New Bucs Offensive Coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski plans to shape his attack around the Bucs' offensive strengths
Jeff Jagodzinski first broke into the NFL as a tight ends coach with the Green Bay Packers in 1999. He was hired by Ray Rhodes but retained in 2000 and for the next three seasons under Rhodes' replacement, Mike Sherman.
As Jagodzinski himself points out, that puts him on the same NFL coaching tree as Jon Gruden, the man he is replacing as the primary play-caller for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Three weeks ago, Jagodzinski was hired to serve as the offensive coordinator under Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris, who replaced Gruden at that post on January 17.
Jagodzinski worked for four seasons on the offensive staff under Sherman, who had himself broken into the NFL as a tight ends coach in Green Bay in 1997. For that season and the next, Sherman worked for Head Coach Mike Holmgren, and then he followed Holmgren to Seattle in 1999 to become the Seahawks' offensive coordinator.
Holmgren, of course, got his start in the NFL ranks in 1986, hired by the late Bill Walsh to coach the San Francisco 49ers' quarterbacks. Gruden also entered the NFL with the 49ers in 1990, and though Walsh had since moved on and been replaced by George Siefert, Holmgren was still the offensive coordinator. When Holmgren took over the head job in Green Bay in 1992, he brought in Gruden as an offensive assistant and later the wide receivers coach.
Walsh, the originator of the famous "West Coast Offense," is obviously the trunk of this particular coaching tree. And no matter how far out the branches and branchlets and twigs spread out from the trunk, the power of that term holds strong. Any product of the tree is considered to be another carrier for the West Coast system.
Not that this is a bad thing, as Jagodzinski knows. Walsh and many of his football progeny have tasted an enormous amount of success and introduced lasting new ideas into the game. It's just that the many years of development between Walsh in the 1980s and those on the ever-growing canopy of his tree have resulted in branches that don't necessarily look much like the trunk.
It's no insult, obviously, to be associated in some way with Walsh, no matter how indirectly, or to be thought of as a "West Coast" offensive coach. It just might not be very useful information these days. For instance, it wouldn't be particularly helpful to compare Jagodzinski's preferred approach to Gruden's, no matter how much the former respects what the latter has been able to accomplish.
"I've mentioned this before: That 'West Coast' term is thrown out there so much," said Jagodzinski. "What is that? What's the definition? Jon did a great job. They won the Super Bowl here and my hat is off to him. He's really a good football coach. I was brought up in that system because I was up in Green Bay so I was underneath that tree.
"What I have tried to do is limit the terminology. You can say the same things without saying them with a lot of words. I think it's going to be player-friendly as far as learning. We have success doing this with a bunch of different types of quarterbacks."
Jagodzinski resists that same sort of labeling when it comes to his approach to the running game. Because he worked with Alex Gibbs in Atlanta – in fact, Jagodzinski succeeded Gibbs as the Falcons' offensive line coach in 2005, with Gibbs staying on as a team consultant – he is tied to the "zone blocking" running attack that Gibbs first made famous in Denver in the 1990s.
Again, this is not a negative connotation. The zone blocking approach helped Terrell Davis and the Denver Broncos win two Super Bowls and has led to success at various times in Washington, Oakland, Green Bay and Atlanta, among other places. But the scheme is not restricted to just those teams' use, nor is Jagodzinski restricted to just that scheme when it comes to running the ball.
"You know, the zone scheme, everybody in the league uses it," he said. "I think sometimes it's thrown around there loosely, a lot like 'West Coast Offense.'
"Our running game is going to be a downhill, physical [attack]. We will run the lead zone, both strong and weak, inside and outside. Because of the personnel that we've got we will also run some gap schemes, power, which I thought they were very good at last year. They've got a big physical strong offensive line; I think that's one of the strong areas that we have on this football team, after watching the film for the last two weeks."
When the scheme rose to prominence under Gibbs in Denver, the Broncos were known for having a smaller-than-average offensive line populated with men who were very nimble on their feet. Terrell Davis, the most famous of the many Denver backs who have thrived in the system, was known for making one quick cut and then moving forward, rarely losing yardage and often finding a seam for a big gain. The zone scheme can in some ways be simpler for linemen to learn because the blocking schemes don't change as much based on what the defense does.
The Bucs have bulked up their offensive line with highly-drafted and sought-after free agency talent in recent years. There's a Pro Bowler in Davin Joseph at right guard, right next to the league's highest-paid center in Jeff Faine. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood and left guard Arron Sears were both second-round picks and immediate starters. Left tackle Donald Penn was an undrafted free agent but a serious find.
Do they fit the zone blocking scheme? Jagodzinski is confident they fit what the Buccaneers are going to try to do, in part because the team is going to fit that around the existing talent on the line.
"If we can be a drive-block team behind Trueblood, that's what we're going to do," said Jagodzinski. "If we can be a power team behind Penn, that's what we're going to do. I feel very, very fortunate about the type of offensive line that we have here. I think that's one of the strengths that we have offensively.
"What are our guys strengths? What can they do? I thought that they did some very, very good things as far as some power schemes and I think we'll stay with that. My background, I do like the run the lead zone, strong, weak, wide and inside zones. But everybody else does that too and I think we get caught up in those terms sometimes. But we are going to be a one-cut, downhill, physical football team."
Jagodzinski definitely sees a player capable of that one-cut, north-and-south style in Earnest Graham, the Bucs leading rusher over the past two seasons. Graham lost about half of the 2008 season to injury but when healthy has proved to be a powerful runner with surprising quick feet. Graham is expected to be fully recovered from his ankle injury of last fall.
"I've always seen him every time he catches the ball or runs the ball, the guy's always going downhill, the guy's always gaining yards," said Jagodzinski. "You don't see him get knocked back very often; he's always going forward, and I think that's a good trait for a running back."
Jagodzinski helped Warrick Dunn make the Pro Bowl with the Falcons in 2005 and he says that starting fullback B.J. is a perfect fit for the new running scheme. Thanks to his knee injury in the 2008 season finale, Cadillac Williams heads into the offseason as a question mark for the second straight year, but Jagodzinski called him a "special" player when healthy.
Whatever backs are on hand in 2009, Jagodzinski says the system can work for them, and that certainly appeared to be the case in Denver and Atlanta for many years. The key, he says, is finding each players' strengths and focusing on them, rather than their weaknesses.
"I believe that each player has abilities and what you have to do is shape your system – what you do, what you believe in – around the type of talent you have," he said. "The roles for our receivers, our running backs, our offensive linemen are going to be very, very defined. This is what we are and this what we're going to do."