Here are some thoughts on recruiting from Lannie Julias, a long-time coach and scout who will soon be writing at Recruitpundit.com.
The college game is constantly in flux. The past few years have seen remarkable changes to the offensive side of the ball. If you look closely at the details of who signed where on Letter of Intent Day, you can discern the trends and fads that will be coming soon to a stadium near you.
For the most part, the elite powers will always have an advantage in the recruiting game. There is a select group of schools that have been very good for most of the past 100 years. Their recruiting strength is predicated on rich traditions, which they are then able to flaunt to prospective players. Recruits see the All-Americans, the Heisman winners, the bowl games and the national titles and they ask “Where do I sign?”
But lately we have seen schools become factors in recruiting thanks to their ability to sign players that fit the latest style, whether on offense or defense. Teams are bringing in armies of receivers and athletes so they can be used in 5-wide sets or bunch formations in the spread. Because the pace of the game is speeding up, the focus is on building depth to keep guys fresh. In response to this, schools are bringing in tons of defensive backs and quick linebackers who can keep up with these speedsters in space.
Punch-Counterpunch. It’s the name of the recruiting game.
So, speed begat speed on both sides of the ball. But now there is the invasion of the smurfs, as running backs and receivers under 5-10 who have quick feet and excellent change of direction (the better to dart around and between linemen) are the new rage. Even if a 6-4 linebacker could keep up with a 5-6 pinball, the target is not exactly easy to hit or hinder, due to its small size. In response, we are likely to see even smaller linebackers and more hybrid defensive players in the back seven.
Meanwhile, the 3-4 alignment is now coming into play more on defense, so schools will recruit lighter (but taller) defensive ends and turn some tight ends into defensive ends, mainly because of the need to defend so much space on the edges. The spread can just wear down a defense, so defenses must stave off fatigue and that means having plenty of bodies who can run and who can quickly substitute in and out. Because so much of offensive football these days is focused on getting players into space, you’ll find more and more ends playing inside on certain downs, as they can fill the cutback lanes quicker than the big, plodding tackles. Indeed, many tackles will play limited snaps due not only to the speed-in-space factor, but also due to the need to make quick substitutions in certain situations.
And with the decline in the number of purely pro-style I-formation offenses, fewer fullbacks and traditional tight ends will be signed. That will leave more scholarship slots for those defensive backs and linebackers who can help defend the spread. The end result will be 85-man rosters that tilt more toward the defensive side of the ball. This year’s recruiting classes should reflect this.
The last trend that I find important in this year’s class has more to do with the process of recruiting than the actual fruits of its labor. More and more, we see players who are referred to as ‘soft commits’. To this day, I can’t understand that term. That’s like saying you can be married but still want to date.
Signing day witnessed the spectacle of parents and grandparents, friends and girlfriends, gathered around a recruit who then chose among a row of baseball caps with school insignias on them. As they jockeyed behind him for camera time, the recruit removed a hat from the table and, somewhere, a coach’s heart broke. Remember, these are decisions that, eventually, could determine whether a coach is employed years from now.
As the recruit is doing this, other recruits watched in disappointment as some lost out on the chance to play for their dream program, since that school overlooked them in favor that chance to get the more marquee player (now donning the hat of the school he was probably going to go to all along).
In reaction to all this, I believe you’ll see more and more schools giving out what amounts to a ‘soft offer’. It works both ways. Coaches are getting tired of being played.
Punch-Counterpunch. That’s what recruiting is all about.