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Expect More West Coast than Downfield with Pep Hamilton’s Offense

January 20th, 2013 at 2:12 PM
By Chuck Chapman

Andrew Luck over-delivered on some pretty lofty expectations for his rookie year. Much of that is due to the tutelage of veteran offensive coordinator Bruce Arians who installed an offense that allowed Luck to showcase his skills. 

With Arians off to Arizona, the Indianapolis Colts have turned to Luck's Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton to shape the way the team approaches offense from here on out. The look of the offense under Hamilton promises to be different than what we saw under Arians.

Pep Hamilton is a West Coast offense purist. Bruce Arians ran more of a vertical passing game. That should mean some fairly significant changes in the way the Colts operate in 2013.

One area where Luck didn't excel his rookie season was completion percentage. Luck's 54.1 percent mark was far below his over 70 percent completion average while working with Hamilton at Stanford. Some of that drop off is Luck adjusting to the NFL and even more a result of an often porous Colts' offensive line that forced Luck to throw balls away more than he would have liked to. But the rest is due to scheme. 

Bruce Arians likes to stretch the field. The Colts had vertical routes going every time Luck dropped back. Arians had layers of routes underneath for Luck to check down to, but very few times, except for the occasional wide receiver screen, did Luck throw balls at the line of scrimmage. That's going to result in a lower completion percentage.

Look for Hamilton's West Coast approach to utilize more underneath routes on a regular basis with the occasional "home run" ball thrown in off play action. That change in approach is going to mean some different roles for Colts' backs and receivers in 2013.

Running backs

Although he wasn't asked to catch the ball out of the backfield very much, Vick Ballard did show an ability to do so. He and (presumably) Donald Brown will be called on to do that more often under Hamilton. Hamilton is also a proponent of a power running game. That suits Ballard much more so than it does Brown. If Delone Carter can stay healthy, he could also have a much more active role in Hamilton's offense. Despite Ballard's impressive rookie campaign, don't be surprised if the Colts find a veteran free agent or use a draft pick to pick up a more accomplished pass catching back.

Wide receivers

Reggie Wayne has already transitioned into the type of receiver who will fit well into Hamilton's offense. He's a great route runner with sure hands who isn't afraid to catch the ball over the middle. Reggie's days of being the main deep threat are gone. He'll continue to be Luck's go-to target under Hamilton. TY Hilton, however, will see fewer deep balls than under Arians. He's going to become a better route runner and be that receiver who can gain yards after the catch, a staple of the West Coast attack. The same holds true for LaVon Brazill.

The player who might benefit most from Hamilton's arrival is former Stanford receiver Griff Whalen. Whalen was making a strong bid to make the 53-man roster as an undrafted free agent before being injured in preseason. Whalen could emerge as the ideal slot receiver in Hamilton's attack: sure-handed and tough while running precise routes underneath.

Tight ends

Coby Fleener has to be ecstatic with Hamilton's arrival. He and Dwayne Allen will be much more involved down the field in the West Coast attack than under Arians. Tight ends in the West Coast offense are often employed down the seams as deep threats running against linebackers and safeties. Whether or not Hamilton will utilize Allen in a fullback's role (there is no real "H-back" as Allen served this season) remains to be seen. We'll see if the Colts pursue a fullback through free agency or in the draft.

Offensive line

Hamilton's offense offers a mixed bag for an offensive line that should see some new blood anyway. On the one hand, expect fewer five and seven step drops in Hamilton's system. That means the linemen don't have to pass protect nearly as long as they did under Arians' system that employed deeper routes that took time to develop. We should also see a more active screen passing game with the running backs and tight ends. The Colts' linemen are pretty agile and should be able to adapt to that well.

If you watched Stanford at all though, you'll notice Hamilton likes a straight ahead power running game. That means linemen who get downhill on their blocks and hold them into the second level. That could be an issue with the current personnel, particularly on the interior where the guards and centers got pushed back quite a bit. Don't be surprised to see the Colts spend a draft pick or two on some bigger interior linemen who can give them that push at the point of attack.

Andrew Luck

For Andrew Luck, it should mean an even greater comfort level. Luck showed he had the arm to move the offense in a vertical attack, but his uncanny accuracy is still his major strength. Luck should get hit less and do more running by design rather than due to pressure. Hamilton will employ more roll-outs and opportunities for Luck to get outside the pocket and create matchup problems for the defense.

The Colts made a great hire in Pep Hamilton. Bruce Arians did an outstanding job in bringing this offense together, especially considering their youth. Hiring Hamilton, however, gives the Colts a chance to play into the real strengths of their personnel. 

Tags: Andrew Luck, Bruce Arians, Coby Fleener, Football, Indianapolis, Indianapolis Colts, NFL, Pep Hamilton, Reggie Wayne, Vick Ballard

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