Football, a sport so rooted in tradition, run by coaches from a by-gone era, characterized in cinemas by ego and arrogance, is perhaps the fastest evolving medium in sports. Each and every year, new and innovative ways pop up across the country. You only need to look as far as last night's National Championship Game between Oregon and Ohio State to see how quickly the game changes. Adapt, or die.
Oregon has been known to be on the forefront of offensive innovation for the past decade or so. Many onlookers and pundits believe the Oregon "system" is truly unique, holding secrets unknown to the rest of the coaching world. The truth is, their system is really a living, breathing, adapting organism. In watching last night, I was amazed at how different the offense was from the one Chip Kelly left two years ago. Yes, the components of speed and tempo remain. So does the read option, screen and bubble actions, playaction, and so much more. However, the intricacies of each play have adapted to stay one step ahead of the curve. They don't run the read option the way they did two years ago; they don't read the same defender they did last year; they don't set up the playactions from the same formations. Mark Helfrich has continued to grow the offense to make sure success doesn't lead to complacency.
Ohio State and Urban Meyer are good example of the same. When Urban Meyer last won the National Championship with Florida and Tim Tebow, he ran many pinch and pull concepts, using Tim Tebow as a multi-faceted weapon. His offense since then has changed immensely. Yes, they still use the wide receiver sweeps and screens the way they did with Percy Harvin, yes they pinch and pull, but they have adapted those schemes to isolate different players, create better angles, and utilize different personnel to their strengths. While the tenants and beliefs remain the same, it is clear to those breaking down the film that how Urban Meyer imposed those beliefs on opponents has changed.
The point here is that in order to stay relevant in football, we must be willing to study and change. This goes for both players and coaches. A player watching Oregon today, thinking he understands their offense, will face them three years from now and end up three years out of date if he hasn't been studying film. A coach who thinks all the same schemes from years ago will serve the same purpose today and in the future might be rudely awakened when defenses know how to stop them now. Even the best, at the highest level, know that their knowledge today isn't better than their opponents tomorrow. Adapt and progress, or fall behind.
This is true in most fields - the medical field, the sport performance field, the nutrition field, and yes, the football field. To be the best, you must enjoy the process of studying, thinking objectively, and changing with the times.
I get lot of football dads that like to ask me about certain college or NFL quarterbacks, and with the national championship coming up Marcus Mariota is a hot topic. I had a dad ask me if I thought Mariota could make it in the NFL, and what makes him such a great football player. There is so much young quarterbacks can learn from the model Mariota sets that I thought it would be worth a blog post.
Most obviously, Marcus has some serious physical ability. His speed and acceleration is electric. When he runs read option, one of Oregon's go-to schemes, he carries a bigger threat with the ball in his hands than his runningbacks do. As far as how this translates to the NFL, it's a nice luxury more than a necessity, but it certainly adds a dimension that many coaches are looking for. He needs to make sure it's a skill that's used in moderation and to help him complement his passing ability.
His arm talent is very good, too - he has the ability to make every throw, be consistently accurate down the field, and make the wide throws outside the numbers. In addition to that, his reads defenses very well. He doesn't have to throw into too many tight windows because he reads coverages well and finds the open man. Many draft pundits are holding his open receivers against him instead of saying he reads the field well.
Most importantly for this post, though, he has a humble confidence that is so hard to find in today's game. He deflects credit, builds up his teammates, always looks for what he can do better, and accepts blame even when it's not his to take. This contrasts strongly to the two previous Heisman winners, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston. We seem to be in a day of age where most stars mistake arrogance for confidence. They feel the need to tell everyone how good they are, don't deal with failure very well, and have a sense of entitlement to preferential treatment and fun. Arrogance and overconfidence create a player who becomes complacent, somewhat evidenced by Johnny Manziel's admission that he needs to work harder than he did his rookie season with the Browns. Marcus Mariota is a great example of what confidence really is. He doesn't need to tell everyone how great he is. He doesn't run up to cameras and pose for the front page. He doesn't draw extra attention to himself. That's what much of today's youth defines confidence as - bravado and "swag." Marcus Mariota doesn't do those things, but does anyone doubt that he believes in his abilities? He has confidence because he has put in the work, is thorough in his preparation, and is ready to perform. He just isn't arrogant enough to tell everyone about it.
We currently have a lack of good role models in sports, but Mariota is a much brighter beacon of hope for that cause. His skills are tremendous, but his character is even greater. I know there isn't a player I've rooted for harder in recent memory. If I were picking first overall, I'd have zero reservations about picking Mariota as the face of my franchise.
SPU's Alex Drayson writes the SPU Football Performance Blog.