College football teams with critical coaching, scheme changes in spring 2018
With spring practice underway around the country, several teams are already installing new schemes
Spring practices are kicking off around the country, and several high-profile teams are implementing different schemes and systems under new coordinators in 2018, including defending national champion Alabama, an ultra-talented Florida State program and a new-look UCLA team.
Let's take a look at which programs are making the most interesting changes and will be dedicating a large portion of spring practice to learning new schemes.
LSU Tigers offense: Coach Ed Orgeron pushed all of his chips to the middle of the table when he nudged former offensive coordinator Matt Canada out the door in favor of Steve Ensminger, who ran the Tiger offense on an interim basis when Orgeron assumed the head coaching responsibilities in the middle of the 2015 season. Ensminger had a ton of success that year against some really bad defenses but managed just 10 points total against Alabama and Florida -- the only two defenses in the top five in the SEC he faced as the interim coordinator. Expect more of a pro-style offense and less pre-snap East-West action under Ensminger. On top of a coordinator change, the Tigers will break in a new quarterback -- junior Justin McMillan, sophomore Myles Brennan or freshman Lowell Narcisse -- in Orgeron's second year with the full-time gig.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish defense: With Mike Elko out and Clark Lea in as defensive coordinator, the Irish will have a familiar face calling the shots on that side of the ball. Lea was elevated from his spot as linebackers coach and will likely run a similar 4-2-5 base scheme that Elko utilized last season. But while Lea brings familiarity and continuity, how much pressure will be on him? With a quarterback battle, new star running back and the absence of sure-fire first round draft picks Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey along the offensive line, more pressure might fall on the defense. Leading tackler Te'von Coney is back at linebacker, as is rover Drue Tranquill, linebacker Nyles Morgan won't be around to help out. Lea has never been more than a linebackers coach, so running the show with more pressure than the Irish defense is used to with some fresh faces in taking on more responsibility will make for an interesting combination for coach Brian Kelly's crew.
UCLA offense: The Chip Kelly era will coincide with a new starting quarterback as Josh Rosen declared early for the NFL Draft following the 2017 season. Kelly was one of the hottest names in the coaching market last season and will crank up the tempo of a Bruin offense that was disjointed at times under former coach Jim Mora. Will the unit resemble the high-octane offenses that he became synonymous during his stint with the Oregon Ducks, or will the a new starting quarterback -- likely Devon Modster, K.J. Carta-Samuels or incoming freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson -- slow down the Kelly machine? The answer might determine whether the Bruins are a threat in Year 1 or need some more time to fuel up.
Florida offense: After nine years at Mississippi State, Dan Mullen returns to Gainesville to kick-start an offense that has been seemingly stagnant since Tim Tebow's final year at quarterback in 2009. Gone is the more pro-style attack that former coach Jim McElwain tried -- and failed -- to implement, and in is Mullen's tempo-based, spread attack that thrives with a mobile quarterback. Will that quarterback be returning starter Feleipe Franks, who averaged 0.34 yards per rush last year after sacks? He's more mobile than that stat indicates but is nowhere near as dynamic as freshman early enrollee Emory Jones. Either way, Florida is getting back to what was successful under former coach Urban Meyer, who just happened to have Mullen as his offensive coordinator while winning two national titles Gainesville.
Nebraska Cornhuskers offense: Gone are the days of Mike Riley's West Coast style, and a more appropriate style exists in Lincoln with a familiar face at the helm. Former quarterback Scott Frost is back in town in the head coach's office after leading UCF to an undefeated season in 2017. With Frost comes a fresh look on a Nebraska staple. The new-look Cornhuskers won't run the old school triple option that Frost thrived in when he played, but the new version primarily out of the shotgun that thrives when it gets playmakers in space. Sophomore quarterback Patrick O'Brien and redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia are on campus, but dual-threat Adrian Martinez joined the fray in January. How Frost blends the players who aren't best-suited to run his style with the signees who are will be what makes them contenders or pretenders in the Big Ten West.
Washington State Cougars defense: Mike Leach is known for his wide-open, air raid offense that scores at will. But a funny thing happened over the last two seasons as the Cougars contended for the Pac-12 North title: They played defense -- a lot of it. With Alex Grinch gone to Ohio State, former Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys will step in and look to keep the momentum going. Claeys became known at Minnesota for emphasizing red zone and third down defense, and creating a hard-nosed attitude within the locker room. Will that translate to the Pac-12? Will the transition to a new voice with new ideas take longer than expected, or will Leach and Co. hit the ground running and stay relevant in the North? It's wide open, and it depends on the defense.
Alabama defense: Bama loses assistant coaches every offseason, but this year was quite different than those from previous seasons. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt took the Tennessee head coaching job and outside linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi, who has never called plays before, has taken over the unit. Defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski replaced Karl Dunbar, Karl Scott is in to replace Derrick Ansley as the secondary coach, and Pete Golding is in as a co-defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach. In addition to the new defensive staff having to wear name tags, defensive backs Minkah Fitzpatrick, Levi Wallace, Ronnie Harrison, Tony Brown and Anthony Averett; linebackers Rashaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton; and defensive linemen Da'Ron Payne and Da'Shawn Hand are just a few of the contributors gone from the 2017 national championship squad. How will Lupoi handle the defens?. How will the new staff mesh with fresh faces? Will coach Nick Saban take more of a hands-on approach? The scheme won't change, but the people running it have. There are a lot of questions facing the Tide with nothing short of the national title being the expectation in Tuscaloosa.
Michigan Wolverines offense: It's Jim Harbaugh's show in Ann Arbor, but the offensive staff is patchwork to say the least. Former offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Tim Drevno left after National Signing Day, offensive line assistant Greg Frey left for Florida State, and Dan Enos joined the staff from Arkansas to coach quarterbacks ... only to leave three weeks later to take the same job at Alabama. Jim McElwain was hired to coach wide receivers, Ed Warinner was moved from his analyst position on the field to coach the offensive line, and the Wolverines still don't have a coach with the offensive coordinator title as of yet. The scheme won't change under Harbaugh, who has the ultimate say in which plays are run. But there are a bunch of new voices who will be collaborating with Harbaugh in a system that features many coaches having input in down-by-down decisions. Combined with a quarterback battle and a fan base that's ready to contend for a College Football Playoff spot, watching this play out will be fascinating.
Florida State offense: Willie Taggart is back in the Sunshine State ready to bring his, run-heavy spread attack to a Florida State offense that was 114th nationally in plays per game (65.3) and 62nd in yards per play (5.66) in 2017 under former coach Jimbo Fisher. Quarterback Deondre Francois should be back at 100 percent, James Blackman will be back with a full year of unexpected experience under his belt, and Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick provides one of the best one-two punches at running back in the country. Taggart has the weapons to be an instant success in Tallahassee as long as they come together during the offseason.
Texas A&M Aggies offense: Speaking of Fisher, he and new coordinator Darrell Dickey will be installing a new offense in College Station with either dual-threat Kellen Mond or pro-style slinger Nick Starkel taking the snaps. Texas A&M was built to run a pure spread under former coach Kevin Sumlin, but Dickey's presence on the staff suggests that Fisher is more open to a hybrid scheme that will fit well with the current roster, as well as play into the strengths that the majority of the Texas high schools run. With a beefy bank account and the expectations that go with it, Fisher better make it look a little more coherent than Sumlin did during his last couple of years.
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