Deciphering Greg Knapp

by: M. Steffes

As long rumored, Greg Knapp will again be Jim Mora’s offensive coordinator, this time in Seattle. While I will admit that this move didn’t make me jump up and shout, there are plenty of reasons to feel good about the Seahawks’ offense under Knapp. I have taken some time and pored over the numbers from his previous stops, as well as the reports about him. The following is how I expect to see the Seahawks’ offense take shape under Greg Knapp.

To See a Breakdown . . .

THE RUNNING GAME

By now, most people are on to Greg Knapp’s success running the football. This is something that will probably translate to Seattle as well. Knapp has historically accomplished top 10 rushing teams through zone blocking schemes. He has had some of the better line coaches under him in Alex Gibbs and Tom Cable in the past, and Mike Solari can also be considered in that top echelon. The team began to work with zone blocking last year, and we can expect to see this scheme truly take hold in ’09. The Hawks will run the ball.

Knapp also favors a rotation of running backs. In SF, he used both Garrison Hearst and Kevin Barlow. In Atlanta, it was Dunn and Duckett. In Oakland, he featured Fargas, Rhodes, and Jordan his first year, mixing in Bush and McFadden this season after the departures of both Rhodes and Jordan. For the Seahawks, he will be looking at Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett both as part time backs. Both of their carries will increase this season. It’s likely that the team will not be adding another feature back. They will probably see how Forsett is progressing and will possibly add another late rounder for competition. Knapp is never going to feature one back, so hoping for a dynamic, franchise running back is wasted effort. This will be a time share, but that is okay, as it is working for just about every team still left in playoffs.

PASSING THE BALL

While Knapp has become synonymous with top 10 rushing teams, there is some sentiment that his passing games have been stifled by poor QB play from Michael Vick and Jamarcus Russell. With Jeff Garcia, who went to the Pro Bowl several times under Knapp, the 49ers threw the ball effectively. Having balance like this led to Knapp’s most successful years as an offensive coordinator. Jeff Garcia, the two years he was healthy, completed more than 60% of his passes, threw for close to 3,500 yards, and the team made the playoffs. That is what the Seahawks will be looking to replicate. A big part of this was the beginning of the success of mercurial receiver Terrell Owens.

Let’s look at all the receivers, not just the wide receivers. Knapp’s offense has generally featured less three and four WR sets than a traditional West Coast Offense. In fact, Knapp led offenses have heavily relied on one main WR with a TE also getting feature fairly regularly. With the Niners, Owens shined and Eric Johnson had his most productive years. With the Falcons, they struggled to find a WR who could command the appropriate amount of defensive attention, and thus Alge Crumpler shined as the TE. All of this bodes well for the ascension of John Carlson to be one of the leagues top TEs. However, in order to really make the offense hum, the Seahawks will have to find a true #1 receiver to open the offense. Both Nate Burleson and Deion Branch are the type of receiver who will excel in a secondary role. Add John Carlson to that mix and Knapp will have his weapons, but chances are the Hawks will still be looking for a true #1 WR this offseason, maybe through free agency, maybe the draft. It probably depends on how the organization views these options and the team’s 2009 chances.

One other area to note in Greg Knapp’s passing game is his use of running backs as pass catchers, especially because the Seahawks have to make a decision on their most dynamic receiver out of the backfield, Leonard Weaver. Gregg Knapp has clearly favored his running backs as receivers over his fullbacks. The fullbacks have averaged near 20 catches a season, with the running backs getting closer to 30 balls a year. Duckett’s catches were limited, as was the Atlanta passing game, but with both Hearst and Barlow there were a lot of receptions to go around. It is possible the team will consider moving Weaver into a swing role as both FB and HB behind Schmitt, but his days as an offensive weapon seem to be coming to an end. While I would never discount Tim Ruskell’s desire to hold on to one of his biggest success stories, if Weaver gets a good offer the Hawks are set to let him walk. Schmitt clearly fits the mold of the fullbacks this offense has used in the past.

THE DRAFT

In a way, this is more of a look at the Knapp/Mora connection. Their time in Atlanta is really the only thing worth looking at, because neither were in charge in San Fran and Al Davis makes his own picks in Oakland. In Atlanta, these two spent a lot of resources trying to find a #1 receiver. Part of this was the McKay/Ruskell pair as well. In ’03, they shipped a #1 pick for Peerless Price, which didn’t work out. In ’04, the former Falcons contingent took DeAngelo Hall and Michael Jenkins in the first, looking for playmakers on both sides of the ball. After Jenkins’ disappointing rookie season, they chose Roddy White with their first rounder in ’05. How much of this was a mandate from above, looking to help the owner’s golden boy in Michael Vick we may never know. However, it seems the team was intent on finding that one dynamic playmaker on the outside, something that paid off for the new regime this year as Roddy White and Michael Jenkins both were productive. It is not uncommon for WRs to take a year or two to adjust. For information purposes only, Mora and Knapp again took a CB in the first in ’06, their last draft; however, the second round pick of Jerious Norwood is a glimpse that they may be willing to look at explosive running backs as well.

So, it would appear that Knapp favors big WRs and Mora favors defensive backs. Hopefully, Tim Ruskell will make sure that the team doesn’t overload on perimeter talents, as some beef in the middle is needed too. But if we can tell one thing, it is that the new regime truly favors playmakers, which can lead to exciting football. This offense should make Matt Hasselbeck happy. He should stay upright and healthier because he won’t be passing as much, but when he does, he should have some dynamic threats to throw to. For those of you wondering about Hass being replaced, this crew did take Matt Schaub in the third, so that is something to hang your hat on.

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