By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
New offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has termed the scheme he’s installing this spring the “No Coast Offense.”
A member of the media in the locker room Wednesday offered an alternative title — “The Midwest Coast Offense.”
Whatever name winds up being applied to the Indianapolis Colts’ new attack, it appears likely fans’ fears of seeing the “dink and dunk” West Coast Offense replace Bruce Arians’ high-risk vertical assault will not be realized.
“A good coach will learn from other things that he sees and bring that into his repertoire, and I think Pep has done that throughout his whole career,” tight end Coby Fleener said. “So I plan on seeing a little bit of this and a little bit of that, from everywhere you can imagine.”
Fleener — like teammates Andrew Luck and Griff Whalen — played in Hamilton’s system for two seasons at Stanford. As the Colts hit the midpoint of their first week of offseason workouts at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, Fleener clearly was having a fun time with the reunion.
At one point, after a question about how often two tight end sets would be used this season, Fleener looked into the nearest TV camera and smiled wide.
“Every play,” he said. “Got that, coach?”
Hamilton’s system is expected to feature the tight ends far more often as targets in the passing game than Arians’ attack did. Last year’s offense looked to gain yardage in large chunks by throwing deep to speedy wide receivers outside the numbers. This season’s attack could look to use the middle of the field more often, exploiting mismatches wherever they can be found in the defense, and that could mean more opportunities for Fleener and fellow second-year tight end Dwayne Allen.
After an early meeting with Hamilton, Allen told the offensive coordinator he’d work hard to learn the new offense.
“Everybody’s going to learn the offense,” Hamilton reportedly replied. “I need you to master it.”
“His focus is all on attention to details,” Allen said, describing his new coordinator’s coaching style. “His motto is, ‘If we don’t mess up, eventually they will.’ I believe that’s the mantra that we want to play with this year.”
Hamilton learned the West Coast Offense, in part, by watching film of former San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh — the scheme’s originator — installing it during his first season with the franchise in 1979. Hamilton arrived in the Bay Area as quarterbacks coach in 2006 and was pleasantly surprised to find the footage in the team’s archive.
But his coaching influences are eclectic — ranging from Jim Harbaugh’s Bo Schembechler-inspired power running schemes to Norv Turner’s Don Coryell-inspired vertical passing game.
Hamilton has tried to take a bit of everything he’s learned at each stop and incorporate the elements he likes best into his own philosophies. The result is an unpredictable attack that already has players in Indianapolis buzzing about the possibilities.
During a Nashville-area radio interview Tuesday, new backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck dropped the “No Coast Offense” reference. He also said the scheme would include elements that worked last year under Arians and even concepts carried over by Colts quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen from the Peyton Manning era.
On Wednesday, Hasselbeck further elaborated.
“We’re watching clips right now,” he said. “We’re watching the Saints. We’re watching the Packers. We’re watching the Niners. We’re watching Stanford. And we’re watching Seattle, Tampa. We’re watching everybody. When Pep says there’s no limit to what we’re doing, just in like two days of installation it’s been everything.”
Everything except, Hasselbeck joked, putting two quarterbacks in the huddle.
Some might fear the multifaceted attack will be too much for players to master in a single offseason. But Hasselbeck also allayed those fears.
“To me, you try to be really good at something instead of being just OK at a lot of things. To me, the best offenses — and even the best defenses — are teams that know who they are,” he said. “They know what their strengths are. When times are tough, they can just go right to it and dominate at that.
“But now is sort of the time to just try out all of the clubs in your bag and see what you’ve got. See what kind of personnel you’ve got. See who can handle what. When the season comes, you find ways to get Reggie Wayne the ball. You find ways to put the ball in the quarterback’s hands and let him do what he does. But right now we’re just trying as many things as we can.”
One piece the Colts don’t need to worry about is Luck.
The second-year quarterback estimated that 75 percent of the offense is familiar to him from his Stanford days. And he said Hamilton has added a few new wrinkles in the year the two spent apart.
As usual, Luck was his own harshest critic, rattling off a laundry list of items he needs to improve upon this season — with accuracy at the top. But even his newest teammates were quick to heap praise upon the youngster.
“He’s a great leader,” offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus said. “His work ethic is great. He has everything going on for him. In the next few years, he’ll be the face of the league.”
Luck’s first-year success helped the Colts finish 11-5 in 2012 and advance to the AFC playoffs.
The large banner featuring the Lombardi Trophy that was raised on one wall of the team’s indoor practice field, and the stickers bearing an image of the iconic silver hardware placed inside the horseshoe logo above each players’ locker, speak to the expectations in 2013.
“Like every team out there, we’d love to win a championship,” Luck said. “We realize you can’t look past Week 1. You can’t look past tomorrow going to meetings. We’ll take the approach, ‘Let’s (not) worry about tomorrow. Let’s make sure we get the work we need to do now to give us a chance to hopefully be successful.’”