(Read: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV )
In the first four parts of this series we’ve looked at the influences on John Shoop as an offensive coordinator, looked at what might be his preferred offense and gotten an early take from him on UNC’s personnel. The last question to address is what should UNC fans look for in the 2007 UNC offense?
Shoop doesn’t have a label for the type of offense he’d like to install at UNC, and doesn’t intend to use one. “We’re not going be pigeon-holed as ‘This is a West Coast Offense’ or this is the ‘Spread offense,’ or ‘This is the number system of Sid Gillman,’” Shoop says. “It’s going be what our team does best, starting with the quarterback. Whoever our quarterback is, we’re going do what he does best. I’ve coached in every type of offense that there is, the spread with Gary Crowton; the West Coast Offense with Jon Gruden; the vertical offense with Norv Turner. We’re going do what that guy (the quarterback) does best.”
Based on all of Shoop’s other comments, the best guess is that he will strongly favor the type of offense associated with Norv Turner – provided he has a quarterback that can run that system. But before we delve into that question, the first point to address is Turner’s preference, as well as John Shoop’s and Butch Davis’, for a power running game.
A strong component of every Norv Turner offense was the use of a feature back in a power running attack. Turner used a power, feature back in every stop; Emmitt Smith (Dallas Cowboys), Terry Allen (Washington Redskins), Stephen Davis (Washington Redskins), LaDainian Tomlinson (San Diego Chargers), Ricky Williams (Miami Dolphins), Lamont Jordan (Oakland), and Frank Gore (San Francisco 49’ers).
These players tend to be strong players who run with power, and that’s the type of back to look for in UNC’s offense. Turner favors giving his primary back the lion’s share of the carries, in part to build rhythm and recognition with the offensive line. Shoop may well favor that pattern, and if so the current group of running backs on UNC’s roster would be doing themselves a favor by getting as strong as possible in the weight room in the offseason. With an additional ten pounds of muscle to get to the 220 lbs. range, either Johnny White (5-10, 210) or Anthony Elzy (5-10, 210) might fit into this mold. The key to starting will be durability and power.
Along the offensive line, this system favors huge offensive linemen who are road graders in the running game and able to pass protect on deep passing plays. Davis and offensive line coach Sam Pittman inherited a solid group of big offensive linemen to work with in this system at UNC.
At wide receiver, this system favors players who can stretch the field with speed over physical, possession-type receivers. To make the system work, the receivers must have the ability to separate from defenders deep. Hakeem Nicks will do well in this system, and there are several other players on the UNC roster that fit into this mold, as well as some true freshmen who could get into the mix.
Because of the power running game component, there is room in this offense for a powerful blocking fullback as well as a big blocking tight end. Do not be surprised if Andre Barbour is given some consideration at tight end, which he played at times last season when forced into duty because of injuries. When you plan to run the ball with power, the presence of a powerful tight end such as Barbour is a great advantage. There will be room for H-back-type tight ends in this offense as well. Norv Turner used Jay Novacek in that role in Dallas, and Novacek led all NFL tight ends in receiving twice under Turner. Richard Quinn and/or Vince Jacobs are among the players currently on the UNC roster who could fit this type of tight end, middle-of-the-field threat.
Of course, the key to it all will be the quarterback who, as Shoop has indicated, will define the ultimate contours of the 2007 UNC offense. What sort of quarterback fits into this system best?
This system favors a quarterback who is comfortable passing in the pocket and has the arm strength and accuracy to hit receivers deep downfield. Big-armed quarterbacks work best in this system, as it is predicated on using the threat of the deep pass to open up the running game. Darryl Lamonica, Troy Aikman, Kurt Warner: these are the types of quarterbacks who thrive in this system. Being able to be mobile within the pocket is preferable to being mobile outside the pocket.
If North Carolina cannot find a quarterback who can throw deep with accuracy this spring, then all bets are off; the implementation of this system depends upon finding a quarterback who can work well within it. In the absence of that type of quarterback, Shoop and the North Carolina offense will have to take another approach.
Does UNC have such a quarterback on its roster? We’ll find out, perhaps as early as this spring.