'We're no-huddle, pro spread': Gattis putting his stamp on Michigan's offense
Ann Arbor — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh handed the keys to Josh Gattis earlier this year.
Gattis, Michigan’s new offensive coordinator — the Wolverines did not have an official coordinator last season — got to spend quality time with Harbaugh during two weeks of recruiting. Gattis jokingly called it the “rookie treatment” but the reality is, it was concentrated time for the two to bond and exchange ideas on how the offense should be run.
Harbaugh has given Gattis the keys to the offense and will allow him to run his offense and calls plays, but he also gave Gattis the keys to all the rental cars on the recruiting trail.
“We traveled across the country, and that was really valuable,” Gattis said Friday night after practice. “That really developed our relationship. We were going out to eat every night. It was two guys in a rental car, flying across the country going to see recruits. That time we were sitting back laughing in the car joking, it really enabled us to develop a friendship and get a chance to know who we are from a personality standpoint. He’s been awesome as a head coach. It’s been truly amazing to have the support he’s given me and the offense.”
And what about this offense? Gattis was co-offensive coordinator at Alabama last year and his years coaching have been rooted in working with receivers. He took the job at Michigan and immediately posted on Twitter with the now ever-present hashtag — #speedinspace.
“The hashtag can mean a number of different things,” Gattis said. “The speed in space is obviously trying to put the defense in conflict. We talk about speed in space, that’s just not only skill guys or getting our athletes out in space, that’s also getting our running backs out, trying to create open holes and putting the conflicts on defense from a run-pass conflict standpoint.
"One of the things we talk about on offense is having to dictate the aggressiveness of the defense and so we feel like if we can stay aggressive on offense, we can limit how aggressive the defense is going to be. The whole speed in space deal is something we preach with all of our skill guys and the concepts that we really emphasize, but ultimately it can be run-pass oriented and obviously moving guys around and getting our best skill players out there and getting them active and part of the offense.”
Michigan began spring practice on Sunday and the players are quickly adapting to Gattis’ change in offensive philosophy. The offense will be quite a departure from Harbaugh’s first four years and will feature no-huddle and spread concepts while still keeping some elements of Harbaugh’s pro-style attack.
“We’re a no-huddle team. When people ask who we are from an offensive standpoint, we’re a pro spread,” Gattis said. “That’s what I like to tell people. We run from a spread mechanics. We’re no-huddle. We don’t huddle ever, but we still have a big pro-style emphasis. One of the things with speed in space is we’re still going to have a mindset that we’re an attacking offense, but also we’re a physical offense.
"We’re not just going to go out there and dink and dunk the ball around, throwing bubble screens and all that. We’re aggressive. We’re going to be sound and fundamentally sound in our run game. We’re going to be aggressive in taking our shots. We’re going to be aggressive in putting in conflict on the defense. For us, that’s the biggest focal point is understand that we’re still going to dictate the style of the play and we’re going to finish with an aggressive mentality.”
Gattis said he has been pleasantly surprised how quickly they’ve picked up the tempo, but the players said they have been some adjustments.
“Just the no-huddle aspect of it,” tight end Sean McKeon said Friday night. “Getting our formation play from the sideline is a little different than last year obviously. Just different types of concepts, more RPO.”
Harbaugh earlier in the week and then Gattis on Friday said the offensive line is ideally suited for this offense. Michigan returns four starters and Andrew Stueber and Jalen Mayfield are competing at right tackle.
“I always feel you want to run the offense best suited to your team and I feel like we’ve got a team that can accomplish this,” veteran left guard Ben Bredeson said. “I think it’s going to work really well with the personnel we have. I think this is a great fit for the team this year.”
With Shea Patterson returning after starting last season, joined by backup Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton and Brandon Peters along with early enrollee freshman Cade McNamara, Gattis said he is confident the Wolverines have the right quarterbacks to run the offense.
“Shea’s been doing a really, really good job understanding the installs,” Gattis said. “When you look at the quarterback room, you look at the depth and the talent we have in that room, a lot of guys have played a lot of football.
Now it’s about catching those guys up in the offense. All the terminology is different. Those guys have had to learn it, so they’re learning everything. There are some things that are completely different that’s been done in the past that he’s done a really good job learning those concepts for the first three days as well as Dylan, as well as Joe. Cade has been a quite pleasant surprise as a freshman. He’s very mature. I feel very good about our quarterback room and the depth we have. We have a number of guys who can make plays for us, and we have a number of guys who will make plays for us.”
With receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins out with minor injuries, Gattis hasn’t been able to get a solid read on the receivers, although he’s well-versed in what they did last year after watching film
“When you look at the number of athletes we have on offense, we’re very versatile,” he said. “We have a lot of depth at tight end. We need to get a little more depth at receiver. We’re not patting ourselves on the back. We’re not ready yet. We have a long way to go in every area we need to improve. We’ve got the guys all around and one of the things we have is an offensive line that can really drive our offense. That’s the strength of our offense right now. We also have good, talented quarterbacks. “
This will be the first time Gattis has called played, but he’s been in a number of situations, he said, where he has offered play-call input during games and knows the ropes. He already knows he will call games from the press box.
“It will be different for me,” Gattis said, smiling. “I’ve got a lot of rage on the sideline to try to control. Now you’re gonna put me in a clear box and try to keep that rage.”