Changes in Scheme
Personnel and coaching changes after the 2015 season will mean some adjustments in what we will see from the Bears. What are three areas that worth watching?
--- Quarterback Rushes
As mentioned above when talking about the quarterbacks, the Bears will have a much more athletic player under center, and one that can use his legs to make a defense pay. We saw very little true zone-read plays in the Baylor attack the past two season. With Russell, expect those to come back. With Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence under center in the first five years of Art Briles’ tenure as head coach, the quarterback position was a primary source of a rushing threat. In 2011, Griffin attempted 190 rushing attempts. In 2012, Florence and company rushed it 149 times.
However, with Petty under center, we have seen those attempts go down to 118 and 120 rushes the past two seasons. Russell will be a callback to the days of RG3 in a lot of ways, especially with his legs. This is not to say that we can expect that level of production from Russell, but he plays a lot more like Griffin than any quarterback the Bears have seen recently.
With the zone-read back, this should also have a positive effect on the running backs performance as well. With a rushing threat to also consider during the mesh point of the zone-read plays, this will keep the defense back a little bit, waiting for what the offense will do. The Bears averaged 4.5 yards per rush in 2014. That is down from what they averaged in 2011 (5.3 yards per rush) and 2012 (5.0 yards per rush). With a more effective rushing attack, the Bears offense will be able to beat teams in even more ways.
---Tight End Involvement
With the nation’s most popular backup tight end in modern football history, one would think that the tight end position has been an integral part of the Baylor passing attack. The past few years, Baylor tight ends have registered roughly 3% of all targets in the passing game. That is an incredibly low number, and one that has been stable the past few season. Even with Trevon Armstead and backup LaQuan McGowan returning to the passing attack, there just doesn’t seem to be that large of a role for the tight ends.
Yes, the thought of a 400+ pound tight end like McGowan catching a few balls a game is a hilarious image (especially him literally running over some poor defensive back who doesn’t try and go low), but the reality is, the Bears have not given the tight end position a large role in the passing game in several season. With a deep and explosive group of wide receivers back in 2015, anything more than a combined 20-30 catches for the tight end position seems to be silly.
---What Will Kendal Briles Change?
The only way that the offense will change too much is if new coordinator Kendal Briles decides to adjust the scheme to more of his personality. With Phillip Montgomery off to Tulsa as their head coach, the younger Briles took the reins of the Baylor offense for their Cotton Bowl game against Michigan State. The results were excellent, at least on the scoreboard. A focus more on the passing game got the Bears ahead, but their lack of a running attack might have hurt them in the fourth quarter as their lead was lost.
Still though, to say that the Bears will be passing the ball 80% of the time due to 1 game is ridiculous. The Spartans defense was designed to stop the run first, second and third, and trust their corners not to get beat deep. Baylor took advantage of that, and the credit should go to Kendal and Bryce Petty. The lack of a successful rushing attack is probably more of a credit to the Spartan defense than a negative for the Baylor offense.
There will be changes for the 2015 season, but more than likely, they will be adjustments to the foundation of the offense. More running plays for the QB position. More crossing routes and over the middle plays for the inside receivers, like we saw in the last 1/3rd of the regular season. Adjustments will be made by Art Briles and Kendal Briles. Not because of the new offensive coordinator, but because if you aren’t changing and evolving, you are losing ground to someone who is.
This is one of the best offenses in the nation, and arguably the best. The only thing holding that prediction back from being a sure-bet is Seth Russell. Quite honestly though, the only things in life that are a guarantee at this point are death, taxes and Art Briles’ finding a great quarterback. All others things fall by the wayside. Kevin Kolb, Case Keenum, Robert Griffin III, Nick Florence and Bryce Petty. Those are the quarterbacks that Art Briles has put out there to be his guys. Anytime that record setting QB Nick Florence is the worst bullet point on your resume, you must be doing something right.
Art Briles knows quarterbacks. He will get Seth Russell ready for the 2015 season, just like he did for Florence and Petty. He will put him in positions to succeed early, build confidence and find the things that Russell does very well. Briles has already said that there is some uncertainty in Russell, simply because he doesn’t know exactly what he will do like he did with Petty.
After struggling in the first open scrimmage at Meet the Bears, Russell turned in an excellent performance in the closed scrimmage at McLane Stadium. He is playing “happy” as Art Briles likes to say. When the Bears are loose (and they are one of the loosest teams in the country) they are at the top of their game.
The Bears should again have one of the best offenses in the country. Expect video game like numbers for the skill players at Baylor, but more of a slant towards the rushing attack. There will still be big plays in the passing game, but more big plays from the running game than we have seen since the past 2 seasons.
Seth Russell – 4,000 yards passing, 28 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 600 yards rushing with 9 touchdowns
Shock Linwood – 1300 yards rushing, 12 touchdowns
Devin Chafin – 600 yards rushing, 12 touchdowns
Corey Coleman – 80 catches, 1400 yards, 14 touchdowns
KD Cannon – 60 catches, 1000 yards, 6 touchdowns