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Cerebral violence

Posted Apr 19, 2012

Mularkey offense emphasizes physical, but effective throwing, too, says new WR Lee Evans

This is one misconception Mike Mularkey doesn’t much mind.

Mularkey on Thursday held a press conference wrapping up his first mini-camp as Jaguars head coach. During it, he mentioned the word “violent” as being a key to his vision. Professional, soft-spoken and quick with a smile, Mularkey was told perhaps “cerebral” seemed a better fit.

“Keep thinking that,” he said, smiling.

Within that anecdote, players will tell you, is the key to one of the more important issues of the Jaguars’ 2012 off-season – i.e., the team’s new offense and its philosophy.

The best way to describe the offense?  Physical – yes, even violent.

“It is an aggressive, in-your-face offense,” wide receiver Lee Evans, who played in Mularkey’s offense in Buffalo in 2004 and 2005.

And yet, there’s this whole “cerebral” thing, too . . .

“You’ve got to be on your stuff,” wide receiver Laurent Robinson, who played for Mularkey in Atlanta in 2007, said. “You have to be studying your butt off at night. It’s not just in the meeting room or out at practice.  You have to do your time at home, too.”

The Jaguars’ offensive staff has spent the last three months installing the offense, a day-by-day, page-by-page process of writing the playbook. This week at the team’s first mini-camp was the first chance for players to begin working it on the field.

Players new to the offense spoke of its complexity, the challenge of learning new verbiage, but those players familiar described an offense that will focus on controlling the line of scrimmage, though hardly at the expense of offensive innovation.

What defines the Mularkey offense? Players with experience in it chose definite, powerful words.

“Attacking,” Evans said.

“Physical,” Robinson said. “If you want one word, it’s physical.”

Robinson, who played for Atlanta in Mularkey’s first year as offensive coordinator, said while balance and taking advantage of defense’s weaknesses are important to the offense, at its heart is overpowering an opponent.

“They’re going to run the ball hard at you, beat you up up front and play-action you hard,” Robinson said. “They’re going to keep the chains moving with short passes and hit you with play-action. It’s going to be a good offense. I’m looking forward to getting this thing rolling for real.”

During a break between interviews following practice Wednesday, veteran wide receiver Mike Thomas jokingly said Robinson was cheating, that he had an unfair advantage already knowing the system. On a more serious note, Thomas said there was indeed a transition process.

“It’s kind of like rookie camp all over again,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the main task is learning the language, the “verbiage,” and digesting the shifts and motions required in the offense.

“We’re still adjusting to it,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to figure it out. It’s just new. With that being said you kind of have to lean on guys like Lee and Laurent when you’re not quite clear on what you need to do. It’s definitely good to have those guys around for the experience and for them having some familiarity with the playbook.”

Blaine Gabbert, entering his second season as the Jaguars’ starting quarterback, perhaps has the most difficult task – i.e., learning a second offensive system under a second coordinator and second head coach in as many seasons.

Gabbert, too, said the primary challenge was learning the language.

“I would say the verbiage is different,” Gabbert said. “Like I said all along, there are only so many concepts in football that you can run, so many run schemes that you can have, so many protections. It’s just the verbiage is different so a certain protection we had last year may be different this year.

“It’s just tinkered with, but all in all it is very similar.”

Gabbert said once the language is learned there’s a lot to like in the new approach.

“There is always those third and shorts that you see and think we will take a shot here – things that get you excited,” Gabbert said. “But what I am excited about is having this offseason to get with the coaches so they can teach us the intricacies of the playbook so you know everything that you can do audible-wise when you walk up to the line of scrimmage to get your team in the best position to capitalize on a big-play opportunity.”

Chad Henne, brought in to compete with and back up Gabbert, said a key to the offense is disguise at the line of scrimmage.

“We want to make the defense think,” Henne said. “Whether it’s shifts, whether it’s motions – we want to make sure the defense is on their toes and not knowing what we’re doing at all times.  That’s great for a quarterback, especially if everyone knows what they’re doing and is in the right spots. It can really catch a defense off guard.”

Henne said knowledge of the offense from all players is key for an offense that emphasizes taking advantage of a defense at the line of scrimmage

“There are a lot of checks,” Henne said. “There are a lot of alerts – getting into plays and getting out of plays. It’s knowing our system, knowing our spots and knowing how to execute.

“Once we get a good grasp in these OTAs and mini-camps, quarterbacks will feel a lot more comfortable. Coach will call plays and we’ll get in and out of plays whenever we want.”

Robinson agreed.

“You’ve got to know what the snap count is,” he said. “You have to know your assignment and you have to know the next person’s assignment. You all have to be accountable, and if somebody doesn’t know it you have to be there to help them out so when the ball is snapped we’re running full speed and we’re ready to roll.”

Henne said while Robinson is correct that the offense is physical, it’s quarterback-friendly as well.

“We definitely want to run the ball first, and ground-and-pound and be powerful,” Henne said, “but off of that, you have to have a balanced passing game off of play-action and be able to drop back. You’re not in two tight ends and fullback running every down.

“You have to spread them out a little bit and throw the ball around.”

Evans, a two-time 1,000-yard receiver with Buffalo, said while the scheme indeed emphasizes power and attack, at its core is the idea of keeping the defense off-balance. Once that happens, balance – and even “cerebralness” – takes over.

“Anytime Mike has been a head guy or an offensive coordinator, they always do a good job running the ball,” Evans said. “But the receivers do always have big numbers. Look how many balls Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez caught in Atlanta. It is a physical offense, and the running game is a big part of it, but when it’s time to throw it around, it’s very effective in doing that as well.

“The key is everybody being on the same page. When I was with Mike early in the year, we struggled, but after a while, everybody got it. It will take an adjustment, because there’s a lot of terminology and different things going on, but once you get it, it really takes off.”

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