USC coach Lane Kiffin said he wanted to focus more on the run game.
Enter offensive line coach and running game coordinator Mike Summers from Kentucky, No. 5 on our list of USC Keys to Success for the 2013 season.
He joins James Cregg, giving the Trojans two offensive line coaches. They each focus on all aspects as it relates to the offensive line. However, Summers’ presence on the run game has been undeniable.
Offensive linemen have raved about his attention to detail in that aspect. Running backs have raved about what the offensive line is doing in front of them.
It’s simplicity at it’s finest. Sure, having an extra coach on the field and in meeting rooms allows things to be broken down even more on the offensive line opposed to years past.
Summers takes it a step further analyzing the little things to make sure each player’s technique is what it should be.
“(We focus on) footwork and hands and eyes,” Summers said. “Communication with each other, understanding how to work with the guy next to you –all of those things that go into the foundation of learning of playing inside there.”
Having two coaches on the offensive line allows drills related to the group to be split up. It’s not uncommon to see Summers working with a player during or after practice on those small details.
“A lot of times the difference between success and failure on a play is just your eye placement or your hand placement and each one of those plays can be broken down into many different facets,” Summers said. “Which direction is my toe pointing? Where are my thumbs on my punch? Are my thumbs up or my thumbs down? All of those things make a difference.
“Those aren’t things that you think about when you snap the ball. They have to be grained into muscle memory. Until they get to that point we have to drill them enough that they understand it.”
Importance of Summers
You can blame injuries, youth, guys playing out of position or all of the above for USC’s offensive line troubles a season ago. As a group, they quickly learned that replacing a first-round talent like Matt Kalil is far from an easy thing to do. Enter Summers, who’s paired up with James Cregg to give this position group two sets of eyes from which they can be taught and evaluated. Summers’ attention to detail has been something that has been welcomed by the offensive line.
Number of note: 392
USC head coach Lane Kiffin was far from pleased from the output of the running game in 2012. The team didn’t have one back rush for 1,000 yards. They’re rushing attempts, all 392 of them, were the second fewest in the Pac-12. In 2011, the number of attempts were identical. If Kiffin really wants to emphasize running the ball more, he’s going to have to show it by being more committed to the ground game. With Summers in the fold, the USC coach says he’s already seen tremendous strides in the run game and the offensive line as a whole. Has he seen enough to run the ball more?
As a team, the Trojans rushed for 1,958 yards last season on 5.0 yards per attempt.
“Anytime that you get an opportunity to run block it’s something that excites you,” said center Marcus Martin. “You get to come off the ball and knock somebody off of the ball. We anticipate a lot of (rushing) yards this year just working together (as an) offensive line. That’s our emphasis.”
“Coach Summers has definitely focused a lot more on the run game really,” said right tackle Kevin Graf. “(He’s) emphasized it and really taken it step by step to make sure that our technique is perfect.”
The 5.0 yards the Trojans averaged per rush attempt last season were third in the Pac-12. If Summers, as the run game coordinator, can improve that number it would be tremendous for the running game. USC’s rushing attempts and yards per attempt have been identical over the past two seasons, 392 and 5.0, respectively. If Summers can increase the yards per attempt by half a yard, considering USC has a similar amount of carries, they’d break the 2,000-yard mark as a team which isn’t great but serviceable.
Kiffin has compared this running back corp. to 2004 and 2005 several times this offseason — that group averaged 6.6 yards per carry in 2005. Oregon is the only Pac-12 team to average over six yards per carry in the last three seasons and it’s done it twice.