be killed by individual, bad coaching decisions, and again, that's the ONE BIG THING I fear about a WCO based attack: It's possible to go overboard, and I don't see any offsetting philosophy that can keep it in check. It's all on the individual coach, coordinators, and assistance to recognize it as a danger and compensate for it.
Well, anyway... that's where I sit.
@AJ_ This is exactly why I don't like the WCO. All the talk about the WCO not being vertical enough is silly. Even in it's original conception there were vertical routes on nearly every pass play. The complexity and the micromanagement is what has always driven me nuts about the WCO.
Not every team can have a QB like Manning who can go out there and execute the same 7 concepts over and over again to perfection, or who can put his offense in the best conditions for what the defense is showing. That's what made the Colts system so progressive. They went against the popular culture at the time, and threw out all the nonsense.
Not every team has a QB that can execute on a level that allows simple to be successful, but I think Luck can do it. Of course, he will probably be successful in the WCO as well, but what I wouldn't give to see Luck just take the Manning/Moore offense to a new level.
@AJ_ I think what you're saying makes sense to a degree, but saying that one offense worked (simple plays and elite execution), is not the same as saying it's the only offense that works. The WCO is a proven system in the NFL and has been for many years, there are teams running variations of it to great success all over the NFL, including Green Bay where Aaron Rodgers has assumed the mantle of the best QB in the NFL while running the system (or at least a variation of it).
We may see a step back in 2013, or we may see a giant leap forward, I think it's really impossible to tell at this point, we don't even know what the roster is going to look like 3 months from now, let alone what kind of variation of the WCO Pep is planning to implement. I think we all need to take a deep breath and wait and see, we honestly have no idea what this offense is even going to look like. What we do know is that Andrew Luck is an expert at the WCO, ran it incredibly effectively and efficiently in college, and will not require a lot of time to get up to speed no matter how large the playbook is. New offenses are always a bit dicey but when the QB already knows it I think that concern drops off dramatically. Sure the terminology changes for the WRs and the blocking assignments might go by different names, but if I learned anything watching Hard Knocks it's that technique is more or less the same across different offenses (meaning offensive linemen still block the same blocks, they just call it something else, WRs still run the same routes, they may just have different names and in different combinations), the real onus is placed on the QB, and we know that Luck already knows this system, or at least enough of it that it won't take long to master it again.
Oh, to be clear: The last half of that comment is not a prediction that the Colts are doomed. No, not even close. Rather, it's nothing more than a warning about the possible dangers, that's all. If the coaches avoid the problems and maximize the benefits, the Colts can go very, very far.
Here's a Mike Shanahan quote when asked about what the West Coast Offense is: "I'm not sure what the West Coast offense is anymore. Everybody adjusts their system to what they do, or what they want to do, or they adjust it to their personnel." source: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/nfl/story/2012/09/21/west-coast-offense-past-its-time/57816080/1
I tend to believe that this quote represents what we will see with the Colts, incorporating west coast concepts but with adjustments and wrinkles to best suit the personnel on the team (something I don't think Arians did the best job of). Pep Hamilton, by all accounts, is a very smart man and understands offenses. I would be very surprised if he doesn't make adjustments to his scheme to best fit NFL defenses and the personnel at his disposal. In a perfect world he builds upon some of the vertical elements that Luck and these receivers got a ton of experience with this season while working in west coast efficiency in situations that we desperately needed it (tight red zone windows I would imagine are helped significantly by the timing routes the west coast offense brings with it; Luck's incredible red zone numbers at Stanford would suggest this as well).
@Colt_Following As I said in the piece, I can only go by what Hamilton has said, and so far all he's said is power running and short, efficient passes. I certainly hope he builds on the vertical passing game, but I have to wait until I see it.
@GregC In that same interview you quoted he does mention that he plans to "take shots down the field" and that he really likes what the Colts have developed in the vertical game. I don't think he plans to totally blow it all up. I could be wrong though, only time will tell and we should hopefully know more once training camp is underway (seems like a million years away).
<i>"GIVE ME MY FAME AND ATTENTION."</i>
Was I the only one who heard that echo in an empty chamber, answered only by the sound of crickets? ;) :D
I'm actually very excited to see how this offense works out. One of the few issues people brought up about Luck prior to the draft was his ability to throw deep. (Remember his pro day?) Luck has spent the entire year working on that very skill with one of the best teachers of the deep throw there is. Now he gets put back into an offense he knows well with an additional skill and upgraded weapons at WR. If you combine those, with Luck's ability already to call his own plays it should ease the transition for the entire offense into a new system. If you take a look at the WCO system it can be all "dink and dunk" like you hear many people say. Walsh's system is obviously very timing based and not exclusively, but primarily a YAC system. However, think about that system, with a QB that can also throw deep. You get Brett Farve in Green Bay with Mike Holmgren. Regardless if you like him or not, his size, ability to throw deep, and thrive in a WCO made him a tremendous QB. (Holmgren was also able to rein in his int's) Luck has already shown he doesn't have the ego that Farve did. Luck could be the combination of Farve's arm strenghth and downfield ability, with Montana's or Young's intellect. A VERY attractive combination in my book. I think this is THE offense that best fits Luck. He can perform in any offense. But a situation where he is allowed to have timing patterns that keep him from taking hits, a run game that can be semi consistent, and the options to read a D and throw deep when the opportunity shows itself (instead of being forced) are going to showcase his skills in a fantastic way.