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March 23, 2014
RMU vets falling in love with new offense
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The reaction was the same, no matter who it was.
The eyes lit up. A grin crashed through the face. And inevitably, there'd be light laughter.
No, it wasn't the crowd at a comedy show, but a handful of Robert Morris veterans describing the football team's new offense.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Derik Abbott, senior receiver Duane Mitchell and redshirt senior offensive lineman Jon Hill are the longest-tenured players at their positions (Paul Jones is older than Abbott but is only entering his second year at RMU). Despite their familiarity with the old offense, the excitement surrounding the new one was universal. New offensive coordinator Darrin Hicks' biggest tests will come on the field this fall, but he appears to have won his first battle in a landslide victory. His players are eager to absorb his offense.
"There are so many things that I haven't seen as a football player that he wants to run," Mitchell said. "That's exciting as a receiver, because we get the ball a lot. It's exciting to know we're going to be doing stuff that people in the NEC haven't seen yet."
With Joe Walton's retirement, Robert Morris football underwent a complete makeover in the offseason under John Banaszak. The biggest change was the removal of Walton's pro-style offense, which focused on balance and clock management, and the installation of a new up-tempo, multiple-formation offense that Hicks wants to be the fastest offense in college football. Despite the wholesale changes in scheme, the new playbook has the offensive players buzzing.
"I love it. This is what I love doing. I ran it in high school, and when I go play pick-up games, I run hurry-up," Abbott said with a laugh. "It gets quarterbacks in a rhythm."
The new offense is part of an overall culture change spearheaded by Banaszak. Abbott said Banaszak set the tone at the very first meeting he conducted as head coach.
"The first meeting we had, we were installing different stuff we wanted to do, not just from an offensive perspective but from a team perspective," Abbott said.
Hill is one of the longest-tenured Colonials on the roster. He's one of a handful of fifth-year seniors, and the only one on the offensive side of the ball who has been at Robert Morris for all five years. The right tackle said Banaszak's approach has some similarities to Hicks' offense.
"It's definitely a different atmosphere," Hill said. "Everybody's on their feet at all times, pumped up and ready to go. That's the way Coach B likes it and that's the way the new offense is."
There are more meetings, a different feel to 6 a.m. workouts, and a complete change in conditioning and weight strength, and all of it was installed by Banaszak.
"It's been a mentality of winning," Mitchell said. "Obviously we have to learn and we have to discipline and we have to get the plays in, but he wants us to have fun with them."
Even warm-ups prior to practice have changed, and much of that has to do with Hicks' new offense. To be the fastest team in college football, Robert Morris needs to have the stamina and the speed necessary to fit that mold. The theory is that if Robert Morris is physically capable of handling the offense, then the mental repetition needed to get the plays down won't be as challenging as it might be in other offenses.
"Coach Hicks always tells us to write everything down in pencil because everything is bound to change," Abbott said. "He takes a lot of input from us, what's easier for us, what's easier to communicate, different calls we can remember. It's a very player friendly offense."
Walton's offense was built on decades of success in college and the NFL. It adhered to a lot of elements of pro football, and it carried with it a complexity that rivaled playbooks in the NFL. Hicks' offense is seemingly built exclusively for the college game, and that change in mentality carries with it a few changes in technique.
Operating primarily out of the no-huddle, receivers are no longer shuttling plays in as they did with Walton's offense. All plays are received from the sideline. Checks at the line of scrimmage have changed for the receivers and quarterbacks, and Mitchell said even those customary adjustments fall right in line with the playbook.
"If the quarterback sees something and I see the same thing, the play automatically puts us on the same page," he said.
Personnel is different, formations are different, and the tempo is different. Even the technique for the offensive linemen has changed, as Robert Morris' line will go from using a three-technique stance (one hand on the ground) to a two-technique stance (standing or crouched).
"This offense is a lot more O-Line friendly," Hill said. "With Walton's offense, we had so many different calls for the same play. This offense, we have one call and then go out and hit someone."
Spring football isn't even a week old, but one gets the sense that Robert Morris can't wait to take the new offense for a test run.
"I've seen film of teams that have run this offense before, and there's two or three people open downfield," Mitchell said. "That's awesome."
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at [email protected]
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