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Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley was at Seahawks OTAs, these are plays Seattle’s offense should steal from him

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NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Orange Bowl-Alabama vs Oklahoma John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Lincoln Riley was present at the Seattle Seahawks OTAs on Thursday.

There are plenty of reasons which could explain why Riley was at the VMAC. The 35-year-old Oklahoma Sooners Head Coach is one of the brightest offensive minds in College Football. He has gone 12-2 in each of his two seasons leading OU, going on to win Big 12 Coach of the Year in a 2018 that saw his offense place 1st in total yards, yards per game and yards per play.

On the way to two College Football Playoffs, Riley has coached back-to-back Heisman-winning quarterbacks, both who played behind tall offensive lines and are considered short. Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray were both knocked for their height in the pre-draft process.

Riley’s offense has elements that absolutely fit what Seattle wants to do on offense. Y-Cross is a staple of Riley and it’s a staple of Brian Schottenheimer too. Yet there’s a wider point to be made. Riley rarely uses 10 personnel (1 running back, 0 tight ends, 4 wide receivers) like most of College Football’s attacks.

Instead, Riley aims to have a strong running game while utilizing 20 personnel (2 running backs, 0 tight ends, 3 wide receivers) and 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end and 3 wide receivers). It’s the way that Riley layers his play-action and shot plays into the offense that will most grab the attention of Carroll and Schotty.

Seattle’s Yards After Catch numbers were dismal last year. The available talent sure was a factor, with Doug Baldwin hobbled and Will Dissly getting injured. However, heading in to 2019, a repeat of such low YAC must not happen. And it’s a theme, given the figures were even worse in 2017.

Riley’s usage of pop-passes would be a nice, partial remedy. They would help Wilson. The man is a pop-pass master. Seattle could attach their tight end to the end of the offensive line as a wing. Then giving Wilson plays that look like runs to hit the tight end down the middle of field would be nasty. In addition to Dissly, praying that he is healthy; Ed Dickson, Nick Vannett and even George Fant could receive such opportunities to punish eager-to-play-the-run linebackers. Another option for the Seahawks would be aligning with a fullback and then hitting them on the pop-pass after faking an iso-type run.

One of Riley’s biggest career wins, on the road against Ohio State, came thanks to an excellent manipulation of leverage from split-backfield, shotgun looks. I’m not sure Seattle is willing to embrace shotgun split-backfields, though Dissly could play some H-Back. The overall takeaway is that finding plays that throw to a player who has managed to sell a block, then get in behind the second-level, is easy and attainable YAC.

Ted Nguyen is another man who has covered the potency of Riley’s pop-pass magic.

Nguyen has expanded his work to looking at Riley’s screen-game, another area that has been putrid for Seattle asides from their sweet play-action bootleg, throwback screen.

Wouldn’t this be a nice counter for that?

Riley is also accomplished at scheming regular play-action, making it look like a run again by pulling guards and keeping the appearance very similar. The route elements, often two deep routes and a checkdown, match Schottenheimer’s ingredients. (Often, Mesh is Riley’s checkdown and Seattle’s is a back in the flat)

Rashaad Penny is expected to have a more impactful second year in the league, particularly as Chris Carson underwent offseason clean-up surgery. In 2018, it felt Penny was given more outside zone and sweep runs, contrasting with the inside zone and duo-central base rushing attack. Getting him involved with a healthy J.D. McKissic running the wheel on plays like this would be nice.

Plus: Seattle’s switch-style, wheel-post concepts were seemingly cursed last year. Figuring out a way to fix them would result in an excellent change-up to the play-action game.

Riley’s ability to develop passers was the first subject of his 2019 Nike Coach of the Year clinic in Las Vegas. Some of his quarterback drills and technique coaching were unveiled. But the clinic was interesting from a schematic standpoint too. Riley talked about the built-in read progressions of his offense: altering route speed depending on primary or secondary read, getting guys open at the “right time”, giving coverage indicators, taking one-on-ones and getting the ball out quick. (Some of this stuff is Seahawk-y and some of it Seattle could do better)


Plus, Riley elaborated on the sprinkling in of double moves and the deception of fake blocks and pop-passes. “Calling a double move is just another route,” Riley told the assembled coaches, keen to make the play not absolutely boom or bust and instead incorporate it into his usual route combinations like mesh. He went on to emphasize the big importance to his attack. “Calls that you are confident calling, no matter what they’re [the defense] in,” said Riley. That’s exactly how Seattle wants to play offense too. Picking his brain further in an OTAs meeting would be an exciting proposition for Seattle’s coaching staff.

It was suggested on twitter that Riley might provide some insight on how to defend the new Arizona Cardinals offense of Kliff Kingsbury.

Given Riley’s attack is not as pure Air Raid as Kliff, this feels unlikely. But the offensive mind would have some ideas.

Of course, coaching visits are a two-way street. I’m sure Riley was eager to experience the Seahawks’ famed practice atmosphere first-hand. Plus picking up on how Seattle coach their tackling, which has been the example for coaches nationwide, would be useful in a Big 12 world where defense often looks optional. The Seahawks’ rushing attack would also provide some ideas for Riley. And, finally, the hotshot is often linked to NFL gigs and gaining some experience of the environment would never hurt.

Ultimately, Lincoln Riley’s visit shows Pete Carroll is still open to adaptation, evolution and growth as a coach—despite the various “memes” of Seahawks twitter. Hopefully Carroll is asked about Riley’s presence.