Exclusive Interview: Army OC Ian Shields

Most Army fans are pleased with the improved offense they've seen so far. In two games the Black Knights have almost doubled (29.5) the point production per game last year. A lot of the reason for that improvement belongs to Army's talented second year offensive coordinator Ian Shields.

Shields joined the Army staff after serving as Rich Ellerson's offensive coordinator at Cal Poly. In his final season at Cal Poly Shield's offense averaged an amazing 44.4 points per game.

I interviewed coach Shields and discussed the Hawaii game, certain players and more importantly plays and formations Army fans see on Saturdays that makes his offense unique.

ArmySports.com: What did you think about the offense's performance over all versus Hawaii?
Ian Shields: I didn't especially care for the beginning or the end and I'd liked a lot of what was in the middle. We came out and didn't play well initially. We finished it poorly. In between there was a lot of great stuff.

ArmySports.com: What status of Trent Steelman with his shoulder?
Ian Shields: It's probably a game time decision. He's sore; it's probable that he'll play. (Note: The next day head coach Rich Ellerson announces that Steelman would start against North Texas)

ArmySports.com: What was your feeling about backup quarterback Max Jenkins performance and the job he did before the fumble?
Ian Shields: You know what? He did a great job. I was really proud of the way he stepped into a real tough situation. In his first time out there between the lines in college he performed admirably. He controlled the team. He got us in the right play for the most part. There's a couple things he'd like to have back. But there a couple of things a lot of guys on our football team would like to have back. For the most part Max did an exceptional job.

ArmySports.com: There was one broken play where Max and Jared Hassin went right and the pitch back ran the other.
Ian Shields: There were some communication problems there at the end. Some of that is because it was his first time. Some of it was game management issues but it was something we can certainly learn from.

ArmySports.com: Was it Max Jenkins's fault or was it the pitch back that ran the wrong way?
Ian Shields: Well one was a formation issue, that was wrong. The other was a check that wasn't communicated.

ArmySports.com: First quarter against Hawaii you didn't move ball. Things then started to click. What adjustments did you make?
Ian Shields: The one thing was we just missed a touchdown the second play of the game. It was a play action pass and Hassin missed a block on inside linebacker. That guy hit Trent as he was throwing it or we have a shot right there.

ArmySports.com: The Hawaii safety bit on pitch back motion and there was no safety help over the top.
Ian Shields: Sure it's a possible touchdown and a certain big play should we throw it completed. We'll never know now. That's the play you get a shot once or twice a game and you have to be on point. We knew that was something that was a possibility against the defense they were playing. We missed an opportunity there. The fact was that drive and the following drive we were 4th-and-one and it's hard to go for it when you're in your own territory. You miss a shot like that. Then we scramble, they cover us and sprint out and Trent is a yard short getting the first down. There were just some missed opportunities early. I can only speak from one side of the ball. It wasn't like we were playing poor. We just some missed opportunities. Some of that is you have to tip your hat and give credit to Hawaii. That is a physically talented group.

ArmySports.com: One of the exciting things is this spring you put in that new Jet motion look. [Note when slot back or wide receiver run in motion and take direct handoff from quarterback] The first time you tried it they blew it up when you ran it with receiver Davyd Brooks. After that there were three plays , two went for touchdowns, with Malcolm Brown running and Pat Mealy blocking and cut blocking linebackers three different times like bowling pins.
Ian Shields: Pat's an exceptional blocker. We have some "C" backs in Malcolm Brown and Brian Cobbs who can run. We did the same thing the first game against Eastern Michigan. It's really similar to a lot of things we were going before as far as the toss and we are substituting the sweep. It's a platform for doing things off as well with misdirection and gives to the fullback. We're doing a lot off it. It's been a great compliment (to offense) there is a lot of misdirection, a lot of deception. The ball disappears from the defense. We're always evolving and this year we can do more, we can expand. Like we've said and like I said we're allowed to do more with our guys. Really for a lot of the stuff on the back end the guys on the front end are blocking the same old plays. A lot of it is just deception on the back end and we can do that now that a lot of our guys have a year in the system. We'll continue to grow and expand. We're pleased with where it's at right now and where we've taken it. It's only going to get better.

ArmySports.com: I've seen the direct handoff called Jet motion and Rocket motion what do you call the play.
Ian Shields: We call it Fly. You can refer to it whatever you want. It's fly sweep. Originally the roots of it are Williamette University, a small college in Salem Oregon. Coach Speckman made his living there off that one play. His whole offense is built on it for us it's more of a niche. It's a great compliment to triple option, mid line (option) and some of the things we are going in the passing game. It's just a nuisance more than anything for people to have to worry about. They do have to defend it or we'll run it for a lot of touchdowns.

ArmySports.com: Is it just because the play develops faster than the toss sweep or is it that it doesn't give the play away as quick?
Ian Shields: Well both, in our opinion both. There is certainly more deception involved.

ArmySports.com: You referred to one of the slot backs as "C" backs. Having followed the Navy for years the traditional spread triple option refers to the slot backs as "A" backs. You refer to them as "A" and "C" backs, is that because they spent more time in backfield in a Wing-T type look?
Ian Shields: They're two completely different positions so you can't call them just "A" backs.

ArmySports.com: This year I can see it more than last year. I was wondering what the difference is in the designation?
Ian Shields: Yes, well we've evolved to that and there are some advantages to having one guy in the half bone or wing position. [Note: Wishbone formation look with fullback in front and only one halfback rather than two halfbacks set to side. Coach Shields uses this with slot back in normal set behind tackle. That's why I referred to it as a Wing T type look] There are advantages to that as far as angles and blocking.

ArmySports.com: That allows you to mix up the dive back and pitch back.
Ian Shields: Sure. You've got a lot of possibilities back there that you don't have when you're in the true traditional spread double slot offense. We want to be unique. We're not the same as Air Force. We're not going to be Navy. We're not going to be Georgia Southern. We're running the Army offense. Something altogether different. People are seeing that.

ArmySports.com: One last question on the "A" &" C" slot backs. Is there any size difference or skill set you look for in one position over the other?
Ian Shields: It's personnel driven a lot, Jim, on what we have here. We have some real thick physical backs that do have a little speed. You talk about Pat Mealy or Raymond Maples they're kind of combos between "B" backs (fullbacks) but also have some slot possibilities so their kind of tweeners. So those guys are the "A"s (slot backs) The "C's" are more of your Malcolm Brown, your Brian Cobbs-- guys who are excellent receivers and have great speed. They also have to be complete blockers, don't get me wrong, but there is a subtle difference between the two positions but in some ways they are still interchangeable.

ArmySports.com: On the 16-yard touchdown run by Jared Hassin against Hawaii, was that the same counter you ran against Eastern Michigan for the game winner?
Ian Shields: It appeared differently but it was more of a trap play. It's off a lot of the same action. We just use a lot of different angles up front. Again, there is the deception with the "fly" (formation) in there. We scored on the "fly" twice last week so people will have to defend that.

ArmySports.com: You more than any other coordinator I've seen running the spread option like to have the slot back start motion, stop and reset. The first time I saw your offense was the near upset against Wisconsin, which you would have won if you had a field goal kicker who could hit extra points.
Ian Shields: Yeah exactly!

ArmySports.com: Is that slot back motion then resetting just for you to get a look and see what the defense is doing and how their reacting?
Ian Shields: Well, sure. It's a way of keeping the defense from going on one. It's kind of a way of going on two for us. It's making sure the defense is getting off on the same snap count as us obviously, first and foremost. It's also for some identification purposes not only for the front but in the secondary as well depending what play is call. You can see Navy is doing that now a bunch. Most teams in college especially if there on the line of scrimmage offense (as opposed to spread passing teams) are doing something like that to identify what's going on and make the appropriate check or adjustment.

ArmySports.com: You also seem to run a Wing T type counter with the playside slot backs countering back and taking an inside handoff against the motion of the pitch back.
Ian Shields: That's an old play from a longtime ago. It's an old wishbone play. Air Force as a matter of fact with Kenny Hatfield ran kind of Sally play [Note: The sally play is a counter play. used by coaches that run the wing-T and flex bone option.] a Wing T play that goes way back.

ArmySports.com: When Ken Hatfield started the flexbone at Air Force? [Note: When Air Force stopped running out of wishbone set and moved halfbacks up into slots]
Ian Shields: You're going into the seventies now. That's a play that's been around. Emory Bellard had it a Texas A &M in the wishbone. How we put it together is original but a lot of these little pieces are pulled from here and there. Things that are tough to defend that we had great success with over the years as a system. Now it's kind of become complimentary.

ArmySports.com: When I spoke to Coach Ellerson he mentioned one of the problems last year with the offensive line struggles was that they were so new to the system. As a staff you saw what was wrong but trying to communicate it to the guys they often didn't make right adjustments. It's part of what they say about option blocking, it's simple but complex. You guys often started strong last year but if the defense made some small changes in their look.
Ian Shields: Well we were inexperienced. Not only inexperienced within our system but inexperienced in college football players to a large degree a year ago. Last year if you likened it to the classroom environment, which our guys are in everyday, we were at the 100 level a year ago. We've advanced pass that. I mentioned the other day similar to my five year old learning how to ride a bike not too long ago. Initially he had to have training wheels, wear helmet and pads. Now we can take off. We can cruise around and don't even think about it. We can do a few more complex things. That is just the natural progression. That's any system. If someone came here and tried to put a Run & Shoot offense in they'd have to break it down and start all over again. That just goes anytime there's change. It doesn't happen overnight. The proper adjustments to make aren't easy because all the tools might not be in place.

ArmySports.com: I wrote a piece this spring that said you must have suffered culture shock going from a Cal Poly offense that put up 40 points per game to one that averaged a little over 15 points per game. You go from having a NFL draft pick Ramses Barden to a converted left tackle running go routes. Was last year frustrating for you in having to deal with everyone learning the system and the limitations of the athletes you inherited?
Ian Shields: It was nearly 50 (points) a game. I think as a coach you become a realist. Anytime you step into a new situation there is going to be an adjustment period. Last year was no exception to that. There was probably times it was frustrating for everyone involved. We are used to having success offensively. You look at coach Ellerson' track record. We're used to being pretty dang good on that side. Again, it's growing and it's obvious the arrow is pointing up right now. We're playing much better. We're doing some things that are difficult to prepare for people. We're doing some things that are really uniquely ours

ArmySports.com: Speaking of Ramses Barden, you and the staff did a great job recruiting and developing talent at Cal Poly which is an academicallychallenging school. You're recruiting the same type of kids, academically speaking, at West Point. After going through your first full recruiting cycle do you think you can get and develop talented players like that here at West Point?
Ian Shields: I have no doubt we can. I believe we already are. I think we have some kids we inherited from the prep school a year ago. I think there are some kids we put down there this year that will be tremendous. I think we are doing a great job developing them. Our strength and conditioning coaches do a great job. We are going to recruit guys that maybe UCLA or a BCS school might say he's an inch too short to be an offensive lineman but he's perfect for us. There are a lot of guys out there and the playing field has leveled collegiately. There is lot of bigger pieces recruiting West Point than recruiting Cal Poly due to the military aspect. We have to make kids aware where that destination is down the road when their playing days are complete and also get the best education in the country. We have a lot to sell here and there are a ton of kids across the country. When we were at Cal Poly, we exclusively recruited the state of California.

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