Weekend Reading: Up-Tempo Evolution

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at San Francisco 49ers

Some links to pass along this weekend:

Jenny Vrentas of SI.com caught up with Sam Wyche, the former Bengals coach who helped introduce the up-tempo attack to the NFL in the 1980s. He has some interesting thoughts on the evolution of the no-huddle.

VRENTAS: The Packers and the Patriots, who play this weekend, have used the no-huddle very prominently in recent years. Which offenses stand out to you the most when you’re watching?

WYCHE: The Eagles were fun to watch. I thought that was most reminiscent of what we did. With Denver, of course, you had the coach [Peyton Manning] out there standing in the middle of the field. Both the Packers and the Patriots, to begin with, they’ve got field generals. I always thought Boomer Esiason was just a tremendous commander on the field. You’ve got to have somebody who really takes charge; really, all the teams left in the playoffs have that person at the helm. Once you have that, you have to have players who are smart enough to take instructions that are abbreviated in code, maybe half-heard. You need a lot of what I call big-time pros. Not little-time pros. The teams that have been together longer—the Patriots, Green Bay, all those teams that have been together longer—their odds go up by two or three percentage points. If their tempo is good, and they don’t make mistakes, they can go up another couple of percentage points. Pretty soon you’re up to where you’ve got about a five to an eight percent edge on your opponent by the end of the game.

I tell you what I see as a terrible installation, in my view, of the no-huddle. That’s where every lineman, every back, every receiver, they all turn and look to the sideline to get their call. One coach is telling the linemen what to do, and so forth. They can’t snap the ball, because they’re all standing up in an illegal formation. And as a result, you are not burning up any energy for the defense. Part of what I would tell the offensive linemen is that if you don’t see the whites of the defensive lineman’s knuckles when he gets into a three-point stance, then he’s not burning up any energy. If you’re in your starting stance, you’re burning up energy. But if a team—like I see a lot of pro and college teams doing—is just standing and reading the sideline, you might as well go back in the huddle. You’re giving them extra recovery time. I want to snap the ball before they recover from the previous play.

Daniel Jeremiah put out his first mock draft of the year. He has Marcus Mariota sliding to the Jets at No. 6, as he foreshadowed earlier this week.

“Everybody talks about, ‘Is he going to drop? Is he going to fall?’ I don’t know if he was ever all the way up there to begin with,” he said. “I think there’s a chance he could slide down a little bit. There are so many teams that need a quarterback, and the Jets where they’re picking (at six), that’s a team that I would keep an eye on.”

Jeremiah has the Eagles selecting Alabama safety Landon Collins at 20.

“Collins would be a huge upgrade in Philadelphia, and his physical play style fits the NFC East,” he said.

Mariota has a fan in Randall Cunningham. More from CSN Philly.

“Whatever team gets him is going to be great. I’d love to see him land in Philadelphia,” Cunningham said during a phone interview on Thursday’s edition of Philly Sports Talk.

“I think he’s going to do great. And whatever it takes — nothing against (Mark) Sanchez and the other quarterbacks there, but if somehow, someway Chip (Kelly) gets his boy there, whether through trade or whatever it takes and they protect him, he is the kind of leader you want in Philadelphia. He is not a talker, he’s not going to get in trouble or cause problems. He’s going to create unity.”

Mariota, the Heisman Trophy winner, should be one of the top two quarterbacks selected in the draft along with Jameis Winston, but there are questions concerning how much time he’ll need to develop and adjust to the pro game. Especially after the Ducks’ loss to Ohio State in the title game.

That doesn’t concern Cunningham, however.

“That’s a great thing. If he’s being talked about, he must be doing something right,” Cunningham said. “He has a lot of value.”

Matt Brown from Sports On Earth says that we should not overthink Mariota’s NFL ability.

One thing is certain: Mariota’s stock will reportedly fall at times, and it will rise at times, because there needs to be something to talk about to fill the gap between the end of the season and the draft. All hail the anonymous draft source. When all is said and done, though, no matter how many cycles Mariota’s stock goes through, he’ll end up exactly where we think he’ll end up now, which is right at or near the top of draft boards. It’s just a matter of Winston and Mariota jockeying for position, and of the Buccaneers deciding on one. We’re in for one of the most tumultuous top quarterback debates since Manning-Leaf in the 1998 draft…

Mariota played in an Oregon offense that is specifically designed to create openings and put the quarterback in position to make plays. In other words, saying that Mariota can drop back in the NFL and consistently make throws into tight windows with a pass rush around him requires more projecting than Winston, making Winston a more appealing bet based on on-field characteristics. There are fewer unknowns.

But is there any reason to really doubt that Mariota will develop those characteristics when placed in those situations? Making the Oregon offense work at an absurdly fast tempo requires advanced knowledge of an offense and of the defense, the ability to process information more quickly than everyone else and superior poise. Oregon’s offense has always been prolific, but Mariota’s skill set and command of the system allowed the Ducks to become more pass-oriented. He’s an explosive runner — which justifiably brings a lot of Colin Kaepernick comparisons — but he’s not a runner first. He’s an intelligent passer who makes good decisions, avoids mistakes and has enough arm strength — not as strong as someone like Kaepernick or Aaron Rodgers, but more than good enough — to make all the throws required for an NFL quarterback.

NFL stardom is not guaranteed. It never is. But Mariota has the mental and physical attributes to make those projections feel safer than most quarterbacks, even if some have soured on spread quarterbacks recently thanks to a middling season from Kaepernick and the ongoing Robert Griffin III drama.