Let me apologize up front for the lack of graphics and videos in this post. I know many of you have come to expect that from me, but law school is rather time consuming and I was lucky enough just to find some free time to put this piece together. At first I was going to write either about the Tide’s increased use of packaged plays this year (they run 10-15 a game, usually closer to 15) or I was going to explore some ways that they can create more big play opportunities, specifically with the use of the "anchor concept" (with Amari Cooper as the anchor). But both of those posts would’ve taken considerably more time to flesh out than this one. If anyone has any questions about either of those two things, feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer in abbreviated form.
Anyway, onto Blake …
Put simply, after the snap, Blake has been phenomenal, far better than I expected. His ability to make plays outside the X’s and O’s is refreshing, something that we haven’t seen for quite some time at the Capstone. Even more impressive than his long runs off broken plays has been the fact that, while scrambling behind the line of scrimmage, he typically keeps his eyes downfield and continues to look to make plays with his arm rather than just tucking the ball and running at first opportunity.
Speaking of throwing the ball, he has done that quite well, too. He has an exceptionally quick release, which allows him to excel in the screen game and short game. It also helps make up for his mediocre ball velocity, which has been far less of a problem than I originally anticipated.
He has thrown the ball well both from within the pocket and while on the move (usually on designed rollouts), delivering throws accurately and on time with surprising consistency. Lane Kiffin has, for the most part, kept things simple for Blake. But when forced to go through two or three progressions, usually on third downs, Blake has done well, typically making the right reads and decisions.
He puts good touch on his fades and other intermediate throws, something we saw on the first play of the second half against Florida (a play that was nullified due to an alignment penalty). And when he gets the ball out on time, he throws an effective deep ball. He’s never going to be a guy who can throw a fifteen yard out to the wide side of the field, but that’s ok, he doesn’t need to be that guy. In order for Alabama to keep winning games, Blake simply needs to keep doing what he has been doing once the ball is in his hands.
There’s no way to sugar coat this … before the snap, Blake has to improve his management of the offense.
Now, in some areas Blake has improved. Against West Virginia, he consistently struggled to make the proper protection calls at the line, which led to free pass rushers seemingly every other play. To my eye, that has been less of an issue against Florida Atlantic, Southern Mississippi, and Florida.
However, receiving the play call and disseminating it to his teammates accurately and in a timely fashion appears to be an issue. Far too many times we’ve seen Blake look to the sideline, start to shout instructions to his teammates, and then have to turn back to the sidelines for further clarification. And then even after the play comes in and Blake passes it on to his teammates, many of them look confused, sometimes spreading their arms out in confusion and having to ask either Blake or another teammate for help. Very often the initial alignment is wrong.
All of this delays them getting into their proper alignment, which cuts down on the amount of time Blake has to make his pre-snap reads and checks. Furthermore, these issues have manifested themselves into an entirely unacceptable amount of procedural penalties. Saban said himself that these issues are on Blake, so this isn’t just my own observation. Resolving this issue is priority number one.
On Saturday, Alabama will face off against a really good defense in a really hostile environment. This presents a unique challenge for Blake and the rest of the offense. These communication issues have been occurring in the friendly confines of Bryant-Denny Stadium, where the crowd is on their very best behavior when the Alabama offense is on the field. That won’t be the case when the offense takes the field this Saturday.
That means, in addition to conventional means of communication, Alabama will likely be forced to resort to silent counts and other, non-verbal forms of pre-snap communication. This makes Blake’s ability to manage the game even more difficult. It certainly helps that they’ll be coming off a bye week, but it’s impossible not to be concerned about this, at least in the early stages of the game, when emotions are at peak level.
Part of this, without a doubt, is on the coaching staff. It is up to them to find a system that makes everything as simple as possible for their quarterback. And clearly, seeing as Blake is a first year starter, there is a learning curve. But if Alabama is going to reach their goals this year, fixing their communication issues is an absolute must.
Here’s the good news … if Blake and the offensive staff can iron out these issues, the sky is the limit for this offense. The talent, as we’ve seen the past few games, is at an all time high. But all I’m saying is that these issues are very real, and we should all watch closely on Saturday to see if any progress has been made.