Indy offense goes old school with new coordinator
Pep Hamilton is giving the Colts' offense a bold, new look.
They have a fullback. They have Reggie Wayne working out of the slot. They have bigger offensive linemen protecting Andrew Luck.
No, it's not the trendy thing in a league now enamored with running quarterbacks and the read-option. But Hamilton, the offensive coordinator, is of like mind with the Colts' brass. He believes old-school football is still the most fashionable way to win a championship.
''I think we have to have a true sense of balance in our offense. We've got to be able to run the football as well as pass the football,'' Hamilton said as the Colts worked out at Anderson University. ''We're going to do whatever we need to do to score, ultimately. But being able to run the power schemes, being able to run the football, is a prize piece in our offense.''
Colts fans haven't heard those words in years.
Peyton Manning relied primarily on double tight-end, single-back formations and the no-huddle offense. When he went down in 2011, Indianapolis tried to change the script. That didn't work. Following a 2-14 debacle without Manning, the Colts started their massive rebuilding project by cutting Manning and firing coach Jim Caldwell.
Chuck Pagano, Caldwell's replacement, showed up promising a stronger running game. But in 2012, it turned out to be more of the same.
As Luck produced big numbers in Bruce Arians' long passing game and the Colts shocked everyone by winning 11 games and reaching the playoffs, they ran for a paltry 3.8 yards per carry. Only five NFL teams had lower averages.
And it's been a persistent problem. Since winning the Super Bowl in 2006, the Colts are the only NFL team to average less than 4.0 yards five times. They haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Joseph Addai (1,072) in 2007, leaving Detroit (eight), Dallas and New Orleans (six each) as the only teams with longer active streaks.
So when Arians, last year's NFL coach of the year, took the Arizona coaching job, the Colts brought in Hamilton who has a history with Luck and a knack for making power football work.
Pagano found it to be a perfect fit.
''I've said from Day 1 that in order to win in the National Football League, you have to run the football and you have to stop the run,'' Pagano said. ''(Last year) we still drifted a guy back there. He just wasn't listed on the depth chart as a fullback. Dwayne (Allen) was listed as a tight end but somebody was still moving into the backfield at times. Now we just got a guy that looks like a fullback, smells like a fullback, he's listed as a fullback. We're going to do everything we can to improve our ability to run the football. It's going to take pressure off our quarterback. It's going to take time off the clock.''
Luck knows just how proficient this balanced offense can be after working with it at Stanford, and Hamilton knows history has proved it will work in the NFL.
Hamilton spent 2000 and 2001 as a summer intern with the Chiefs and Redskins before moving into Baltimore's front office in 2002. He spent the next three seasons on the Jets' staff before heading to San Francisco in 2006. Then it was off to the Bears, where he coached quarterbacks from 2007-09. The next year, he took a job at Stanford coaching receivers, then was promoted to offensive coordinator as he helped Luck become the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2011 and the No. 1 overall pick five months later.
Now that tandem is back working together and trying to teach the rest of the Colts this offense.
''I'm still learning,'' running back Vick Ballard said. ''Some are regular plays and some are a base play where you've got a couple of variations you have to know. It's knowing the small details, but I like it.''
It's not exactly the same playbook Hamilton and Luck had at Stanford, though it is close.
''I think Pep did a really nice job of simplifying it, because there are so many formations and plays to digest,'' said receiver Griff Whalen, another former Stanford player who seems to be ahead of his teammates in the learning process. ''It actually flows pretty well.''
Hamilton has said nothing is off-limits this year.
At his introductory news conference in January, he acknowledged anything could fit into his playbook - deep throws, Wildcat formations, The Pistol, maybe even the read-option.
But trendy offenses such as the run-and-shoot, the Fun N Gun and the Wildcat come and go. The Colts have decided to go with their version of an old standby that has helped so many teams win Super Bowls. All they have to do now is make it work.
''We are all working, working the craft, staying in, staying in tune, so whatever Pep calls, we feel great,'' receiver T.Y. Hilton said. ''We are just running with it.''
Online: AP NFL website www.pro32.ap.org