Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees is faced with a tall task. He must oversee an offensive overhaul, and he’ll have to do it without eight starters from the 2020 offense, which underachieved in many key areas.
I’ve written and talked for months about the need for Notre Dame to make changes in many areas, including philosophical changes that bring the offense into the modern era.
We won’t know if those changes are going to happen, or to truly know what the offense will look like, but in a recent interview Rees was striking all the right notes about how he’s approaching the offseason, the changes that are being brought to the offense and how he is going about adapting and evolving the offense.
If we see in the fall the majority of the things Rees talked about in a recent interview we could very well see the offense starting looking like what we see from other title contenders.
REES ON BEING MORE EXPLOSIVE
Notre Dame needs more big plays from its offense, especially from the pass game. Yeah, throwing deep effectively is a part of that, but outside of the occasional strong stretches with the vertical game, the pass offense hasn’t generated enough big plays.
The offense has often lacked the pass game diversity needed to create that kind of offense, but as Rees heads into his second season in charge that could change. Rees nailed the question about being more explosive, showing he gets the importance of an effective perimeter pass attack.
“It's our job as coaches to put them in the right positions to be able to do that,” Rees explained. “I think the biggest farce going is that to create explosive plays, every throw has to be 55 yards; that's not really the case. You can watch whoever you want, a lot of those explosive plays come in creating opportunities for your best players to have space and to be in a one-on-one opportunity.”
GETTING PLAYMAKERS IN SPACE
Rees hit the right phrase, the key aspect I’ve been harping on, getting players in space, which requires defenses to defend the entire width of the field as much as they have to defend the field vertically.
“If we can create space using the width of the field to create opportunity, if we can also then attack vertically with the speed we have, that's what leads to explosives,” continued Rees. “That's been obviously an emphasis for us, especially the quarterback room, we talk about vertical shots.”
When an offense is effective attacking the perimeter of the defense and forcing teams to defend laterally it then opens up more opportunities down the field.
“The other thing there is the quarterbacks understanding what are the premier looks to stretch the field, how we want to take advantage of certain things the defense is doing, and then obviously putting the right players in the right positions,” Rees said. “Throughout the spring, we've been exploring opportunities to get down the field in different sets and doing some different things in terms of motions and putting guys in different spots to allow them to get favorable matchups where we can now use our speed to our advantage.”
Having the philosophy is step one and having quarterbacks willing to attack is step two. The final piece to the puzzle is having the kind of playmakers on the perimeter that you need to be effective with this type of offense. Notre Dame has that.
“This year it’s a new team, completely new team,” Rees explained. “We have more speed than we had a year ago, we have multiple running backs that we want to feature, we have a hell of a tight end we want to feature. Right now, we're trying to create as much space on the field as we can to allow our players to be explosive.”
WAIT, ARE YOU SAYING WHAT I THINK YOU’RE SAYING?
If you are familiar with my work in recent months you know there’s one specific aspect of the offense I’ve felt is missing, one that must be added to take Notre Dame to the next level philosophically and schematically. It’s about three letters … R. P. O.
There to the young Notre Dame offensive coordinator sang the perfect tune.
“That is what this offseason, the focus has been about; creating space, creating one-on-one opportunities to allow us to be explosive, not only in the passing but in the run game,” Rees said, setting up the big finale. “There's going to be some things that we're going to have to build some stuff into the run game to get the ball on the perimeter. We're going to have to help a young offensive line in terms of doing some things that if we don't get a great look, we have to be able to get the ball outside. If we create a one-on-one opportunity out there that can lead to explosive plays."
And there it is. That right there is the key. Rees didn’t come out and say, “We’re incorporating RPOs into the offense,” but that is the philosophy needed to expand the Irish offense.
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