Saturday, 20 March 2010

Alex Gibbs, as colorful as he is successful

By Kip Earlywine
Shortly after I joined Seahawks Draft Blog, I did a three part series which explored the meaning of a zone blocking running game and a zone offensive line at large.

This time, I'd like to share some more specific details about the kind of things Alex Gibbs looks for when building his offensive lines and running games. I found a very informative article on zone blocking posted last year at Tomahawk Nation. I won't rehash the whole thing, but there are some important Alex Gibbs quotes I'd like to share with everyone:

Gibbs on the running game in general:
"WE WANT NO NEGATIVES! We look at pass as yes/ no, big/ little, big plays and zero plays (w/ negatives). Out of a certain number of passes, we expect a certain number of failures. That is the nature of the passing game.

But the run game the exact opposite. We want NO negatives. We do not want to run plays that are big/ little, even at the expense of big plays, we do not want it. We want the system where even the "bad" play gains something. The entire objective is to stay out of 3rd and long. We throw out the run plays with which we cannot consistently avoid negatives.

Screw averages. We want medians. The back might average 7 yards per carry, but how often did he get stuffed and put us in 3rd and 10, causing a turnover.

And we do this by eliminating penetration and running a limited number of plays to perfection."

Gibbs' specific requirements for his linemen:

"Above all, we want guys who want play so bad they could die. We want guys who can run, who are athletic, who have "recoverability", but who maybe lacks bulk and strength. Maybe doesn't know what his body is about yet. We want guys who are going to take advantage of that redshirt year.

TACKLES: Tall, length, maybe no basic strength, but he can run, and we're willing to let him add that power. 6'5 1/2" is usually the max we want.

GUARDS & CENTERS: height and length doesn't mean ****. Marginal height, but plays with great leverage. "LOW WAISTED" (long torso short legs), with leverage under our bodies. Healthier by not being heavy. RARE for them to play early. Nobody over 6'3". My center must be football brilliant.

Very intelligent on the inside. The "test score limit would SCARE YOU." We make calls from the inside out (centers call guards, guards tell tackles what to do, tackles tell tight ends what to do. Thus, there's a chain of decreasing responsibility)

No introverts for any position (communication. Low power-distance culture guys between each other and the coach).

All of them must have the ability to step laterally while keeping their shoulders square to the line of scrimmage (or risk allowing penetration).

Injury history is very important. don't want guys who miss games, because of the importance of continuity. 4 of the 5 usually get offseason surgery. NO EGO. INSIDE 3 must be brilliant. Huge amount of time is spent on these guys making decisions. Guards must be able to decipher intricate details from the opponent's stance.

But, there is a minimum threshold of strength that a guy must have. Cannot have guys who get driven back."

Gibbs on intangibles:

"Your group and your chemistry is more important then your plays. The ability to get the guys to function as a unit is paramount and is often not achieved. I don't get Christmas cards, but I do get handshakes and head nods. Been to a lot of topless bars with my guys. I did whatever it took to get these guys comfortable with each other and with me. My guys talk all the time. They are closer with the guy next to them than they are with their wives.

Experience is absolutely crucial. Even in the NFL, I'll take our draft picks and put them on our scout team for two years before they can play for us, and these are guys we drafted because we think they fit our system!"


Well, that's a lot to take in, with my first thought being... Alex Gibbs took his guys out to topless bars? Awesome.

Quotes 1 and 3 are fairly in line with conventional wisdom. The running game is not usually a weapon- its a tool to help open up the passing game and set up favorable down and distance. Chemistry is obviously a big part of any line, especially a zone system which is so interdependent and places a higher emphasis on interior line success (which bolsters the all important inside running game).

However, the 2nd quote on offensive line measurables is pretty eye opening. Lets review:


High desire for the game: Among first round tackles, you could safely put Brian Bulaga and Charles Brown on this list. (As a guard, Mike Iupati would qualify as well). Trent Williams, Russell Okung, and Bruce Campbell may or may not qualify. Anthony Davis probably doesn't qualify given his work ethic and weight issues.

Size? No more than 6'5 1/2." Actually, all of the 1st round Tackles meet this requirement. Bruce Campbell is 6'6," but that's pretty close. However, after the first round this causes some conflicts. Jason Fox is 6'7." Sam Young and Jared Veldheer are 6'8." My favorite late round option, Chris Marinelli, is 6'7." After the first round, if the Seahawks stay true to this requirement, it will significantly limit some of their best mid-late round options. Though Gibbs teams tend to shy away from 1st round linemen, its going to be extremely difficult to find a starting left tackle after the 1st with these constraints.


Size? No more than 6'3." If strictly enforced, this eliminates Mike Iupati (6'5") and Mike Johnson (6'6") right there- arguably the two best zone guards in the draft. Only 1 guard projected to go in the first 4 rounds fits this requirement- Mitch Petrus of Arkansas (6'3"). The next best guard to fit this requirement? Shawn Lauvao (6'2"). Petrus is a probable mid rounder and Lauvao could potentially go undrafted. Among existing G/C's, Sims, Spencer, and Gibson are all 6'3," but Max Unger is 6'5." Hmm...

Rookie starter? "RARE." Expect any guard drafted by Seattle to be unlikely to start right away. The team will likely explore veteran options first and plug in a rookie as a last resort or if they put in a highly impressive preseason.

Intelligence? "My center must be football brilliant." This would seem to put Chris Spencer at a perceived disadvantage given his errors and occasional snap count and adjustment issues (although, just my 2 cents, I think those issues are overblown by some fans). Max Unger seems to fit his qualification, but he's also only a 2nd year player and struggled as a rookie.

All offensive line positions:

"No introverts. No EGOS." This probably explains why Gibbs teams take 1st round offensive lineman so rarely, because of the sense of entitlement and ego that inevitably accompanies a huge contract with many millions guaranteed.

Lateral step. A basic requirement. All of the 1st round tackles, except perhaps Anthony Davis, get a passing grade on this one, IMO.

Injury history. Durability is a huge deal. This probably eliminates Bruce Campbell, and maybe Jason Fox depending on the status of his knee and heart condition.

"Inside 3 must be brilliant." If we retain Sims, we actually have a pretty good interior right now. Still, I expect the team to add a veteran RG and probably add a guard either late in the draft or as an undrafted free agent.

Strength. It doesn't matter, until it becomes a liability.


After taking all of this in, I can't escape the fact that the Seahawks almost have to select a 1st round tackle in this draft. The options that fit all of these criteria, while also having the ability to contribute right away are few and far between. Charles Brown could be considered at #14 and Brian Bulaga could be considered even at #6.

This also probably rules out Anthony Davis and Bruce Campbell.

As far as interior linemen go, don't expect us to take one before the 4th round, and don't expect them to start as rookies. That seeming display of apathy is ironic given that interior linemen play such a crucial role in a zone system, but if Gibbs stays true to his principles, that's the kind of approach we can expect.


Anonymous said...


Steve said...

Great article!

Anything in those requirements that could explain the alleged lack of interest in retaining Sims? Nothing jumps out at me. If anything these quotes make keeping him around more of a priority, at least until they can get a rookie coached up.

ChavaC said...

I assume Simms wouldn't fit the bill because of injuries.

Great writeup btw. Definatly sheds some light on who is on our radar. It's a little dissapointing to know that any guards we take won't be making an impact for a while, but it sounds like there are still some FAs who fit te bill. The tackle bit seems almost like it was written about Brown, though Bulaga makes sense too.

The first bit also seemingly downplays the importance of the "homerun" threat at runningback. The Tate/blount/hardesty group seems to fit the Gibbs scheme, though spiller/mcknight/best profile more as Carroll backs. Will be interesting to see how that works out.

nightwulf said...

I get what Gibbs is saying, and there's no irony in having the guards sit for a couple years...they sit for a couple years BECAUSE they're so important...They've been playing football for a Joe wants them to unlearn all that, and learn to play the patented Joe Gibbs Zone Blocking football...completely different animal...starting a rook in that situation would be like starting a rook at QB, a recipe for disaster.
Given all this, it looks as if we'll have Bulaga or Brown at #14,
and we can likely forget about Iupati (damn). It also looks as if the line is not going to be "fixed" in a year...I very much doubt that next year's line will be the disgrace of the past couple years, but if Carroll and Gibbs stick around, look for it to be pretty much unstoppable by, say, 2015...
And IF the line isn't going to be firing on all cylinders next year, that explains a great deal about the Whitehurst trade. Matt will start, and mentor Whitehurst, just like Dilfer did for him. Then, when (not IF, but WHEN, remember, the line still won't be all that good)Matt gets hurt, Whitehurst will get his reps. If he's caught on and doing well, he will likely keep his job even after Matt is healthy agasin. If he struggles, Matt will show him why both on the chalkboard and on the field. If no one wants to overpay Matt in 2011 (likely), I suspect he'll come back here for a moderate 2 yr contract to make sure that Whitehurst has the best chance for success possible...
Time will tell...

Mind of no mind said...

Wow, awesome post!

The whole "No introverts. No EGOS." does explain well why he avoids first round talent, but it does make me wonder more about Charles Brown, because Carroll would know better than anyone if he fits this criteria or not.

akki said...

Thanks Kip, your article answers a bunch of questions I was wondering about.

On the first round possibilities, I agree that we're likely taking a LT there. I think it's an overblown theory that Gibbs doesn't like to draft 1st round OLs. His teams never drafted high enough in the 1st round to bag a top prospect. Atlanta drafted as high as #8 when Gibbs was there, but it was a bad tackle class. In his last stint with Denver, they never drafted higher than #15. so you can't say he wouldn't do it if the opportunity was there.

As far as who a 1st round target would be, I agree with Bulaga and Brown. I'll add that I know you guys on the blog don't like Okung so high, but Gibbs might really like him. His listed strengths include durability, football intelligence, work ethic, and coachability. And for his biggest weakness of lack of explosiveness/strength, you suggested Gibbs doesn't put as high a premium on that.

Sims, I've thought he was decent overall and he looks a scheme fit physically, but the one thing that's bugged him about be is that when he gets beaten, it seems more often due to decision-making than losing a physical battle. Last year I remember a few sacks and run stuffs happening because the linemen, particularly the (LT of the game)/Sims/Spencer trio, would blow assignments and block the wrong man. And I remember Sims failing to adjust to a basic stunt on an untouched sack by Houston. He's been seeing those for 3-4 years now and should know better. That should drive any coach nuts, but especially Gibbs. Is that a Gibbs intelligence test fail?

If Gibbs wants his OLs to redshirt a year, then maybe we're looking at the guys we added in the middle of last year - Mike Gibson and Trevor Canfield - to take a much larger role this year. Although I think they're both over 6'3" too.

micah said...

does that make ben hamilton more of a possibility? draft brown or buluga, have hamilton, unger, sims, locklear?

fsnhawk said...

How about Rodger Saffold or Selvish Capers as LT prospects?

Anonymous said...

Another great article, this site is really one of the best draft sites around and the fact that it's devoted to the Hawks is just fantastic.

Two things stand out for me - first is draft unpredictability. Gibbs puts a huge premium on mental attributes that most draft sites don't have any information on (not to mention, some of the physical requirements, where exactly do we find out if the prospects are high waisted or not?).

The second thing that stands out is how poorly these required traits seem to fit our current offensive line. No introverts and only guys with a low-power distance sounds exactly the opposite of many of the current linemen. Most of these guys seem to be the quiet, stoic workman types. Spencer for instance, was supposed to be so quiet that he had trouble being assertive enough to make the line calls at first. The rest of the line is called out for not being aggressive enough, even when their QB gets an elbow in the throat. We've had a o-line that doesn't seem to have a single guy who's a leader, let alone a line made up of five highly intelligent extroverts.

After reading this, I really have to think that we could be seeing a lot of new guys on the line in the next couple of seasons, either through draft or free-agency.

Anonymous said...

Great article. Thanks.

Jon said...

Wow, this is a big nugget Kip!

I had no idea what Alex Gibbs looked like, I always assumed he was Joe Gibbs kid or something. I googled it and I guess they're not related at all. Makes sense, I don't think Joe would be caught anywhere near a strip club let alone take his players to one =)

I love the approach of redshirting guys to learn the scheme before they see any playing time BUT this is increasingly difficult to pull off in the NFL and this team and the O line are in terrible shape so I would think the guys they draft will have to be fast tracked to starting in the first year or two which would lead to using an earlier pick on a tackle like Brown.
There has been little to no action from the Hawks in free agency in regard to the O line. Ben Hamilton apparently hasn't even visited yet and the team has told Rob Sims not to attend workouts as they're trying to trade him, one way or the other he's not in their plans.

Maybe they're playing coy and they know the veteran ZBS guys they want can be had any time and they don't want to tip their hand before the draft.

Or maybe they think Mansfield Wrotto and Mike Gibson are gold.

cysco said...

If we are to believe that Gibbs will hold true to these guidelines, then I am really scared for next season. (though excited for the future)

So who exactly is going to start? If Sims gets traded and we don't draft a guard who can start, who is actually going to play? Obviously we're going to be needing to bring some FA's in, but if that's the case, why didn't we go after Ryan Lilja? By Gibbs' criteria, he should have been a near perfect fit.

Sould be really interesting to see how the line looks and performs next season. That's for sure.


Anonymous said...

Awesome read great find. I'm a little bit of a skeptic still about zone blocking forcing you away from good players. Iupita fits the tackle description set here. I agree with what Holmgren said about the run game, running for a bunch of yards doesn't matter so much its can you get 3rd and short with 8 in the box.
I'm wondering what the short yardage conversion ratio is zone vs man.

Kenny said...

Great article Kip.

Alex Gibbs may prefer max heights, however there are exceptions to that rule, here are just a few:
-- OG Chester Pits 6'4" (> 6'3")
-- OC Chris Myers 6'4" (> 6'3")
-- OG Ben Hamilton 6'4" (> 6'3")
-- OT Ephraim Salaam 6'7" (>6'5.5")

The downside of Alex Gibbs is he's 69 years old and doesn't seem to stay with the same team for more than a year. That doesn't seem like enough time for a young line to gel together.

Oliver said...

but if Carroll and Gibbs stick around, look for it to be pretty much unstoppable by, say, 2015...
Kenny nailed it just above me. Problem is Alex Gibbs is already 69 years old. Is he really gonna keep coaching for that long?

Anonymous said...

Great follow-up to your prior article Kip. Mitch Petrus has been on my radar for a while as a perfect ZBS guard prospect, and a probable bargain in the 3rd or 4th round because he doesn't have road grader size. I would think that exeptions to the rule include guys who were in ZBS in college. They shouldn't need 2 years on the scout team. While I'm sure there are more, USC and Florida State come to mind. Next year, Rodney Hudson, although he's not flying under the radar and probably goes late 1st or 2nd round. Still, he should be able to start as a rookie. That should apply to Brown this year as well, although I have no idea whether he fits the personality.

I am very hopeful we sign UFA Pitts from Houston. He could step into either guard spot and be an immediate upgrade. I do wonder whether Unger indeed fits Gibbs system, and to go a step further, I'm not sure we have anyone on the current roster that does.

Donald Duck said...

Great article.

It shows me that the we are not in for a quick turn around.

If our plans are for long term success instead of a quick turn around, how does this affect our drafting?

Again, thanks for a great article.

Anonymous said...

Great article!!!! How about Alex Parsons? Guard from USC projected to go in rounds 5 thru 7. Quote from Draft Insider...... "Quick lineman who blocks with good fundamentals. Must improve his strength yet comes with an upside."
Obviously familiar with Carrol and our scheme.

Jon said...

I have a feeling, especially given how long Gibbs has been around that the parameters of size and such pertaining to the guys he targets is a little bit dated and NFL players get a little bigger every year.

I think the general rule of thumb is that he's looking for smaller than average more athletic, hungry, smart guys.

Kip Earlywine said...

Wow guys, thanks for the comments. I'm glad you enjoyed reading it- it was a lot of fun to write. Gibbs reminds me of a 70+ year old, award winning DL coach I had in high school. The drill sergeant type kind you are absolutely terrified of, but later on you remember very fondly. Though I agree Gibbs probably won't stay in Seattle very long, he's an icon as far as I'm concerned. If he has it in him to stay 5 years somehow, that would be great for this team's future.

I agree though, it is a little concerning if Gibbs only stays here a year or two. That's not even close to enough time.

I'm not sure why the team is shopping Sims. He's only had a couple injuries and none of them were long term issues. He fits the size profile, and he played very well last year. It really speaks to just how picky Gibbs is, that he'd rather have (presumably) a 4th round option in this draft that slightly better fits his criteria than Sims.

I agree about RB valuation. Mocks are junk science, but in at the ongoing Mockingthedraft 32 team fans participant mock which Clanterman participated in, both Hardesty and McKnight reached our 4th round pick. I expect us to look at RB in that range.

Akki- I've been quiet about Okung because Kyle already scouted him and of the 3 of us here- I've seen Okung the least. However, I like Okung. Don't love him, but he'd probably be my #3 tackle right now. Just my personally, largely uninformed opinion. Oh yeah, Gibson is 6'3", and in an extremely limited sample, looked decent last year. Canfield is listed as a guard and is 6'5."

Ben Hamilton is a possibility, but he's 32 and recently had a knee injury. He was also horrible last season, at least according to these advanced stats, ranking 79th out of 84 guards last year.

Hamilton could be a preseason invite with a chance to compete, but if he signs, it wouldn't lock down a position on the line.

Kenny, I agree the guidelines are probably not as absolute as Gibbs seems to indicate with his language, since Gibbs is not actually drafting the players himself. So I do expect a tiny bit of wiggle room.

Mitch Petrus- I'll have to preview him soon.

Kip Earlywine said...

Oh yeah, regarding Alex Parsons, I have no insight to offer. But given USC's incredible depth of talent, including much hidden talent that only Carroll knows about, don't be shocked if we see 3-4 undrafted Trojans flying up to Seattle in late April.

Griffey Mays and Largent said...

This site has become one of my daily internet stops. (Especially when I should be doing other things.) Kip, amazing work and great insight. It's nice to know exactly what our coaches are looking for.

I was a little put off by the no homerun comment. I understand that lo0ng runs usually boost averages and Gibbs doesnt want the average to overshadow the losses we might take. AND so many fans just look to the stat sheet to evaluate a player, but I will take a homerun run any day. I do like the no negatives strategy, some teams are willing to take a loss because their plays are high risk high reward. I feel that we understand that with a struggling team, 3rd and long seems like 3rd and the Cascade Mountains and we cannot, with our current line, allow defenses to tee off on us with crazy blitzes.

Baluga has been on my radar for awhile , but I think he'll be a top ten pick. I hope he drops to 14, but like Kip said mocking is a junk science and we wont know until we know. Okung still seems like a possibility for us though, especially if Detroit doesn't take him. I'm not sure who else would.

The biggest problem I think Gibbs might have with Okung is that he couldn't take him to a topless bar. I'e heard he's mighty religious :)


Anonymous said...

Casting off talent e.g. Simms & Tapp, because they don't fit some coaches system is a mistake.

Anonymous said...

#6 = C. J. Spiler, RB
#14= Charles Brown, OLT
#60 = Morgan Burnett, S
#101 = Eric Decker, WR

#124 = best available DL
#135 = best available CB
#166 = best available OG
#197 = best available whatever.


Kip, great read very informative! looks like the quickies way to improve the Hawk's OL is through FA. unfortunately we did little to improve this off season. If this is the approach then I don't expect to see a RB or LT drafted early until the 4th rd. It's going to be huge gamble. But I like this approach for this draft which is deep on the defense of side. With our young LBs we can build a dominate defense. The Hawks can make the NFC West a black and blue division!! My Hawk's War-room for our first three picks 6th Gerald McCoy-DT 14th Derrick Morgan-DE 90th Chad Jones-S.

Anonymous said...

Duwarkson-I couldn't agree more with your first 3 picks. Despite the offensive needs, this draft is chock full of D-line and DB talent, and we shouldn't hesitate if they fall to us.

c-hawker said...

Very enlightening article,Kip. Well done.

CLanterman said...

Yes, I agree Kip. This may a bit of hyperbole, but this article could be one of the best pieces I've read on Seahawks football. Gibbs certainly is an interesting figure and a draft changer when it comes to lineman and running backs, and it throws a big wrench in mock drafting since we have no clue where we will draft our OL or RBs.

Donald Duck said...

Is arm length important to Gibbs? If so, what arm length does he want for each position and how do our linemen measure up to his standards?

Do all zone blocking schemes use the same criteria for selection of linemen?

Why was Unger viewed so positively last year when is his too tall for Gibbs' zone blocking scheme?


Anonymous said...

No introverts? I like it but what happens if Big Walt comes back? He seems to be the NFL poster child for introverts.

Kip Earlywine said...

Donald Duck,

Hard to say about Arm Length. He didn't say anything about not caring about it, so for that reason I'd assume he's the same as everyone else, the longer the arms, the better. He did specifically mention "length" in vague terms as a good thing, and also said he likes long torso players.

I don't think every zone blocking scheme uses the same criteria. There seem to be lots of tweaked versions, kind of like how there are many tweaked versions of the west coast offense. Holmgren ran a now very rare "pure" west coast offense here, and similarly, Gibbs runs a "pure" version of his zone blocking scheme. So it could be he puts a bigger emphasis on specific size than Solari or Ruskell did.

Curt said...

Great write up Rob. I'm really liking this guy!!!

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