New offense? No sweat.
Make that no sweatband.
Among the changes Dowell Loggains has made in his first year as Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, one of the easiest to see is the manner in which the quarterback hears the play call.
Loggains has virtually done away with the call sheet/wristband preferred by his predecessor, Chris Palmer. He plans instead to communicate the specific call directly to the quarterback.
“My thing with the wristband is I believe the quarterback should know the gameplan well enough,” Loggains said. “If the headset goes out, then he should be able to call the game. … We’ll use a wristband for emergencies only, but we won’t call the plays in like we used to that way.”
As part of that change, most of the plays are not called what they were in recent seasons.
The move away from the wristband was made in conjunction with a reduction of the number of words needed to designate what is to happen. Players often noted that Palmer’s play calls sometimes required a deep breath in order to spit out all the necessary words.
“I took the advice of a lot of people I talked to … and we sat in a room and said, ‘What’s the best way to call this formation? What’s the best way to call this motion?’ and cut out as much mental clutter as possible,” Loggains said. “Some of these play calls, they’re still long, but I feel like we’ve done a good job streamlining it and making the verbiage as small as possible.”
Around the league, the wristband remains a popular option.
Backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, for example, has played for three teams in his nine-year NFL career and said the wristband has been a constant. Thus, his transition to the Titans after four years as a starter with the Buffalo Bills has an additional element.
Likewise, Palmer has not been the only Titans’ offensive coordinator to employ it. Norm Chow had his quarterbacks use it during his three seasons in the NFL. Mike Heimerdinger employed it on an as-needed basis.
Not all wristbands are created equal, though. While Palmer routinely crammed 120 plays or more onto the three panels built in to the bands, Chow limited his to 72.
The approach, theoretically, streamlines the process in that a simple number is relayed through the coach-to-quarterback communication device. Each number corresponds to a call on the gameplan chart that is inserted into the quarterback’s wristband. He finds the number, calls the play and the offense can break the huddle.
“Instead of saying a whole 14-word play, you say ’32,’” Fitzpatrick said. “In the past it’s been effective — in Buffalo we did it — because it cuts down communication time, I think. It gives you more time, I think, and less chance for the lost-in-translation stuff.”
Loggains intends to take that chance with Jake Locker, who is set for his second year as a starting quarterback in the league.
Rather than a number, Loggains will radio in the entire play call. Hence, the decision to reduce the number of words in as many of those calls as possible.
“It’s something I’m comfortable with,” Locker said. “We’ve been doing it all [offseason]. It was a little bit of an adjustment at first, but I’m feeling a lot better with it now.”
It puts more responsibility on the quarterback to hear and understand the call, particularly in the most critical moments of the contest. Misinterpret one word and it could have dire consequences.
The approach is contradictory to Locker’s experience, which includes just 11 games as a starter and five relief appearances as a rookie. The Titans, though, hope it helps him add to his level of experience more quickly.
“I think it makes you learn more as a quarterback,” coach Mike Munchak said. “I think it makes you learn formations and learn things more. It puts more on you but you have more of a feel for and more of a command of the offense, I think. … And the way we’re doing it — we’ve cut down on the verbiage, we’ve taken two or three words out of each play — so it’s possible to do that.
“In the past it was pretty hard to say all that a few times.”
There are also potential problems that can arise with the cards carried on the arm of a player in the center of most of the action.
“I’ve had occasions where I’ve lost one my cards,” Fitzpatrick said. “Then you fall back on calling the play and the next play stealing one of the backup guys’ cards.”
Locker and the other Titans quarterbacks will wear the wristbands this season, but only as a way to accommodate particularly involved calls, Loggains said. Much more often than not, though, the quarterback’s focus will be on his teammates in the huddle and not on his arm when he gets the call from the sideline.
“We’ve done it both ways, but I think it’s kind of nice sometimes, especially as an offensive lineman, when the quarterback is looking you in the eye telling you what we’re going to do,” Munchak said. “He’s calling the play, he’s looking at you, he’s making plays, you’re getting eye contact versus the alternative.”
It also activates the mind’s eye.
“Being able to hear the play in your helmet and being able to visualize it before you call it sometimes is a plus,” backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “Each team does it differently, every offensive coordinator has a different thought why he likes it or doesn’t like it.”
The Titans are dead set on doing it this way this fall.
“Teams still do it and teams win the Super Bowl doing it,” Munchak said. “So there’s a lot of ways to do things. But we much prefer what we’re doing now.”