This year's Jets' offense remains something of a mystery. John Morton has his first-ever offensive coordinator job at the NFL level and he's been coy as to what the offense will look like.
The last time the Jets hired an offensive coordinator that was such an unknown quantity, it was first-time playcaller Brian Schottenheimer. Immediately the Schottenheimer offense displayed some unique and creative characteristics, with multiple pre-snap motions and shifts intended to cause misdirection and unpredictability.
Unfortunately, over the course of his time with the Jets, Schottenheimer was perhaps too smart for his own good and often had to dumb down the offense to ensure competent execution from his overwhelmed players.
Will Morton bring similar creativity to the table or is he going to draw on his multiple influences to bring some more established elements to his offensive gameplans?
West coast or multiple?
The prevailing assumption is that John Morton will run a west coast offense with the Jets. It's a valid suggestion, given some of the coaches Morton has worked under in the past.
However, when he was asked by the media if that's the style of offense he intends to run, he refused to confirm that. Instead all he would say is that it would have a variety of different aspects.
It seems inevitable that the offense will lean heavily on west coast elements, but it will perhaps be more of a multiple-concept offense, which may vary from week to week or even in-game, based on who is healthy and who the opponent is.
Even if it is a "west coast offense" that's such a widely defined term that it still leaves plenty of room for variations of style and substance. Back in 2011, Brian Billick suggested that the idea of a west coast offense no longer exists because every NFL team takes aspects from different offenses.
However, while the offense may not resemble the Chad Pennington/Paul Hackett dink and dunk with pulling linemen offense that Jets fans would probably associate with a west coast scheme, it's still worth considering what aspects Morton will bring to his offense.
What does Morton bring to the table?
Each of the coaches Morton has worked with in the past speaks highly of him and the first thing they always mention is his work ethic. Hopefully this will lend itself to a level of preparedness that will breed competent execution.
Beyond that, he's portrayed as a details-oriented disciplinarian. That's relevant in terms of him being a receivers coach because you can expect him to demand precision in the routes his receivers run. Last year's offense operated on Erhardt-Perkins principles, which afforded receivers some flexibility in terms of how they react to the coverage in order to reach a pre-determined spot. West coast style offenses require more precision as they rely on reads and timing patterns. That could place extra demands on some of the young receivers.
In practice, the media has commented on the offensive tempo. That's something that is often seen in offseason practices but doesn't carry over into gameplans because the main purpose is just to maximize the number of reps you get in. However, Morton has been with some teams that play at a high tempo and, while that style is usually linked to a spread approach, it doesn't preclude a run-heavy or west coast approach.
Another important aspect that Sean Payton specifically mentioned in addition to his preparation is that he'll look closely at personnel and tailor his gameplan to what he has. In separate comments, Payton implied that the Jets would need to be patient with Morton because it was unrealistic to expect immediate success until the quarterback position was settled. That could link back to those other comments to imply a conservative and/or run-based approach.
Indeed, Morton himself has confirmed that ball security is a main priority. That doesn't necessarily mean they'll run all the time, but it could also suggest they'll create an extension of the running game with safe dump-off passes to their backs and tight ends.
Morton has also suggested he favors a committee-based approach in the running game. He's therefore likely to share the workload between Bilal Powell, Matt Forté and whoever else can crack the rotation. It helps that all of these players are equipped to contribute both as runners and in the passing game.
Calling the plays
When asked why he took the Jets job, Morton said that it was for the opportunity. Not only is it his first time coordinating at the NFL level, but it's also the first time he'll be calling the plays at any level.
In 2009, Morton got his first opportunity to be an offensive coordinator with the USC Trojans. However, he didn't call the plays, as that role went to quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates.
Bates left at the end of the season as Lane Kiffin became head coach and assumed playcalling duties. Morton remained on and retained the title of offensive coordinator, but Kennedy Polamalu (then Pola) was also given the same title. Effectively Polamalu was the running game coordinator and Morton the passing game coordinator for the second of Morton's two years in that role.
Bates is now reunited with Morton, as he joins the staff as the new quarterbacks coach. However, this time, Morton will be calling his own plays. It was confirmed at organized team activities that Morton will call plays from the booth, given that he trusts Bates to be on the sideline to relay information to his quarterbacks having worked together in the past.
When people discuss playcalling, they generally mean play selection with the obvious caveat that there is often a scripted portion of the gameplan either at the start of the game or in a specific situation such as a two-minute drill. However, the oft-overlooked aspect of playcalling is play design. Morton has been involved in that area throughout his career, even when he wasn't a coordinator, so he is experienced and respected in that area.
Origins and influences
Coaches that Morton has worked with extensively in the past include Payton and Jon Gruden, each of whom are considered west coast disciples. Morton also worked under Jim Harbaugh, who also comes from a west coast background, but brought his own slant to his offensive approach with a power-based running game.
However, his background as a coordinator comes from within that USC system where the likes of Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkasian evolved a system that Morton effectively retained once he was installed as coordinator, with Kiffin obviously returning for his second year to put his own stamp back on the system.
This is another offense with west coast principles although it would typically be listed as "multiple" which seems to fit Morton's descriptions. USC's offense was generally regarded in college circles as a pro-style system with some spread elements, tempo, play action and downfield passing.
Also likely to influence the system the Jets will run should be the pieces already in place. It makes little sense to reinvent the wheel when you can tweak the scheme to incorporate elements that the Jets already do competently.
It's important that offensive line coach Steve Marshall remains in place. That suggests there probably won't be an overhauling of the blocking schemes. As Morton's coordinator role in the past often saw him focused on the passing game, perhaps he will lean on Marshall as he develops the running game aspect.
Morton's second stint with New Orleans would have seen him working with an offense that operated an inside-out protection scheme. That was a principle that Aaron Kromer brought to the team and, although he left after the 2012 season, the Saints continue to employ that.
The requirement is for the three interior linemen to stand up at the line and focus on preventing pressure up the middle, leaving the tackles to handle any pressure off the edge (perhaps with help, perhaps not). This is in contrast to the more traditional approach of the five linemen fanning out to create a natural pocket for the quarterback to operate within.
This relies heavily on the guards, which might explain why those are two of the positions the Jets have invested in with James Carpenter entering the third year of a contract that now looks like a bit of a bargain and Brian Winters receiving a big money deal in the offseason.
That's not actually a change of approach for the Jets, who often operated their pass protection schemes in a similar manner under Chan Gailey. With Marshall still in place to oversee that, it should allow Morton to at least attempt to operate his offense in a similar fashion.
One other holdover from Gailey's staff is receivers coach Karl Dorrell. It could be challenging for him to teach some of his young receivers to adapt to the precise nature of the route-running requirements in a west coast-style system. With Morton's recent role as a wide receivers coach, he'll probably insert himself into this process too.
There are, of course, holdovers in terms of playing personnel too. As already noted, Morton can be expected to tailor his team to what he has. He may also want to avoid completely overhauling the existing offense given the amount of time invested in getting the young quarterbacks comfortable with that scheme.
Sifting through the clues
It does seem clear that Morton will bring west coast aspects to his offense, even if it won't be consisdered a pure west coast offense. As Billick said, the idea of an offense being generalized as such perhaps no longer exists anyway. Certainly bringing in Josh McCown to be the quarterback fits this pattern, as he saw recent success in the Bears' west coast style system.
New running backs coach Stump Mitchell has also offered some clues as to what to expect. He's essentially confirmed that Powell and Forté will be platooned, by suggesting he expects each of them to put up good numbers. He has also stated that the offense will feature a fullback and that they expect production from that position too.
Finally, a useful clue came from Ardarius Stewart, who suggested the offensive scheme is basically the same as what they did in Alabama, just with different terminology. Of course, both Kiffin and Sarkasian were both involved in running that offense, so that makes a lot of sense.
Coming up in part two, we take a closer look at some of the origins of Morton's system to consider what we can expect next year.