The Hand | Basic Primer

First, it was Noel Mazzone, I was excited. Then, we cleaned the pie on our faces from that ‘fake news’. We waited. Then, light shone through a crack in the clouds of the Texas Football offseason, as it was revealed Herb Hand was joining the staff. Longhorns Football fans rejoiced. ‘The Hand’ is a big name in college football, a brand even. He is an offensive line coaching savant, a ‘rapper’, and former Gus Malzahn co-creator. I say co-creator because though Malzahn began hurry-up no-huddle in his high school coaching days, he spent a good portion of time coaching with Hand at Tulsa (early days), then Auburn (last season). Add to that, Hand was integral in Penn State’s resurrection, helping James Franklin put together a well-orchestrated offense, especially the running game. Now, The Hand is at Texas and you should expect good things.

What can Longhorns fans expect from Hand? That’s what I’m here to clarify some. What I plan to do is take you through some of that via Twitter and Periscope, in the near future. The following are a handful (drumroll) of things to expect if Hand takes the reigns of the offensive line and more importantly, the offense as a whole (big if). One thing missing from last season’s offensive line was consistency and physical dominance. Not only did they not start well, injuries occurred, and perpetual state of flux seemed to ground the Texas offensive line from any significant improvement. That brings me to my first point.

Mindset – Hand will demand more aggression from the offensive line, whether they ‘like it’ or not. This was lacking last season. When you’re over 300 pounds and move well, pain should be inflicted, just saying. It’s football. Also, it shouldn’t matter if you’re a day 1 starter or on the 2-deep, you’re going to have to be nasty or at least create an alter ego that allows you to be. This should not be understated. These guys should be so mean, it should cause their teammates to question their on-field intentions. How this fits with scheme will be telling. While Hand likes the zone run scheme, you may see more gap schemes, pulling one or more linemen to target unsuspecting ends and 2nd or 3rd level defenders, make contact, drive, continue to the ground, make them bear your weight, roll them up, slobber on them, use them to brace yourself to get off the ground. You get my drift? This goes for pass protection too, nasty everywhere.

Scheme – As mentioned above, gap schemes should be favored as much as zone. With the players Texas has coming back and signed, their are options to tinker with regarding who are good pullers, linemen able to target assignments and block them into oblivion, paste them to the turf. It’s my hope that Texas fans see more Power, Sweep, and perhaps a few opponent specific wrinkles (G-Lead, Trap, and Dart). To make a long story short, pull, smash, and pulverize into a fine powder. The Texas backs should be running behind ‘quick’ moving 300 pound behemoths and reading those blocks up to the 2nd and 3rd levels. This also gives them a chance to use physicality and agility to win more yards, as opposed to always looking for creases in zone. Scheme can be boring, it’s the players that make it fun and if every week we see multiple GIF-worthy blocks and or pancakes from Texas offensive linemen, you’ll have Hand to thank.

Motion – You saw motion last season, this is a commonality many spread offenses share. Malzahn and Hand tend to utilize it as a central feature in the offense, to constrain both the run and pass game. This is often run multiple ways and as an integral series. Both ‘jet’ and ‘orbit’ motion will be used and mostly executed with speed, to immediately stress the defense’s leverage or alignment pre and post-snap. Again, it won’t be new, but what I suspect is the frequency and pace used to execute motion will increase.

NAG – Numbers, angles, and grass are very important to any offense and are ideas built in to Hand’s offenses of the past. Box counts will remain to aid play-calling decisions. Defensive alignments, especially along the defensive line are used to properly assign blocks and provide favorable angles to the offense. Grass is where the defense isn’t and there are few coaches that take a more simplistic view of this than Hand. It is perhaps the most important improvement I expect from Hand’s influence on the offense. If the defense isn’t there, the ball should be. It’s as simple as that. If the alley’s vacated or out-leveraged, you’ll see the ball go there, no-brainer. If a defensive back is aligned well-off, you’ll see the ball flipped to the receiver on the perimeter. Formation and alignment create these opportunities and Hand looks to take any easy yards available, the KISS method.

Procedure & Pace – Texas didn’t huddle last season, but will they in 2018? That could certainly be the case, but not in the way you think. Malzahn and Hand have utilized the ‘lightning huddle’ in the past, as a way to gain initiative in alignment and snap against the defense. What you’ll see is the offense hurry to huddle, then quickly align and snap the ball. This works well on run plays, sometimes preventing the defensive line from aligning and setting properly pre-snap. On top of that, when Texas does ‘go fast’, it should be noticeably faster. Hand’s influence will instill more urgency in the offense. Look for some of that in the Spring game and it is accomplished using read runs and run-pass options (RPO’s). This is the core of the offense. Go very fast when desirable, alter the pace, keep the defense in undesirable personnel and match-ups for as much of the game as possible.

As mentioned above, many spread offenses share a likeness. On the surface, there will likely be very little that is noticeably different. Herman’s offense sought to take gain similar advantages last season, to little avail. What Hand brings is an attitude and a reputation for getting the job done. The enhancements that will be made will be seen in the details, mindset, pace, and execution. Football is simple. You should like Coach Hand because he aims to keep it that way, for both the coaches and the players. Note, I didn’t touch on technique, another big issue. Look for players to have less trouble in this respect as well. Hand is very well-respected among his peers because he has an eye for talent and teaches well. His guys play mean and fast, you can count on that. As always, share your thoughts in the comments.