In making notes about some of the highlights of the Arkansas spring football practices, I kept coming up with lines from various coaches and players about the impact Paul Rhoads has made with the Arkansas secondary.
The word used over and over is simple. Teacher is the theme in every thought from head coach Bret Bielema, defensive coordinator Robb Smith, safety Santos Ramirez and cornerback Jared Collins. It all comes back to the ability to teach his concepts.
It reminds me of the same things I heard when Dan Enos arrived last winter at Arkansas to revamp the passing game as the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. I pulled out the long answer to question asked in a spring session about how he was going to teach the passing game to quarterbacks and wide receivers. It was a 25-minute response.
It's good to cut it in half to fit in this space, but it's clear that there's a plan on how to install passing game concepts, something that Enos is doing again this spring, but it's much easier because of the carry over with returning players. Simply, I believe in Enos as a teacher, especially knowing what he believes.
“I'm a big believer in progressing the way you teach.,” Enos said last spring. “Big believer that when we install something, for the players to have success we install it through power points so that they see it on paper. Then we show it on video.
“We show other people running the play so they see it, sometimes good and sometimes bad to learn from those things. Then they take that out there on the field and take it through a walk through of the plays. Then we throw each individual route on air to each player – to a tight end, a running back and a wide receiver that they are going to have to run it on a concept.
“Then we bring the whole group together and we run the entire group on air with no defense yet so the quarterbacks, the running backs and the wide receivers can get a feel for the spacing of the route. They've seen it on paper, they've seen it on video, they've walked through it and they've run it against air. Now, we run the individual routes against the Dbs, so we get it one on one versus the Dbs. Then we take it on seven on seven.
“Now, if you install it and the first time you do it it's against a situation with a defense out there, you are not giving them a chance for a lot of success. They may not know it inside out or very thorough. So this is our best chance to have success and have success early. Again, you put the defense out there and you have moving parts and you have keys, coverages changes. The defense played the first day, basically one coverage. Day two they added a coverage. Day three, blitzes are going to be added, so in order for us to be successful and establish a foundation, you have to teach with a progression.
“Finally, you get to a team situation where there are 11 on 11. And as we know, that changes. You have a pre-snap look, and then, bump, the ball gets snap and everything changes on you. We have an understanding and knowledge of that particular play and what we are trying to get accomplished with it.
“Every time we saw a concept, I talked with our quarterbacks about what package that play is in. Is it a vertical stretch? Is it a horizontal stretch? Is it a high low. The next thing, what's their clock? What's my drop? Is it a big five, is it seven steps, is it a three step? How does my clock change when I'm in the gun or if I'm under center? Who is my movement key, the guy I'm going to read when the ball is snapped? What's the protection? Are their hots built in? Is it a seven man protection? Are you with me on that?
“Each and everything we install, there is a lot of detail and a lot of thought and a lot of organization that goes into it and if you want to be efficient, the more the players understand about the play and why you are doing and what you are trying to get out of it and having a chance to execute the small parts before they get to the wholes, that will give us the best chance for success. As we all know, your plans are good and all of that, but your players have to do it. They have to understand it and you have to get good players who are doing it a very, very fast pace.”
Yes, that was a lot. But it's best to see it all together to understand why the Hogs clicked last season with the passing game.
I see the same things happening with Austin Allen, and even Rafe Peavey and Ty Storey. That's clearly the top three quarterbacks because they've had the most time with Enos. Ricky Town will join them as he understands more of the concepts and the Enos system. He'll get there, too.
And, to tie it together, I see it happening with Rhoads with the secondary. He's teaching the concepts, the simpler things about stance, alignment and first steps that lead to the shortest route to the receivers and running backs. It's teaching. I know it's the right way to approach a problem, getting the secondary right. It worked for Enos in the same way for the offense. It will work for defense.
I got that good feeling that success is coming again for this year's passing game as I listed to SEC Network analyst Clint Stoerner talk on Bo Mattingly's show on Tuesday about sitting with Enos with the quarterbacks on Monday for 90 minutes. The teaching was unbelievable as far as detail in what they were accomplishing with the throwing game in Saturday's scrimmage. I'm not surprised.
“They were going through the tape together,” Stoerner said. “Dan was coaching them all on what each of them were doing, every step, every move in the pocket, every single thing they did. It was really good teaching. You just can't believe how well he teaches.”
It's why I was not surprised when senior wide receiver Drew Morgan made a prediction this week after I asked about the Enos touch. Near the end of a one-one-one session, Morgan said, “We have a lot of guys who have played a lot and know his offense. We know the plays. He's got his stuff installed and we are going fast. We are going to be good this year. We are going to keep rolling. We are hot and we are going to be good.”
Rhoads is doing it, too. Rhoads said the same things Enos said last spring when it was clear the former Central Michigan head coach relished being in a meeting room again, instead of fighting through head coaching issues. Rhoads is glad to be teaching. The results will show up on the field.