We know Signing Day is Wednesday, but with the Super Bowl that just concluded, we wanted to give a nod to the big-picture adjustment the Patriots pulled off this season.
Not to oversimplify it, but the fact that they were able to win a Super Bowl in 2019 with a fullback so prominently featured is pretty significant.
We all are pretty well aware now of what the NFL looks for in offense these days. Spread formations. Shotgun. A 7-on-7 game, but with full pads and linemen. That's what's in. Look no further than the Arizona Cardinals hiring Kliff Kingsbury as your evidence of that conventional wisdom.
And there's nothing wrong with that line of thinking. Spreading the field, getting your playmakers in space, going up-tempo — teams have won that way, and will again. There's no right or wrong offense to run that will or won't win you a championship.
That said, even when teams use an H-back as a de facto fullback out of shotgun formations, it can be difficult to establish a downhill rushing attack that is truly effective.
And with the slot receiver essentially replacing the fullback on many rosters, it forces opposing defenses to adjust accordingly. Now, the value of an inside-the-box, bigger, slower linebacker on many rosters is also replaced by a slimmer, more athletic, hybrid-safety-type who butters his bread in coverage just as much as he does against the run.
A more nickel look thus becomes the new base defense, and one of those five defensive backs is usually someone who can handle those duties. Again, not saying this is a bad thing to have. The Patriots use Patrick Chung like this, and he's extremely valuable.
But the point is, when these types of defenses face an offense that can go heavier and come downhill from under center with a fullback and tight ends who are good blockers, it's a mismatch in the offense's favor.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick recognized that, and largely built his offense this season around those principles against a league full of offenses trying to do the opposite.
Again, we're broad brushing a little here, but it's true. Belichick went back against the grain at the right time, and it played a key role in the organization's sixth Super Bowl title.
One only has to look at the numbers. The Patriots were third in the league in rushing attempts this season, and fifth in rushing yards, up from 11th and 10th last year, respectively.
So as it relates to the high school level, let's consider what Belichick taught us as a lesson for athletic directors and coaches.
When John DiBiaso was at Everett in the mid-to-late-1990s, his teams were built on the double wing, with tight, run-heavy option schemes. Over the course of the mid-to-late 2000s, those offensive philosophies opened up considerably, adjusting to the changing landscape of both the state and the kids who were coming into his program.
His is not the only one, but the staffs that can adjust the best both inside the confines of a game and over the course of multiple seasons are usually the ones that end up with the most hardware in their trophy cases.
With that in mind, keep your eyes on our two Football Bowl Subdivision programs in Boston College and UMass. BC will be breaking in a new offensive coordinator this season in Mike Bajakian, and the Minutemen have a new head coach in Walt Bell, a former offensive coordinator.
We may not know from Signing Day how their philosophies evolve in that respect, but some trends take a little longer to show themselves. It will be interesting to see how they develop.