Sparked by a discussion on Twitter last night with WSU Football Blog, I figured I'd elaborate on roles and positions within Mike Leach's offense. We got to talking about where certain players are and the naming conventions of Leach's receivers. Contrary to some belief, there are differences between the two inside receiver spots and the two outside receiver spots.
In Leach's system, receivers can't necessarily be put into buckets. By buckets, I mean broad definitions of roles. Sure, outside receivers are different than inside receivers, but players aren't just "outside" or "inside." Instead, they're Xs or Ys or Zs or Hs. These are the different positions in Leach's offense, and each does certain things while requiring a certain skillset.
Marquess Wilson, for instance, is not just an outside receiver. He's an X that lines up in just about the same spot every time. He'll always be split out to one side, and he's not really going to motion around and get cute. He's the X now, will be the X later and will continue to be the X throughout the season.
And then there's the inside receivers. The H spot is filled with short, shifty white guys at the moment. It's the "little guys in space" spot in Leach's offense -- Wes Welker, Eric Morris and the like. They all fit a certain body type and possess a skillset that allows them to make quick cuts, run crisp routes and find small holes in the defense.
The skillset and body type theory is something that extends to Mike Leach's entire offense. There's specific roles for each position, and the roles all happen to be filled with certain types of players. Is it a coincidence? Maybe. But considering how meticulous Leach is with his offense, I wouldn't bet on it.
So let's look at some of the positions in Leach's offense and how he's filled them at Washington State.
X: Marquess Wilson and Dominique Williams. This position is Wilson, who we all know and love, and a player who is basically a clone of him, albeit a little bit younger. Watch Williams and Wilson on the field sometime. They're easy to mix-up, in that they both have similar heights and weights, and carry themselves in about the same way. They can each stretch the field, go up and get the ball and create mismatch problems for opposing defenses.
Y: This one breaks the norm a bit, but only because Andrei Lintz throws a wrench in everything. It's the other inside receiver spot, currently occupied by Lintz and Bobby Ratliff. These are the guys that go over the middle and bang. They're also the safety valve, finding small holes, running mesh routes and also stretching the field down the seam.
Z: The other outside receiver. The mold for this one, at the moment, is different from the X. Kristoff Williams and Gabe Marks are working at this spot. They're a little bit shorter than the X receivers, but are each solid route-runners with similar body types. Marks is on the skinny side, but appears to have the frame to add bulk if need be. Williams is thick, in a good way.
RB: What do Carl Winston, Rickey Galvin (who's working out of the slot now), Leon Brooks, Teondray Caldwell and Theron West have in common? They all, in Leach's words, look the same from behind. They're short, quick backs -- a scat back, for those that know the term. This is the ideal running back type in Leach's offense.
QB: Again, all are pretty similar. Each player stands tall and all can get the ball out in space quickly -- we're talking about Connor Halliday, Jeff Tuel and Austin Apodaca here, for the time being. You know Leach's quarterbacks, of all positions, are going to fit his mold as precisely as possible.
Offensive line: Right now, the body type Leach wants isn't really on the roster. But he has one. He's looking for huge guys that can go one-on-one. We're talking 300-plus pounds, not the thinner, athletic guys Paul Wulff wanted. Rico Forbes is your example here, though he's still very raw. Niu Sale would be another one; if you've seen him, you'll understand why.
The receivers are the important part here. Leach isn't going to move guys around, working them on both sides of the formation. He's not going to motion them around a lot either: Marquess Wilson won't be sprinting across the formation before the snap. The H receivers might, but don't expect either outside receiver to be shifting and motioning.
Because Leach values repetition and learning timing at one spot, the four receiver spots each have different roles, responsibilities, skillsets and body types. They're essentially plug and play pieces in the puzzle that is Leach's offense. He'll rotate them, and as one leaves another with a similar ability and specialty will swap in, leaving little in the way of change for the quarterback to deal with.
That's why we all need to be specific. An X is an X, but a Z is not simply the mirror of an X. Each is tailored to a certain type of player, and loaded up with "clones," in a way.
So when thinking of players and positions, think a little more narrow. If you're trying to figure out where a player would fit or if they'd fit at all, compare their size and skill to the different positions above. Because Leach is set in his ways, and has a very templated offense based more on plug-and-play and using repetition to breed perfection than being a jack-of-all-trades but master of nothing.