How to Play Grown Man Football without a Tight End

Photo from (Photographer: Bryan Terry)

Since James Hanna and Trent Ratterree graduated a couple of years ago, we haven’t really seen Oklahoma use someone at the tight end position with regularity.  Occasionally, Trey Millard or Aaron Ripkowski will line up there, but we haven’t used the position that much.  Something that we’ve done from time to time is going unbalanced, which really just means that we’re bringing in an extra guard or extra tackle and lining them up at the tight end position on one side of the line.  Some like to call it double tackle since you have two tackles on the end of the line of the scrimmage.  I call it grown man football.

We’ve shown against every team we’ve played this year that we can run the football.  Clay, Finch, Ford, Millard, Williams, Bell, Knight and even Kendal Thompson are all more than capable ballcarriers.  Two weeks ago against TCU we experimented with a formation I outlined here on The Football Brainiacs.  We brought Nila Kasitati in at the right tight end spot, and ran right behind him in the Belldozer.  We were very physical out of the formation and got a first down on it, even though we didn’t execute it as cleanly as we could have.  I was hopeful that going in to Texasweek it was a little bit of foreshadowing.

I remember when I was an offensive tackle in college, we’d experiment with plays or formations to see how defenses would line up against them.  Unless you have a very observant group up in the booth, are they really going to be able to recognize that you have an extra guard in the game?  Do they play base defense against it or do they counter it with an extra big body?  Basically Nila is a starter at this point in the season.  Depending on the game, Nila has played as much as Irwin and Shead.  Don’t want to put a guard on the edge out there?  That’s o.k. too, because Farniok actually played a little bit against Notre Dame.  Matched up against Stephon Tuitt, he actually did pretty well. So to me, when you have so many good, capable offensive linemen, and the lack of a really good edge presence at tight end, plug in those guys who have earned the time along the offensive line at the tight end position.

While I understand we have several playmakers at the receiver position as well, and it’s hard to justify taking Neal, Shepard, Saunders, Bester or Reynolds off of the field, right now, running the football is what we do best.  You need Millard on the field regardless of formation, but if you put him at a wing, h-back or even at the other tight end spot, that still gives you the ability to have two receivers on the field.  If you went empty, you could even have three.  But what using a formation like this could do is really allow you to dictate some matchups that running five wide won’t allow you to.  Whenever you put a lot of receivers on the field, defenses are going to put a lot of defensive backs on the field to counter that.  Whenever you go big, those same defenses will remove those defensive backs and put more defensive linemen and linebackers out there.

What happens to us now is that when we try to dictate matchups, we line Clay or Saunders up out wide, and when you have all those db’s on the field, they’re matched up against a db.  In a big jumbo set, you could run, run, run, and then take Millard and Clay/Finch/Williams, Ford whoever we have at tailback and shift to five wide to get either Millard or one of those tailbacks lined up against linebackers or safeties.  Then because the ability to bracket has been negated by the lack of db’s on the field, it forces them to play man, and that really opens up the qb run game.  Clearly to this point, Bell has struggled with multiple reads, so to counter that, take guys out of the pattern.  Give him one or two reads, and if it isn’t there tell him to take off running.  By going four and five wide, we are forcing him to go through four or five reads, and by the time he gets through them all the pressure gets to him.  Bell’s holding the ball too long, and that’s what caused a lot of sacks on Saturday.  Since he and Knight, when he has played, have had problems with the passing game, simplify it.  Make it something that narrows their scope.  Take some of those db’s off the field by alignment so that when you do take off running as a qb you have less athletes to outrun.

Another added benefit would be all of the extra space that Shepard, Neal and Saunders would have to run in the secondary with less people back there. Right now its really frustrating to see all the talent along the offensive line that we have accumulated just sitting there.  Savage, St. John, Farniok, Nila.  We could get a lot of these guys on the field if we’d just admit who we are at this point and who we are is a power run team and line them up as tight ends.  We need to stop trying to be a Mike Leach offense.  Line up, smash them in the mouth and run the football.  We did it in 2006 with a guy who was a receiver in fall camp. We ended up winning a Big 12 Championship with it too.