Without live practices, Gattis turns to film to improve offense

Thursday, May 14, 2020 - 5:29pm

Josh Gattis has watched more film this off-season than ever before.

Josh Gattis has watched more film this off-season than ever before. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen

Josh Gattis wouldn’t normally watch this much film. In a typical offseason, film analysis would be just one of the second-year offensive coordinator’s myriad of responsibilities, sandwiched between recruiting trips, workouts and practices.

But this offseason is far from normal, with Michigan’s 11-man coaching staff stuck at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

So each morning, the offensive coaches begin their day with a Zoom call to outline the day’s priorities — a process made easier with all five offensive assistants returning from last year. From there, they break into individual responsibilities.

For Gattis, that means breaking down film, over and over again. In lieu of traditional spring ball, he estimates he’s re-watched every play of the 2019 season 50 times.

“You can gain a ton of information and a ton of knowledge about yourself from studying yourself and just looking for ways to improve,” Gattis said Thursday. “That’s been huge — going back and studying ourselves.”

While Gattis uses the film to study his players’ strengths and weaknesses, its primary purpose for him is as a tool of self analysis. And every time he re-watches a play, he sees something he could have done differently.

Often, the issue is one of balancing aggressiveness — knowing when to be conservative and when to attack. It’s a balance that Gattis doesn’t feel he was able to find often enough last season.

“Those are all types of things that go through studies and mindsets for me that have been valuable,” Gattis said. “Because ultimately you want to figure out how to put your kids in a position to be successful.”

Gattis’ main pet project for the offseason has been diving into second-down playcalling, something that he normally wouldn’t have the time to devote intense scrutiny to.

Over the past few years, he’s seen defenses playing third-down defense on second down more often as offenses become more pass-heavy. To combat these defensive adaptations, Gattis has spent the offseason talking to NFL offensive coordinators and picking their brains on second-down playcalling, especially after an unsuccessful first down play results in second-and-long.

“Most people just go with something safe like a run,” Gattis said. “If that doesn’t get you the yards that you needed necessary then now you’re in a third-and-long situation. So I’ve been able to dive hard into that and I think that’s been good.”

Gattis, though, knows none of his research matters unless it’s instilled into his team, a task made more difficult by the Wolverines’ multiple positional uncertainties. But while the lack of spring ball has prevented Michigan from gaining clarity on its murky quarterback and offensive line situations, Gattis has been able to teach his reworked playbook remotely.

Without the hurried crunch of traditional spring practices, he has instead settled into a rhythm of doing one install per week, with three weekly meetings — Mondays with the entire offense and Wednesdays and Fridays with specific position groups.

“This current situation has allowed us to spend a lot of time really slowing things down,” Gattis said. “Really going through the big picture and making sure those guys understand what they have, what their assignment is, knowing the whats and whys and how tos but also understanding what other players around them are being asked as well. It’s been good, we’ve made the best of our situation.”

Even with the adaptations Gattis and his staff have made, he acknowledges that there’s no replacement for live practices. But worrying about when the Wolverines will be able to reconvene in person is a fruitless exercise above his pay-grade.

So for now, Gattis’ offseason is a matter of watching film and waiting for that day to come.

“The good thing,” Gattis said, “is with all these meetings, our knowledge and understanding, we can pick up tomorrow and really be able to go out there and execute plays.”