Examination of Arizona State offense under coordinator Chip Lindsey

Todd Graham has said that one of the biggest benefits to the hire of Chip Lindsey as offensive coordinator this year is continuity of scheme and style. But there are some differences.

Arizona State has completed its first spring ball under new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. How does his scheme look and perform compared to what Sun Devil fans grew accustomed to under previous coordinator Mike Norvell?

1. Skill positions are labeled differently. There's no longer the 2 (field), 5 (big slot) and 9 (boundary) wide receiver positions. ASU is using the more common X (split end), Y (slot) and Z (flanker). This in and of itself is insignificant, however....

2. Wide receivers no longer align strictly based on the side of the field the ball is closer to. In the previous ASU offense, the 9-receiver (boundary) always was on the short side of the field relative to the ball's location between the hash marks. The 2 receiver was always on the field side. The reason the previous staff did this is because it wanted to cater to the receivers' individual skill sets, as much as possible, within the framework of the offense. It was more likely to throw fades to the boundary for example. Not flipping the receivers allows for the offense to move faster in between plays and also keeps the receivers' fresher, theoretically. A tradeoff is that perhaps an outside receiver isn't going to be as capable at executing a route on the desired side of the field as the receiver on the other side, and the route itself isn't as functional on the opposite side. 

3. The slot receiver is now more of a true slot receiver, like in a pro style system. This is an offense that typically utilizes its quicker, shiftier receivers in the slot. So for example, Tim White and Fred Gammage were 2-receivers under former coordinator Mike Norvell's offense, but they're both working the slot primarily in Chip Lindsey's system.

4. The two running back formations in which one back aligns as a near slot receiver is observably much less common, at least through the completion of spring football. We will see some formations in which ASU has two running backs on the field together, but usually they'll be offset backs in the backfield on either side of the quarterback out of a shotgun set. Very occasionally we've seen a running back motion from tight slot to backfield or vice versa, but using a running back in a role that most would associate as functioning more like a wide receiver has been rare. This may change as ASU puts more of its scheme in place in August, and junior Demario Richard hinted at that possibility, but for now, there will probably be fewer two-back sets and an increase in three receiver sets. 

5. The route concepts have some similarities but also some stark differences. To an outside eye, this Lindsey offense more closely resembles the Air Raid than the (Auburn coach) Gus Malzahn system, which Norvell was a strict disciple of. The Air Raid has more so-called 'quick game' concepts, designed to get the ball more rapidly from the center to the quarterback to the wide receiver. This entails a lot of quick slants and quick screens, with all three receivers often running very acutely angled routes relative to the line of scrimmage. 

Part of this is an increase in the snag and stick type triangulation of routes that was a staple of former ASU offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's one-back offense at ASU. But Mazzone had no tight ends at ASU and only lightly used the position at UCLA, favoring a bigger Y-receiver in the slot. That's one of the differences with Lindsey, as he utilizes tight ends extensively, much more so than either Mazzone's offense or the Air Raid offense, which also rarely uses receivers. There also appears to be a little greater range of routes by tight ends. That's why this offense used by Lindsey is really an amalgamation of a variety of schemes. It has Air Raid, Malzahn and West Coast elements, as well as others. 

There are quite a few rub route concepts, breaking in and out, and these are more frequently used than under Mike Norvell. We'll still see the boundary fades, the run-pass option (RPO) plays which are predicated on making defenders react and to respond accordingly. The most common of these we see are read option concepts in which the quarterback can give the ball to the back, keep it when the adjustor crashes prematurely, or throw it to the receiver if a defensive player bites what looks like a receiver blocking for a screen, enabling the receiver to slip by the defender into open field, or even behind the defense entirely. There is a goal of trying to make defensive players make quick processing key read errors. There is perhaps a greater opportunity in this offense to slip receivers behind the defense due to key read errors by safeties who are biting on screens.  

6. Quarterbacks are going to get the ball out more quickly, on average, and will at times have less post-snap processing as a result. All of the aforementioned quick game concepts enable quarterbacks to narrow their viewing focus and get the ball out quickly, lessoning the burden to some degree on their situational decision-making. Mistakes can still be made, of course. A quarterback who doesn't cycle through progressions as well can probably be more successful in this type of scheme versus a pro-style offense. A quarterback who doesn't have as big of an arm can similarly benefit from this type of scheme. Overall, this is one of the more user-friendly schemes you'll find for quarterbacks, particularly given the way tight ends and running backs are utilized as high volume targets (when capable). Also, there is less of a burden on the quarterback with the protections. 

7. There will be more zone blocking and less man blocking in the run game. We're still seeing some occasional Power in the run game (Power is a play in which a guard pulls, not a philosophy) and sophomore Sam Jones is showing some good capability in that regard. But more than ever ASU's going to be a zone blocking scheme, a lot of inside and outside zone and some stretch zone. There's been a major emphasis by ASU offensive line coach Chris Thomsen of what he's calling, "ripping and running." The goal is for all the linemen to get leverage in their zone and really explode out of a stance through the second level. Zone blocking is about being agile and athletic over being bigger and more physical, it's about displacing linemen by getting them moving more than everyone working on concert to get one specific gap/hole opened up. Zone blocking is also a little easier on linemen from a mental standpoint because there's less to adjust to pre and post-snap. Teams that are zone heavy or pure zone with blocking usually have a little bit lighter offensive linemen and greater interchangeability between the positions. 

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