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Frank Reich’s offense: The assistant coaching years | Colts and Peyton Manning

Super Bowl LII - Philadelphia Eagles - Practice Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Over the next few days I’m going to give you more intricate details on what I expect the 2018 Frank Reich led Indianapolis Colts offense to look like. I have arrived at this conclusion based on his history as a player and a coach. I will say, that while this is an educated theory (I subjected myself to all 16 San Diego Chargers contests of the 2014 season for this series, you’re welcome) it is at best a theory. We don’t know, beyond a shadow of a doubt what his offense is going to look like, but I feel I can get pretty close considering his influences and what the man himself has said.

This is part 1 of a 2 part series on the coaches and concepts that may have impacted Frank Reich during his assistant coaching career, tomorrow we will follow up with part 2. If you've missed any part in this series, links to the previous stories can be found at the end of this article. I hope you enjoy reading about the Colts new head coach as much as I have enjoyed researching and writing this piece.

The Assistant Coach Years

As a player Frank Reich made stops in four different NFL cities, as a coach he has also made stops in 4 cities but 2018 is his second stop with the Colts. Reich Started his coaching career in 2008 with the Colts, and stayed on staff until 2011... which is true of most Colts assistant coaches of that era, 2011 was a rough year to be employed by the team.

In 2008 Reich got his feet wet as an offensive assistant, 2009 and 2010 saw him as the quarterbacks coach where, I assume he learned as much from Peyton Manning as he was able to teach. 2011 rolled around and Reich moved to wide receivers coach before getting the axe.

2012 represented the first time Frank had been fired in his coaching career, when he received a call (I assume it was a call, I don’t actually know how the conversation was had) from Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt. So off he went to coach Larry Fitzgerald and the rest of the Cardinals wide receivers. To make a long story short, 2012 wasn’t great for Whisenhunt or Frank Reich as both were removed from their posts with the Cardinals.

The following season, 2013, Ken Whisenhunt was hired as the offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers. Ken knew he was going to need assistants and his old friend, Frank, happened to be available. Reich was hired to coach Phillip Rivers, and I assume Billy Volek because when I think of Chargers backup QB’s I will forever think of Billy Volek and weep. I digress, 2014 saw Whisenhunt become head coach of the Tennessee Titans which left Reich in line to become the offensive coordinator for that Chargers squad. Reich called the plays in San Diego in both 2014 and 2015 before being relieved of his duties.

Reich’s time with the Chargers didn’t go as well as he probably would have liked but being fired in 2015 may have been the best thing that could have happened to the guy. Doug Pederson had just been hired as the head coach of a decimated Philadelphia Eagles team after Chip Kelly proved that college football is, in fact, different than the NFL. Pederson needed an offensive coordinator and Frank Reich was his man.

Frankly if you don’t know the rest of this story I will assume you’ve been in a coma for quite some time. For those of you who are just waking up from your decade long coma; thanks for choosing Stampede Blue to bring you up to speed with recent football history, Donald Trump is actually the president, we have the Army, Navy, Air Force and also the Space Force, I’m 95% sure American Idol is still on TV, hover-boards became a thing, just not as cool as you’re probably imagining them, Robin Williams and a lot of other celebrities you probably liked are dead, also if you just woke up from a coma, why are you on Stampede Blue? Anyway, Frank Reich had a successful two year run in Philly, culminating in a Super Bowl win last season and then getting hired as the head coach of our Indianapolis Colts.

So what is Frank Reich bringing with him from his time coaching pro football? His biggest influences have been Peyton Manning, Ken Whisenhunt and Doug Pederson. Maybe not those guys specifically, but he’s learned and grown as an NFL coach, save for two years in San Diego, exclusively under those three guys.

The Peyton Manning Colts

In Reich’s second season with the Colts, Clyde Christensen was named offensive coordinator so with a year under his belt as an NFL coach he was named quarterbacks coach. It’s difficult to say that Manning played “under” Reich, technically that is true but if I were being honest I believe Reich probably learned more about being a coach while “coaching” Manning than Peyton learned about quarterbacking from Reich.

With that said I couldn’t imagine a better starting quarterback to cut your teeth with, than Manning. He was a better, younger version of Jim Kelly. He loved tempo, he threw for a boat load of yards and they both had the ability to call their own plays.

In this time Reich was likely reintroduced to a favorite concept of both the Run-N-Shoot and K-Gun; levels. The levels passing concept just so happened to be Peyton Manning’s favorite concept and he wasn’t bashful about using it, often. The Colts had great route runners so at the snap a defense couldn’t tell if it was going to be levels or smash because of the way the Colts of that era ran the play, it looked the identical until a receiver made his break. Further, even if the other team knew it was coming, if everyone made the correct reads and did their job someone was going to be open and Peyton was usually good enough to find them.

So what is levels?

There are a few variations, some use three receivers on one side of the field, some use two and once again it can be run from almost any formation, but the gist of it is there are at least two in breaking routes on the same side of the field, a 10-12 yard in, usually from the nearest pass catching option (TE or Slot) and a 5 yard in from the receiver. The three receiver look would include two 5 yard in routes.

The above is just a sample of a 2 man look. I didn’t include routes on the backside of this play because it’s impossible to know what look or looks Reich and co. are going to come up with — but I can be pretty sure they’re going to be designed to keep the middle of the field open for the crossing routes coming from right to left.

The idea of levels is to make a defender, usually a linebacker, make a decision — cover the 10 yard in or the 5 yard in and whoever he doesn’t cover comes open in the middle of the field. Depending on the coverage called it’s possible that both linebackers take away both crossing routes, and in that case the running back will be very open out of the backfield. All of this is assuming that both in-breaking routes win against the defender lining up directly across from them, which should absolutely happen.

Once again, the entire point is to spread the defense out, isolate a defender and make him make a decision. Once that defender, usually an outside linebacker, makes his choice, the QB exploits it.

The Run Game

During the Manning years the Colts ran mostly zone schemes and they were at their best when the outside zone, or “stretch” run was clicking. The outside zone run consists of the offensive line blocking a “zone” instead of a single man. Before the snap, each lineman determines if he is covered or uncovered (it’s exactly like it sounds) generally speaking if you’re covered you’re going to block the guy in front of you if you’re uncovered you’re helping the guy next to you and then working to the second level. At the snap the line takes a “zone step” in unison in the direction the play is going. This creates an advantage for the offensive line regardless of the defensive alignment but it also creates an inconsistent target for the halfback, the hole becomes a moving target as a result.

The running back will have three reads given this concept; bounce, bang and bend.

I could spend the next 1000 words going over exactly what the running back will do based on what he reads, instead, just know that in theory one of these running lanes should be open. Ideally the other team will have surrendered the edge, if not the back will look to “bang” the ball straight forward and if that’s not there he will look to “bend” back against the grain and catch the flowing defense out of position. Edgerrin James made a truckload of money mastering this play.

This concludes part 1. In part 2 of our look at Frank Reich’s assistant coaching career we will see concepts from his time with Ken Whisenhunt and Doug Pederson. Stay tuned.

Frank Reich’s offense: An introduction

Frank Reich’s offense: The Maryland years

Frank Reich’s offense: The NFL years

Frank Reich’s offense: The assistant coaching years, part 2

Frank Reich’s offense: The 2018 Indianapolis Colts, part 1

Frank Reich’s offense: The 2018 Indianapolis Colts, part 2