Thoughts on Recruiting

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.

About Heismanpundit

Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of Heismanpundit.com, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

7 Responses to Thoughts on Recruiting

  1. Adam Nettina February 13, 2009 at 7:35 am #

    Great thoughts!

    I think when you look at the evolution of the game and the evolution of recruiting to your needs you start with the non-BCS or smaller teir schools (at any level) and see how they develop their rosters to get the most value for what is availible on the market. The game itself is a back-and-forth between trying to balance speed and mass from a personel standpoint, and it seems that we have in fact moved away from the “recruit the biggest kids you can find” philosophy of 20 or so years ago.

    The thing is, it’s bound to move back to the center. Right now we’re seeing the fastest players moved to defense to compensate for the move to speed on offense that we saw over the past 10 years or so with the development of the spread. As more high-level teams are willing to recruit those small but shifty players, the smaller schools which used to get them are going to have to find value on another level. They will have to tailor their classes for the “best of the rest” in other words. Who would that be? It’s the 6’2 “fullback” who “only” runs a 4.6, or the 290-lb interior lineman who can’t break 5.0 in the 40. Yet who cares? If the evolution plays out defenses of the next 5-10 years will get faster, but they will also get SMALLER. How do you counter if you can’t go head-to-head in recruiting? With mass on offense, that’s how. I don’t think it’s totally unreasonable to suggest that the next phase of the game’s evolution is in fact a move back to power football. I know it may irk some people who want to think the game has forever moved away from “three yards and a cloud of dust,” but it makes sense when you really look at it big picture.

    Thoughts?

  2. TorBear February 15, 2009 at 11:11 am #

    Adam,

    Those are interesting observations, and my guess is that time will prove you right…with one caveat: we’ll never see a return to offenses that advance the football primarily by running. There may be a greater emphasis on the power game, but successful offenses will always need to maintain a credible passing threat.

  3. Adam Nettina February 15, 2009 at 6:42 pm #

    Credible yes. But does that mean primary? I don’t know. Paul Johnson has been doing all right in a primarily run based offense for years. Yet his offense is often near the top in passing efficiency.

  4. Anonymous February 16, 2009 at 3:49 pm #

    Fantastic article

  5. eddie March 14, 2009 at 11:20 pm #

    A commitment is not like a marriage. It is like gettin gengaged and saying I will marry you at this date in the future. For college football players, that date is the first Wednesday in February.

  6. jon January 18, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    this is the real deal, not a bunch of bs or color man speak. it predicts the future yet is as concrete and specific as a sidewalk.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. DawgsOnline » When is a scholarship offer not an offer? - February 13, 2009

    [...] Read some additional thoughts about the recruiting process over at HP. Interesting thoughts about the emerging “‘soft offer” to go along with the [...]