Team speed a top priority for Wolf Pack | RecordCourier.com

Team speed a top priority for Wolf Pack

Joe Santoro

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .

As far as Jay Norvell is concerned, speed thrills. "We have to improve our team speed," the new Wolf Pack head football coach said this week. "That is going to be a big, big, emphasis for us. We need speed on defense. We need our offense to have playmakers who can stretch the field. " Norvell, it seems, hopes to turn the Pack football team into a track team. "At Oklahoma we trained speed everyday, 365 days a year," Norvell said. That's all well and good. Every coach wants speed on his roster. It's not a new concept. But can Norvell recruit enough speed demons to make his plan work at Nevada? He isn't after all, wearing a shirt that says Oklahoma, UCLA, Texas, Nebraska, or Arizona State anymore.

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The term "Nevada Back," popularized by head coach Chris Ault as a way to honor running backs who exhibited the toughness, grit, work ethic and dependability he desired at the position, might become a thing of the past at Nevada. That's because it might be difficult for Norvell and the Pack to recruit top running backs with their new "Air Raid" offense. "We're going to throw it a bunch," new offensive coordinator Matt Mumme said this week. Mumme's LaGrange College teams (Division III) threw the ball on 63 percent of their plays over the last three seasons. No running back in those three seasons averaged as much as 10 carries a game. Frank Hawkins' school-record 5,333 rushing yards will not be in jeopardy as long as Mumme is calling plays.

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The Pack offense will undoubtedly put up a lot of yards and score a ton of points. But will it win a ton of games and championships? Mumme's Air Raid offense produced just a 12-20 record in three years at LaGrange. His father, Hal Mumme, who invented the offense, also never had great success at places like Kentucky, New Mexico State and a ton of schools at the lower levels. There was always a lot of points and yards but also a lot of losses. Mike Leach has had some success with a similar pass-happy offense at Texas Tech and Washington State but it only seems to take him so far. Norvell, a career wide receivers coach, seems to want a bunch of happy wide receivers on his roster. This offense will certainly do that. We'll find out if it translates to team success.

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The concern about an offense that throws the ball on two-thirds of its plays is that it not only wears out the opposing team's defense, it can also wear out your own defense. The Air Raid offense, even when it is successful, is rarely eating up the clock. It scores quickly and it gives up the ball quickly. Your defense doesn't get a lot of rest. New Pack defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel knows this all too well. He was the defensive coordinator at Arizona under pass-happy head coach Rich Rodriguez from 2012-15 and before that at West Virginia. Casteel's defense suffered some injuries in 2015, couldn't stop anybody and he was fired. The Pack shredded Casteel's Arizona defense in the 2012 New Mexico Bowl because Casteel couldn't figure out the Pack pistol. Hal and Matt Mumme's teams down through the years rarely have had solid defenses. Even Leach's defenses at Texas Tech and Washington State have been average at best most years.

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Norvell's plan, though, might just work in the Mountain West. The Mountain West, after all, isn't the Big 12, SEC or Pac 12. The Pack's new Air Raid offense just might catch everybody off guard and unprepared. At lower level conferences like the Mountain West, it's all about being different than everyone else. Teams just don't have enough high-level athletes to be able to adjust to something new on a week to week basis. Air Force, for example, just runs the ball and gets to a bowl game most every year without any real talent on its roster. The Air Raid offense and Casteel's 3-3-5 defense will make the Pack a very difficult team to prepare for every week. How long that advantage lasts, though, (two or three years?) is the real question.

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The NFL has narrowed its Hall of Fame finalists down to 16 and will announce its latest class on Super Bowl weekend. There are only three that are no-brainers: LaDainian Tomlinson, Terrell Owens and Tony Boselli. The NFL, though, loves a big Hall of Fame party in Canton so the following players and coaches should also get in: Kurt Warner, Brian Dawkins, Joe Jacoby, Isaac Bruce and Don Coryell.

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It is much tougher to get into baseball's Hall of Fame than it is for football. Football, it seems, puts a dozen-and-a-half names into a bag, reaches in and grabs six or seven at random and presents its latest class and nobody seems to notice or care. Baseball's Hall of Fame class, though, always seems to come under harsh criticism. Everybody is an expert when it comes to who belongs in Cooperstown and the writers who vote are all idiots. Well, here's one old idiot's opinion on who should go into the Hall this summer: Jeff Bagwell, Trevor Hoffman, Tim Raines and Billy Wagner.

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NFL playoff predictions: Atlanta over Seattle, New England over Houston, Pittsburgh over Kansas City and Dallas over Green Bay. The Seahawks are an average team at best on the road. Houston is a mediocre team no matter where they play. Pittsburgh already destroyed Kansas City in early October and Green Bay can't win on the road against the best team in the NFC based on Aaron Rodgers' right arm alone.