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Joe Flacco's Shotgun Blues

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Greg Schiano told the Star Ledger yesterday that he doesn't expect major changes on offense with the promotion of new co-offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. Between Ray Rice being on the Ravens, and the looming recruiting debate between two prominent South Jersey quarterbacks, every Rutgers fan was probably going to read the name "Joe Flacco" ten thousand times over the next year anyway. Now the topic of Flacco, and Ciarrocca's track record running the Delaware offense is an even bigger focus of interest.

Two things jump out from watching the highlights: Joe Flacco's impressive physical stature (that height! that arm!), and the fact that most of these highlights are coming out of the Shotgun formation. According to Pat Kirwan, the Blue Hens used the Shotgun exclusively in 2006, and 50% of the time in 2007.

Conveniently enough, the Washington Post ran another anti-spread article yesterday designed to crush Graham Harrell's dreams. Doug Farrar of the Post and Football Outsiders sat down with Greg Cosell from NFL Films, who noted that Flacco was one of the few recent spread success stories.

"What Flacco showed at Delaware, and I know this because I saw it on film, was the ability to throw with timing and anticipation. What that means in simple terms is the ability to throw the ball before receivers come out of breaks. If you can't do that, you can't play quarterback in the NFL. If I don't see that on film (from Harrell), it becomes a significant projection. And I'm not sure you can teach that -- I think it's an instinct. After watching game tape for 20 years, I think that if you don't have the instinct to throw with timing and anticipation, you can't learn it at the NFL level."

One argument is that Flacco was was bound to succeed in a good situation; he benefitted from the system, but wasn't solely a product of it. Some of RU's freshmen this year may have the requisite physical tools, but that only counts for so much. Flacco started off at Pittsburgh (after originally spurning Rutgers, among other schools), where he had the opportunity to learn under Walt Harris. Harris is one of the more-gifted offensive gurus out there, and Flacco was making reads under center for the most part.

There's nothing inherently wrong about the Shotgun, no-huddle, and multiple-WR sets; any problems in transitioning to the pros come from not having a sufficient grounding in pro-style offenses as a base foundation. In terms of the NFL, the spread is a luxury, or an end game. I confess, I'm looking at everything from this angle mainly because of my own areas of interest; it doesn't have a ton of bearing on the scheme Rutgers uses in the near future beyond a few recruiting pitches.

Delaware's offense fell into a rut last year, with the question being whether the departure of Ciarrocca or Flacco played a larger role. Their new offensive coordinator only lasted a year; now coach K.C. Keeler is bringing in a veteran coach from the FBS level, and a highly-touted transfer in Pat Devlin (formerly of PSU). There was a bit in there about Keeler wanting to maintain scheme continuity with his latest hire. With Schiano's comments yesterday about taking more oversight of the offense, it's possible that we still don't know exactly what Ciarrocca has in store this season.

For one thing, any coach is going to fit his scheme to available personnel, so Rutgers will probably utilize the run game and short passes more in 2009. The whole complicated scheme of new titles probably has more to do with promotions and pay raises than anything else. However, Kyle Flood is established enough at this point that, if he has any to say about it, Rutgers is going to be more of a smashmouth, running team in 2009; hardly the 2007 Blue Hens.