Offensive Analysis: O'Brien's Philosophy

Pack Pride takes a closer look at what Tom O'Brien likes to do offensively and some of his best players at Boston College.

Tom O'Brien is a dramatic change for the Wolfpack Nation from what it experienced over the last several years with Chuck Amato.

During his time at Boston College, O'Brien showed that he could win with precision, strength, and smart players on and off the field.

Here is a closer look at what he values at each position on the offensive side of the ball, along with a glimpse at several standouts who shined under O'Brien.


QUARTERBACK

For O'Brien at quarterback, smarts are first and foremost in making the evaluations, and he doesn't seem to place an emphasis on physical attributes, although later in his tenure he started to recruit taller quarterbacks.

Brian St. Pierre
Generally these guys are more statues in the pocket without having to roll out and make many plays with their feet. There may be a little bit of rollouts included, but they want to do more with the play-action and normal five to seven step drops and stepping into a throw. Getting the ball downfield is a crucial part of the game, and a big arm comes as a plus at the position.

With that being said, as O'Brien stated in his first press conference, he is looking for a quarterback that has intelligence and can make the right decisions during the course of a game. He has had success with small, mobile quarterbacks (Paul Peterson) and tall, rangy signal-callers (Matt Ryan).

"A winner," O'Brien remarked when asked what he looks for in a quarterback. "The best quarterback a lot of times has intangibles that you can't measure. Obviously physical talent has a lot to do with it, but decision making is the biggest part to being a great quarterback.

"Some guys have the physical skills or attributes, but I'll take the guy that can make the right decision at the right time everytime."

As with his tailbacks, O'Brien has also been known to groom and play two quarterbacks during a season. That is a major reason why his players are always productive and ready to play when called on.

Key Players
Matt Hasselbeck:
Hasselbeck is probably the most well-known quarterback to play for O'Brien, as he led the Seattle Seahawks to last season's Super Bowl and is a Pro Bowl player in the National Football League.

However, he had an up-and-down career at Boston College, as he passed for the sixth-most yards of any quarterback at the school (4,548) while tossing 22 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.

A sixth round pick in the 1998 Draft by the Green Bay Packers, Hasselbeck was traded to Seattle in 2001.

Matt Hasselbeck

Tim Hasselbeck: Tim had a better career at Boston College than his older brother, as he passed for 3,890 yards, throwing 29 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He played all four seasons under O'Brien and was signed by Philadelphia as an undrafted free agent in 2001.

Hasselbeck has spent the past four seasons as a backup quarterback for the Washington Redskins, and most recently, the New York Giants.

Brian St. Pierre: The most productive quarterback at Boston College under O'Brien, St. Pierre threw for 5,837 yards, 48 touchdowns and 32 interceptions during his stay. He started his final two seasons, where he led the Eagles to back-to-back bowl appearances as a starter in 2001 and 2002.

He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 5th round of the 2003 NFL Draft. He played third and fourth string quarterback for the Steelers before being cut in 2005. Currently he is a reserve quarterback with the Steelers.

Paul Peterson: A 2002 J.C. Grid-Wire All-America honors as a quarterback at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, the 6-foot, 185-pound Peterson arrived at BC with a reputation for being a winner and he continued that trend under O'Brien. Peterson finished his career 12-2 as BC's starting quarterback and was the first QB in Boston College football history to begin his career 6-0.

Matt Ryan
Peterson passed for 3,718 yards during his two-year career, and he also tossed 28 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He will be remembered for two huge performances in 2004. His career-high 383-yard, two-touchdown performance led BC past Notre Dame 24-23 in South Bend, and he came back from a late-season injury to lead the Eagles past North Carolina 27-24 in the Continental Tire Bowl. Peterson completed 24-of-33 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns, but broke his leg late in the game. Despite the injury, he still won MVP honors.

Matt Ryan: Ryan was emerging as the best quarterback to play at Boston College under O'Brien, as he earned first-team All-ACC honors in 2006.

The junior started 11 games and led the ACC in total offense (242.2 ypg) and in passing yards (245.5 ypg) while posting an 8-3 record as a starter.

During his career, Ryan has recorded a 13-4 mark in 17 starts. He finished his junior campaign having completed 399-of-664 passes for 4,564 yards and 24 touchdowns, and he has also run for eight touchdowns. Currently, he is fifth all-time in school history in passing yards and in pass completions (390), and he is poised to have a huge senior season.


RUNNING BACK

This has probably been the most underrated position on Boston College's roster as they have churned out several quality tailbacks. O'Brien's offensive system and commitment to the ground game has produced three of the top four rushers in school history. Derrick Knight, Mike Cloud, and William Green all had productive careers.

Boston College operates on most downs out of the I-formation and this is a formation that quality tailbacks covet because there tends to be maximum blockers across the line of scrimmage.

Derrick Knight
The formation begins with the usual 5 offensive linemen, the quarterback under center, and two backs in-line behind the quarterback, a fullback and a tailback. In the base formation the offensive line is flanked by two wide receivers and a tight end.

The key to the I-formation is it is very versatile. Offenses can run, pass and playaction effectively, and this helps maintain balance to keep the defense guessing. There have been a lot of happy tailbacks come out of Boston College under O'Brien.

What does he look for in tailbacks? Toughness. All of his running backs are tough, physical players who love contact. Some may be more explosive than others (see William Green), but overall he values toughness and the willingness to bang ahead for extra yardage over physical ability.

It is worth noting that O'Brien has had a lot of success playing multiple tailbacks during the course of a season. He did this effectively with Mike Cloud and Cedric Washington, Washington and William Green, Green and Derrick Knight, and most recently with L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender.

With NC State having Toney Baker and Andre Brown, expect O'Brien to keep both of them happy as they will likely receive plenty of carries and be the focal point of the offense, something that couldn't be said in 2006.

William Green
Key Players
William Green:
Green was an outstanding player at Boston College, and although his NFL career hasn't panned out, BC fans will always remember him for what he was able to do on the collegiate level. He would have set every rushing mark at the university had he not left early for the NFL.

In 31 games at Boston College, Green carried the ball 501 times for 2,974 yards (5.9 avg.) and 33 touchdowns. He ranks third in school history with 33 scores, third with 2,974 yards rushing and sixth with 501 rushing attempts, and Green did all of this in just three seasons.

Green had a breakout season in 2001, as he was named All-America first-team selection by The NFL Draft Report, Walter Camp, The Sporting News and Football News, and he also was an All-Big East Conference first-team selection and 2001 Offensive Player-of-the-Year.

Green opted to enter the 2002 NFL Draft following his junior season and was selected by Cleveland No. 16 overall in the first round. However, off-the-field problems and injuries hampered his careers. After rushing for nearly 1,000 yards a rookie, Green never rushed for more than 600 yards again and is currently out of the league.

Derrick Knight: Knight entered Boston College as an underrated in-state recruit and didn't do much his first two seasons at the school. As the 2002 season began, Knight sat as the Eagles' third-string back behind Horace Dodd and Brandon Brokaw. Once he got his chance to play, he ran straight into the record books, becoming BC's all-time leading rusher over the next two seasons. He totaled 3,725 yards rushing to break Mike Cloud's school record.

His best season came in 2003, as Knight won the Big East rushing title by averaging 132.4 yards per game to total 1,721 yards, ranking in the nation's top five. The total gave BC its sixthr straight season with a 1,000-yard rusher, as Knight tallied 1,432 yards in 2002 when he replaced William Green.

Mike Cloud

At 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds, Knight was a compact runner with blazing speed, and he will be remembered as one of the most productive tailbacks to come through the Big East.

Mike Cloud: The first of the great trio of tailbacks under O'Brien, Cloud set the standard as he rushed for 3,595 yards to rank second all-time.

As a senior in 1998, he also set a single-season Big East record with 1,729 rushing yards. In O'Brien's balanced offense, Cloud was the focal point, and the 5-foot-10, 205-pounder was a difference maker for BC.

Following the season he was selected in the second round of the 1999 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. He has been a reserve throughout his eight-year NFL career, as he is now a backup for the New York Giants.

Cedric Washington: Washington's timing wasn't the best, as his career was shared with BC greats Cloud and Green, but he did have one magical season.

When Cloud departed in 1998, fans wondered who would pick up the slack for the Eagles, and Washington emerged. He rushed for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns in 1999, earning first-team All-Big East honors.

Washington ended his four-year career with 1,982 yards and 12 touchdowns.

L.V. Whitworth: Whitworth has put together a very solid career at BC, and should have another good season in 2007. The 5-foot-11, 216-pound tailback has rushed for 2,220 career yards, eighth all-time in school history, and 14 touchdowns.

Whitworth is a power runner who totaled 721 yards in 2006. Why hasn't he been even more productive? O'Brien and his staff likes to share the wealth at tailback, and reserve Andre Callender also receives plenty of carries. Expect a big senior season from Whitworth.


WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END

With all the talented tailbacks at BC during the O'Brien era, the school still put out very good wideouts.

Wide receivers are speed demons at Boston College, and size is not a factor here because they want to get as vertical as possible in the passing game and then bring some guys underneath on shallow routes.

Grant Adams
Looking for evidence? On BC's 2006 depth chart, no wide receiver was listed taller than 5'11. Maybe O'Brien truly values shorter wide receivers, or he has had a problem recruiting taller wideouts, but the norm during his stay has been short, fast and extremely quick route-runners.

Because of the base formations that Boston College utilizes, the tight end is a valuable position. The Eagles receive very good production from the position, and tight ends are called upon often. O'Brien's offensive coordinator Dana Bible loves to run tight end drags off playaction and even calls designed screens for the tight ends. Expect the tight end to remain a position of emphasis at NC State.

Key Players
Grant Adams:
Adams ended his four-year career ranked fourth all-time in receptions (137) and fifth in career receiving yardage (2,036).

Adams had his best season in 2004, when he totaled 52 catches for 745 yards to earn All-Big East honors.

He spent two seasons in the NFL after being signed as an undrafted free agent by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Sean Ryan

Dedrick Dewalt: Dewalt was a special playmaker during his four seasons at Boston College. His 20 career touchdown passes ranks second all-time in school history, and he also ranks seventh in career receptions (129) and eighth in career yardage (1,959).

At 5-foot-9 and 188 pounds, Dewalt's 4.35 speed made him a threat everytime he touched the football. Dewalt spent two seasons in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans and St. Louis Rams.

Sean Ryan (TE): Ryan finished with 75 receptions for 950 yards and 12 scores. He played his first two seasons at defensive end before making the switch to tight end. Called the "most competitive player in the Big East" by USA Today, he excelled in both blocking and receiving and received All-Big East second team honors (2002).

He was selected in the 5th round (144th overall) of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. He spent two seasons in Dallas, and on August 31st, Ryan was traded to the New York Jets for an undisclosed 2007 draft choice.

Kevin Challenger
At 6-foot-5 and 265-pounds, Ryan is a very good blocker and that is his main role with the Jets.

Larry Lester: At 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, Lester wasn't the biggest player on the field but he made a lot of big plays during his career.

He began his career at defensive back, and played two seasons there before making the switch to wide receiver as O'Brien hoped to get more speed on the offensive side of the ball. He responded by catching 89 balls for 1,285 yards and nine scores.

Kevin Challenger: Challenger was Matt Ryan's top target in 2006, as he recorded 45 catches for 508 yards and five scores.

The junior earned All-ACC honorable mention honors, and at 5-foot-8 and 178-pounds he will be used more on special teams next season.

He will return in 2007 with Ryan to form one of the league's top passing duos.


OFFENSIVE LINE

The key for Tom O'Brien's success throughout the years has started along the line where he values size in the trenches.

He loves tall, rangy offensive tackles, and short, strong offensive guards and centers. Generally all his linemen are over 300 pounds, even along the interior of the line. When targeting recruits, BC looks for size, quick feet, and a nasty demeanor.

Dan Koppen
BC has had so much success putting offensive linemen in the NFL, the Eagles can go against "the big boys" for top offensive line recruits. Regardless of the talent level, NFL scouts know all Boston College linemen will be well-coached.

Key Players
Dan Koppen:
Koppen is a budding superstar in the NFL, as he has started 53 of 54 games at center for the New England Patriots during his four-year NFL career, winning two Super Bowls with the Pats.

A three-year starter at center at Boston College, Koppen was a three-time All-Big East Selection and a finalist for the Rimington Award in 2002. He was selected in 2003 NFL Draft by the Patriots in the fifth round with the 164th overall choice. Originally, he was slated to backup starting center (and ex-BC star) Damien Woody, but when Woody was injured early in the year Koppen would start the final 15 games.

In October, Koppen signed a five-year, 20 million dollar contract extension, securing his place with the Patriots and making him one of the highest paid interior linemen in the NFL.

Jeremy Trueblood

Chris Snee: Snee is the son-in-law of former BC head coach Tom Coughlin. Ironically, Coughlin is his head coach with the New York Giants, as the Giants selected Snee in the 2nd round of the 2004 NFL Draft.

A tough, physical and athletic offensive lineman, the 6-foot-2, 314 pound standout earned a starting position as a rookie and started every game for the Giants in 2005. He has started all regular season and postseason games in which he's played, and he was named to the Pro Bowl after the 2005 season.

At BC, Snee was a 2nd-team All-America selection and an All-Big East Conference 1st-team choice by The NFL Draft Report in his final season. He started every game, including the San Francisco Bowl, at right guard, providing excellent blocking as tailback Derrick Knight ranked 4th in the nation in rushing with 1,721 yards.

Damien Woody: Hailing from Patrick Henry High in Virginia, Woody played with Koppen in New England, winning two Super Bowls before leaving for Detroit in 2004. A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Woody is versatile enough to play center and guard. He was drafted No. 17 overall in the 1999 NFL Draft by the Patriots, the highest a center had been selected since Steve Everitt was picked No. 14 overall in 1992.

A three-year starter at BC, Woody left early for the NFL following his junior season when he was a first-team All-Big East selection. He earned second-team honors as a sophomore.

Chris Snee
At 6-foot-3 and 325 pounds, Woody is athletic enough to play both center and guard, and he was responsible for making all the line calls at BC.

Marc Colombo: Another ex-BC star selected in the first round, Colombo was picked by the Chicago Bears with the No. 29 overall selection in the 2002 NFL Draft.

A mammoth offensive tackle at 6-foot-8 and 320 pounds, Colombo started five games for the Bears during his rookie season but suffered a horrible knee injury that nearly ended his career. He missed all of the 2003 season and played in just eight games in 2004 because of the injury, and the Bears would release him following the 2004 season. He started 2005 out of football, but was picked up by the Cowboys where he played in five games. This year, he has started all 13 games for the Cowboys and is now starting to show the potential he flashed early in his career.

He allowed no quarterback sacks in 20 games he started over final two years of a four-year Boston College career, and Colombo helped pave way for 1,000-yard rushers each of his four seasons. As a senior he played left and right tackle, earning All-Big East Conference first-team honors by The NFL Draft Report despite missing team's final four games with a knee injury.

Jeremy Trueblood: Trueblood is a name familiar to Wolfpack fans, as he started all 12 games for BC in 2005, earning All-ACC second team honors. At 6-foot-9 and 330-pounds, the two-year started anchored one of the best offensive lines in the country.

Josh Beekman
"[Trueblood] has good size, long arms, he can set up in pass protection, and is a very good run blocker," said NFL Scout Robert Davis. "Perhaps his best attribute is the nastiness he plays with on the field. He will play until the whistle blows and is very tough. Those seem to be traits BC requires in their lineman, because they are always tough."

Trueblood was drafted with the 59th pick of the 2006 NFL Draft out of Boston College by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Playing as a rookie this season, Trueblood has started 11 games for the Bucs.

Josh Beekman: A first-team All-ACC selection this season, Beekman started nine games at guard and three games at center for the 23rd-ranked Eagles. A three-year starter, and a second-team All-ACC selection in 2005, Beekman leads a balanced Boston College offense that is second in the ACC averaging 359.0 yards and 26.1 points per game.

A team co-captain, Beekman was recently named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press, and has been named a second-team All-American by the Walter Camp Football Foundation.

Like others before him at Boston College, Beekman has played guard and center for O'Brien's squad, and that versatility will pay off dividends on the next level. He will be the next lineman to be a first-day draft selection out of BC.


Stay tuned tomorrow when we will analyze O'Brien's philosophy on the defensive side of the football while also discussing some of his best players.


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