By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
Pep Hamilton caused a mini Twitter storm Wednesday with an innocuous comment during a slow NFL news day.
Meeting the local media face-to-face for the first time as the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive coordinator, Hamilton opened his news conference with a brief statement.
He was trying to describe the way his scheme — based in West Coast principles — will be unpredictable next season. Along the way, he used a couple of trendy buzzwords that set certain corners of the Internet ablaze.
“On first and second down, there’s no ‘can’t-dos,’” Hamilton said. “We’ll do a great job of mixing in some power runs, mixing in the downfield passing game, maybe even mixing in some wildcat plays, mix in some read-option, pistol-type schemes. Just really try and present once again a lot of conflicts for our opponents.”
Second-year quarterback, and first-time starter, Colin Kaepernick led the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII running a lot of read-option plays out of the pistol formation. And Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III rode a similar scheme to NFL Rookie of the Year honors.
The Seattle Seahawks even added read-option elements to their offense midway through the season as they caught fire and made a run to the playoffs behind rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
Andrew Luck, the Colts’ own rookie wunderkind, showed off his athleticism with 255 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 62 carries last season. But it takes a healthy leap of faith to envision the 6-foot-4, 234-pound primarily pocket passer running regularly out of the pistol formation.
Hamilton does, however, seem open to nearly anything he believes will help move the chains and get Indianapolis into the end zone.
Playing in former coordinator Bruce Arians’ deep-passing attack, Luck set a rookie record with 4,374 passing yards. He also threw 23 touchdown passes, the third-most ever for a rookie, and averaged a solid 7.0 yards per attempt.
There had been a fear Hamilton won’t be as willing to dial up the long ball. The traditional West Coast offense relies on short passes and receivers gaining yards after the catch. That system should raise Luck’s completion percentage (54.1) and lower his interceptions (18).
But Hamilton didn’t sound like a man shying away from the big play.
“We’ve got to do whatever it is that our players do well,” he said. “It’s obvious, just based on the production that we had in the passing game this past season, that we’re a team that can push the ball downfield. That should create paranoia for our opponents. Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Donnie Avery, our tight ends, guys that can really run and get downfield and make the big play in the passing game.
“And, of course, Andrew. He did a really good job of improvising, of managing broken plays and escaping the pocket and making an accurate throw on the move. That’s a talent and a gift that we can continue to use to our advantage.”
Hamilton served as the quarterbacks coach for the 49ers in 2006. He worked under offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and he had access to San Francisco’s film archive that included original footage of Bill Walsh installing the West Coast offense during the early 1980s.
Walsh and Turner are an unlikely pair of mentors. Walsh won three Super Bowls as San Francisco’s head coach by utilizing his short, efficient passing game and the uncanny accuracy of Joe Montana. Turner won two Super Bowls as offensive coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys by pairing a power running game with elements from Don Coryell’s high-risk passing attack that helped make Dan Fouts a Hall of Famer in San Diego.
Hamilton’s seen enough of both approaches — and picked up even more ideas from veteran NFL coordinators like Paul Hackett and Mike Heimerdinger — to know there’s more than one way to succeed in the league.
Indianapolis’ season ended with a 24-9 loss at the Baltimore Ravens in the wild-card round. Hamilton sees that as a sign the Colts are on the right track.
“Everybody works hard in the NFL,” Hamilton said. “You have to work smart. It’s not just about practice, it’s about perfect practice, details and exactness. Those are the things that ultimately help you to win games. I’m sure everybody will be fired up about having the opportunity to build on the success they had last year. To go into the playoffs and really keep the game close and have a chance to win the game with the eventual Super Bowl champion, that’s incentive in itself to know that, ‘Hey, we’re not that far away.’”