Senior left guard Adam Kraus noticed it.
The Michigan fans definitely saw the effects of it.
And Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and offensive coordinator Mike DeBord decided to change it.
After suffering through a 7-5 season last year, Carr promoted DeBord from special teams coach to the man overseeing the offense. And Debord adopted a new run-blocking scheme.
“I think everybody knew that something needed to be changed,” Kraus said. “Coach DeBord wanted to find the offense that fit us the best, and I think he did a good job. I think we found one.”
Last year’s totals speak for themselves. Just 94 rushing yards in a 23-20 loss to Minnesota. A measly 32 in a 25-21 loss to Ohio State.
But this past offseason, DeBord brought in Alex Gibbs, an assistant coach for the Atlanta Falcons, to implement a zone-blocking scheme that could open up the running game.
The scheme, which has been used to great success by the Denver Broncos as well as the Falcons, requires the offensive line to block “landmarks” (a certain spot on the defenders jersey) and get a quicker jump off the line.
“I was excited when they told us we were going to change to a zone scheme,” Kraus said. “I’m a lighter guy. I’m not as big as some of the past offensive linemen. This scheme really fits me and our offensive line.”
Even though the jury may still be out as to whether or not the new zone-blocking scheme will continue to work against tougher competition, DeBord’s system made a nice debut last Saturday.
From the first play from scrimmage when junior running back Mike Hart took the ball for an 11-yard gain to the 19-yard touchdown run from sophomore running back Kevin Grady, there always seemed to be room for the backs to run. The 246 yards the unit racked up eclipsed all but one of last year’s game totals.
“If you have great vision, this is a great offense for you,” Grady said. “It’s not really like a set offense where you have to be in a certain gap all the time. You got landmarks and courses you have to stay on, but for the most part, it’s you being out there being able to see the blocks and how things are set up.”
DeBord – Michigan’s offensive coordinator during the 1997 National Championship team – regains the reigns of an offense that struggled to control the clock late in games when the running game especially seemed to falter.
This year, the team committed to losing weight and leaving training camp in better shape. And it’s a good thing, because the new scheme forces the offensive linemen to be quicker up front, so they’re able to get off the line and create multiple gaps that the running back can hit.
“What you’re trying to do as a coach is find things that fit what your players can do,” Carr said. “I think that this scheme does give our linemen an opportunity because one of the reasons we wanted to get our weight down up front (was because) this scheme requires offensive linemen who can move, (who) have quickness.”
But for all the hype surrounding the new scheme and the boost it’s given to what once was a stagnant running game, the offense knows that being a good running team comes down to more than just Xs and Os.
“Running the ball is an attitude,” Grady said. “As an offense we’ve developed an attitude to be able to, every Saturday, commit ourselves to go out and run the football. That’s where it all starts, being able to run the football and control the clock.”