It's no secret that the once-potent Cal offense hasn't been the same the past few years. Although we used to be known for a diverse attack, clever game plans, and methodical execution, more recently we've seen inconsistent play across the board.
Among whispers of recruiting misses, position coaching, and an over-reliance on the big play, there has also been mention that Coach Tedford's playbook is too complex. It's an interesting thought - previously touted for being "pro-style," "balanced," and "multiple," now it's apparently too complicated to teach to college players. So what exactly defines complexity? Is it the number of pages? The intricacy of the plays themselves? Or the amount of responsibilities/reads required of the individual players? Let's take a closer look:
Question #1: Are there too many pages of plays in Coach Tedford's playbook?
Scanning a collection of college and pro playbooks:
97 Cal Playbook = 101 pages (Holmoe)
04 Cal Playbook = 224 pages (Tedford)
02 WSU Playbook = 232 pages (Price)
02 Tenn Playbook = 186 pages (Fulmer)
95 Auburn Playbook = 137 pages (Bowden)
02 ucla Playbook = 432 pages (Toledo)
02 WV Playbook = 232 pages (Rodriquez)
02 Ohio St. Playbook = 146 pages (Tressel)
85 SF 49ers Playbook = 356 pages(Walsh)
04 Denver Broncos Playbook = 124 pages(Shanahan)
05 NO Saints Playbook = 146 pages(Haslett)
05 Carolina Panthers Playbook = 196 pages(Fox)
01 St. Louis Rams Playbook = 414 pages(Martz)
***I cannot verify the legitimacy or completeness of these playbooks. These were all found online.***
Taking a closer look at Tedford's '04 Playbook:(offense only)
26 pages of pass protection schemes: This includes 13 different schemes, 6-8 different ways to block for each scheme based on the most common defensive fronts.
3 pages of pass protection calls
21 pages of screen plays: 16 different plays, some of them with 6-8 blocking schemes based on the most common defensive fronts.
21 pages of play-action passes: 11 plays, all of them with 6-8 blocking schemes based on the most common defensive fronts.
8 pages of goal-line/short yardage: 8 different plays, all of them with 6-8 blocking schemes based on the most common defensive fronts.
6 pages of different run calls and types of pull blocks.
79 pages of run plays: 35 plays, many of them with 6-8 blocking schemes based on the most common defensive fronts.
*Per Hydro, this is probably not all of the playbook because it does not include any of the standard passing plays, or receiver route trees/adjustments.
So are there too many plays in Coach Tedford's playbook?
Answer: Does the total number of pages really correlate to overall complexity? For all we know, Auburn's playbook is: Play #1: Run fast! Play #2: Throw far! And the rest of it is full of centerfolds.
It would make sense that Bill Walsh's offense and Mike Martz's offense are more complex and this is supported by the number of pages in their respective playbooks. It also makes sense that Tom Holmoe's playbook resembled a reader scrapped together from Hare Krishna airport pamphlets.
So, our final answer is...perhaps. Relative to the other college playbooks, Tedford's would definitely rank near the top in breadth, especially if you add the missing pass plays and route trees. (+30-50 pages?) When you consider that since '04, we've also incorporated wrinkles and schemes from three different coordinators (spread concepts, zone-read, wildcat), you can certainly make the argument that we're trying to do too many things.
Question #2: Are Tedford's plays too intricate or too complicated?
Let's take a look at a staple play of any playbook, the play-action pass. It is arguably more complicated than a pure run or pass play because it requires the entire offense to execute a believable feint and than execute a different play.
***I have deliberately omitted some details, terms, and names. Although Cal's playbook is probably out of date, I didn't want to take the chance that anything detailed could be used to help scout our Golden Bears***
Play-Action Pass (Cal '04)
Play Summary: Fake an inside zone run, complete downfield pass
- QB: Make correct front call. Point out Defender X. Fake inside zone-run, then set up deep behind call-side guard. Read per coverage and route.
- Playside/Backside WR: Run pattern called
- RB: Fake zone run, block Defender X, or release to run route
- FB: One blocking assignment or release to run route
- Playside TE: Route, One blocking assignment(hot read vs. blitz), two possible protection calls.
- Playside T: One blocking assignment, 6 possible protection calls
- Playside G: Two different blocking assignments, 8 possible protection calls
- C: Two different blocking assignments, 11 possible protection calls
- Backside G: Two different blocking assignments, 8 possible protection calls
- Backside T: One blocking assignments, 6 possible protection calls
- Backside TE: Check release off of Defender X or one blocking assignment, 4 possible protection calls
Play-Action Pass (UCLA '02, Toledo's Pro-Style)
Play Summary: Fake an inside zone run, hit the playside receiver
- QB: Fake 9/1-2 run, dropback pass. No audibles. No hot routes.
Sight: X. Read Z -> FB -> X.
- X, Y, Z: Run routes.
- RB: Fake run. Check #4. Route.
- FB: One blocking assignment.
- Playside TE: One blocking assignment.
- Playside T: Drop step and run in direction of call. Block 1st thing to show.
- Playside G: Drop step and run in direction of call. Block 1st thing to show.
- C: Drop step and run in direction of call. Block 1st thing to show.
- Backside G: Drop step and run in direction of call. Block 1st thing to show.
- Backside T: Drop step and run in direction of call. Block 1st thing to show.
-Backside TE: Route
*There are 8 different line/coverage calls which indicate how the defense is lined up, but the blocking scheme is exactly the same in each case.
Play-Action Pass (Utah '03, Meyer's Spread)
Play Summary: Fake an inside zone run, complete downfield pass
QB: Read defense, call routes for receivers.(*Might be pre-set by play design) Fake inside zone run, dropback pass. Read X(cross) -> Z(go) -> Y(curl) -> H(flat).
X, Y, Z, H: Run Routes
RB: Fake inside zone run, block WDE.
LT: Boot Protection - Pull, and block WDT.
LG: Boot Protection - Pull. Zone block any backside rushers
C: Boot Protection - Block WDT.
RG: Boot Protection - Pull, block SDE.
RT: Boot Protection - Block SDT.
Assessment: Both pro-style plays are designed to be used with multiple personnel groupings; 12, 21, 22. (1 RB, 2TE), (2RB, 1 TE), (2 RB, 2 TE). That means that a larger pool of players need to understand this play.
The spread play uses a default personnel group. (4 WR, 1 RB)
The play designs are similar with a fake inside zone run followed by a dropback and a downfield pass to the playside wide receiver. The receivers and running backs all run patterns or block as determined by the play call.
The Cal O-line has several different options for who they're supposed to block. UCLA goes the other way. "Block the 1st thing to show" is definitely keeping it simple. Utah also has a simple default blocking scheme for play-action passes with pre-determined blocking assignments.
Looking at the signal-callers, the pro-style Cal QB has to read the defense, make the right protection/route calls, then execute the play, and go through his progressions. The spread Utah QB has the same responsibilities where he has to read the defense, make the right route calls, then execute the play and go through his progressions. The pro-style UCLA QB has to execute the play and go through his progressions. Although he doesn't have any audible or hot reads for this play, other plays do have those options. So, presumably he has similar responsibilities, but perhaps to a lesser extent.
Summary: Similar play design and goals. However, Cal's blocking scheme can be considered more complex because there is more responsibility for the players to make the proper reads and decisions.
But, is a more "simple" approach better? In 1998, Bob Toledo coached UCLA to the Rose Bowl with a team featuring future NFLers Cade McNown, DeShaun Foster, Freddie Mitchell, Kenyon Coleman, and Larry Atkins. The next several seasons? 4-7, 6-6, 7-4, and then a 7-5 campaign in 2002 that resulted in Toledo getting fired. Did Toledo suddenly forget how to coach? Did other teams figure out how to stop an overly simplistic offense? Or was Toledo unable to overcome the fact that his quarterbacks were Drew Bennett and Cory Paus?
With regards to Cal's "overly" complex blocking schemes, they certainly didn't seem to hinder JJ Arrington on his way to a record 2000+ yard season. It does make sense that Cal's best lines and best offenses have featured veteran, heady linemen. (Alex Mack, anyone?) A sample size of one is too small to draw any definitive conclusions, to be sure, but a scan of the various playbooks suggests that the plays are too analogous for this to be the smoking gun.