In his meetings with the offense, Josh Gattis preaches a simple strategy: Just play football.
“Basic things you would wanna do,” said junior Ben Mason. “Make a block downfield that could open up a touchdown or lower your shoulder to get that extra yard. Knowing the situation. Just different things like that, he’s really made that come to life in our offense.”
Much has been made of the new style Gattis is bringing to the Michigan football team — from the trendy hashtag “#SpeedinSpace” to talks of a no-huddle offense. But those pieces aren’t going to fall into place immediately, and one of the main emphases in spring ball has been getting the players up to speed on the new system. That includes not just the spread concepts Gattis, the newly-minted offensive coordinator, has promised, but smaller things like making basic plays and developing instincts.
And while most of the emphasis has been on how the new style impacts the quarterbacks and receivers — who, by all indications, will become much more involved under Gattis — it’s an adjustment for everyone on offense.
Without huddles, it’s up to the players to know concepts like the back of their hands and to have a greater awareness of everyone on the field and their jobs.
“We’re looking to the sidelines trying to figure out what we’ve got,” said senior running back Tru Wilson. “It’s a lot of memorization. … You’ve gotta know the pass concepts. Now we don’t have tags telling us what we’ve gotta do. We gotta know what the receivers are doing and where we fit in, what our depth is. We’ve also gotta know our protection so we also gotta know what our linemen are doing, our footwork and everything — everything was so crucial.”
Pieces of Gattis’ system are things the Wolverines have done before, but as the spring season has progressed, they’ve gotten further along in knowing not just what his concepts are, but the way he thinks and the way he attacks.
Now, everyone has more to do and more to learn. According to running backs coach Jay Harbaugh, guys who used to be buried on the depth chart have been able to learn quicker than they did in the old West Coast offense run by Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and former passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton — and have put themselves in a better position because of it.
But for players entrenched in that old system, it’s adapt or get left behind. There’s a lot that’s new, but this isn’t a team to shy away from a challenge.
“I knew it was coming and I was excited for it,” Wilson said. “And I think everybody has that same mindset, willing to learn, open-mindedness and we’re seeing it come to fruition on the field with the offense working against the defense, and it’s really exciting to see.”
On the field, anyone thinking the offense will have a complete upheaval will be disappointed. Jay Harbaugh noted that the Wolverines are still a run-first team and that the actual runs they’re doing aren’t much different from before. But there, too, Gattis has presented things Michigan was doing before, plus more. There’s a new emphasis on getting the running backs involved in the passing game with screens and playing at a quicker tempo.
For the offensive line, meanwhile, things haven’t been much different — at least not according to senior guard Michael Onwenu, who maintained that his role was still, “Blocking the, whatever pass or play, or whatever.”
But he, too, recognizes that things are different with the Wolverines now, and he, too, has embraced it.
“It’s cool and whatnot,” Onwenu said. “Change is inevitable, so you’re comfortable with anything.”