2016 Terps Season Preview: The Offense
The Maryland Terrapins will open their 2016 season on September 3rd against the Howard Bison. This summer, we have taken an in-depth look at each position on the team. They can be found here by clicking the links on the projected depth chart. This week, we will be taking a broader look at the team’s offensive, defensive, and special teams units and their new coordinators. Next week, we will begin previewing the Terrapins’ matchup against the Bison.
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Walt Bell – Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach
Anthony Tucker – Running Backs Coach
Chris Beatty – Wide Receivers Coach
Pete Lembo – Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends Coach
Dave Borbely – Offensive Line Coach
When Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson began the search for the program’s new head coach, he and University President Dr. Wallace D. Loh laid out a number of things that they were looking for. Many of those things revolved around a dynamic and exciting offense. Thus, many fans were surprised when the school hired DJ Durkin, a former defensive coordinator to lead the program. However, by hiring Walt Bell as his offensive coordinator, he delivered on Anderson’s desire for a dynamic and exciting offense.
Bell is just 31 years old, but has already solidified himself as one of the brightest offensive minds in the entire country. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Middle Tennessee, where he played wide receiver. He spent a few years with Louisiana-Lafayette and Memphis as a graduate assistant before spending a year at Oklahoma State as a quality control coach. He moved on to Southern Mississippi, where he coached wide receivers. After that, he headed to North Carolina, where he spent two years as the Tar Heels’ tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator. He then moved on to Arkansas State, where he spent two years as their assistant head coach, offensive coordinator, and quarterbacks coach. Durkin hired him to be Maryland’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach on December 20, 2015.
Bell runs an up-tempo spread offense that is predicated on running the football and throwing short, high-percentage passes. His Arkansas State offenses broke multiple school records, and were consistently ranked among the best in the country. Last season, the Red Wolves averaged 40 points per game. He brings that same offense to College Park, and it has already been making waves among the players and the media.
The first thing that fans will notice about Bell’s offense is the tempo. While Maryland regularly operated a no-huddle offense under former offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, they didn’t consistently use a high tempo. This season, the Terrapins will look to push the tempo after every play, forcing opposing defenses to stay on their toes. While there are many teams across the country who run their offense without a huddle, very few will operate at the speed that Maryland will in 2016.
The second thing that fans will notice about the Terrapins’ new offense are the formations. Locksley’s offense attempted to confuse opposing defenses by using many different formations and personnel groupings, but Bell’s offense aims to keep things very simple and use tempo as a method of confusion. The quarterback will never take the ball from under center, and the unit will operate out of a few different spread formations. Personnel groupings will also be simple, with the team using 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end) almost exclusively. In order to avoid substitutions and maximize tempo, Bell will use his players in a number of different roles while keeping the same personnel on the field. For example, he will use his tight end on the line, in the wing, in the backfield, or in the slot. Additionally, he will use his running back in the backfield, in the slot, or split wide. He also uses his slot receiver as a scat-back, moving him into the backfield with regularity.
In order to move at such a high tempo, Bell must keep his offense fairly simple. This allows his players to perfect a few different concepts and run them at a lightning-fast pace. He will probably bring about 15-20 concepts with him to each game, and run them from a few different formations. His favorite concept is the one that his entire offense is built around: the inside zone read. It’s the most popular play in college football today, and is one that Maryland fans saw former quarterback C.J. Brown run plenty of times.
It is a very simple play, and allows the offense to run downhill while also allowing a mobile quarterback to use his legs if the opposing defense is giving him a lane to the outside. The quarterback will take the snap and hold the ball in the belly of the running back. He will read the end man on the backside of the line of scrimmage. If that man stays home, the quarterback will give the ball to his running back. However, if that man crashes down to tackle the running back, the quarterback will pull the ball and run around the edge. Bell will essentially run this play until the opposing defense proves that they can stop it.
If the opposing defense begins to key on the inside zone read, Bell will move to his second-favorite play: the outside screen.
To the opposing defense, this play looks exactly like an inside zone read. However, instead of giving the ball to the running back, the quarterback will fake it to him and throw a quick screen outside to one of his wide receivers. This is one of Bell’s favorite ways to get the ball to his outside receivers in space.
Finally, if the opposing defense is cheating their safeties up to stop the run and their cornerbacks up to stop the screen pass, Bell will hit them with this: the fake outside screen.
Once again, this play sets up exactly like the outside screen pass. However, this time the quarterback fakes the inside zone, fakes the outside screen, and throws the ball to his slot receiver streaking down the field. Bell doesn’t take very many shots down the field, but this is one of the few ways that he will do that.
Now that we’ve broken down these three plays, imagine them being run at a lightning-fast tempo. Obviously, Bell runs more than just these three plays, but there will be drives where the Terrapins run no more than these three plays. Hopefully you’ve noticed a pattern in these three plays, which is that they are all dictated by what the opposing defense does. Keep two safeties deep? Bell will run the inside zone read. Bring a safety up to stop it? Bell will throw the outside screen. Bring your corners up to stop that? Bell will fake the outside screen and throw the ball over the top. Typically, each run play that Bell calls is tagged with some sort of quick pass. This allows the quarterback to make a quick decision at the line of scrimmage depending on what look the opposing defense is giving him. If they keep two safeties deep, he will run the ball. But if they bring a safety up to load the box, he will throw the quick pass.
Are you excited yet? Let’s finish things off by taking a broad look at the players who will be executing these plays for Bell and the Maryland offense.
The centerpiece of this offense is the quarterback position. While he doesn’t need to have great arm talent, he does need to be able to make good decisions on the fly. As you can see from our breakdown of Bell’s offensive scheme, the quarterback has a lot of work to do in order to put the ball in the right place, and most of that work happens over the course of a few seconds. The player who will almost surely be taking the snaps for the Terrapins this season is redshirt senior Perry Hills.
Hills started the majority of Maryland’s games last season, and has been taking most of the first-team snaps in practice this year. The coaching staff likes his toughness and decision making, and it looks like he’ll get the first crack at the starting job for Bell. While he struggled at times in Locksley’s offense last season, Bell’s offense seems to be much better suited for him. Hills has good mobility, and has shown an ability to run the zone read. He also has good accuracy on short passes. If he can pick up Bell’s scheme (and it seems that he has), he has a chance to be very successful in his final season in College Park.
While Hills will be the master distributor, the focus of this year’s offense will be the running game. The Terrapins have a huge stable of talented running backs who are ready to pound the ball between the tackles in Bell’s inside zone read scheme. It looks as though Maryland will feature a three-headed monster in the backfield, with Wes Brown, Ty Johnson, and Trey Edmunds all sharing carries. Brown, who will be suspended for the first three games of the season, is the power back. Johnson is the speedy scat-back, and Edmunds is an all-purpose back who is an excellent pass-blocker.
Whoever is taking the carries for the Terrapins this season will be running behind a very talented offensive line that has been years in the making. Anchored by redshirt senior Michael Dunn at left tackle, this is a unit that fans are very excited about. While he hasn’t seen much playing time yet in his career, Brendan Moore is already being talked about as the best center in the Big Ten Conference. Damian Prince is looking to built on a solid redshirt freshman campaign last season, and will most likely start at right tackle.
While Bell will probably want to run the ball 60-65% of the time, when the Hills does throw the ball, he’ll be doing so to a talented group of receivers. Bell will shuffle receivers in and out throughout games, using a group of 6-7 different players. Levern Jacobs will be the leader of this group in the slot, also seeing time as a versatile H-back. Other players to watch for will be D.J. Moore, Taivon Jacobs, Teldrick Morgan, and Chris Jones. The tight end position will also be very interesting, with Avery Edwards breaking out last season and Andrew Isaacs returning from injury. Bell likes to use his tight ends in a number of different ways, so this will be a position to watch going forward.
As you can see, there is a lot to be excited about for Maryland’s offense this season. Bell has breathed new life into a unit that struggled mightily last season. If Hills can make good decisions behind center and distribute the ball to the team’s wealth of playmakers, the offense should be able to put up some points in a very dynamic fashion.