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A conversation with Baylor GA's: How 'mind-melting' helps their offensive game plan

Essentially, every good graduate assistant is a mind reader. Your job is to not only learn the way your coaching staff thinks, but to then become so in tune with them that you have prepared answers to questions that haven't been asked yet. This time of year, that means preparing for future opponents while coaches are on the road, and slicing up film from spring practice so it can be dissected when the spring recruiting period ends.

In Part II of our conversation with the Baylor graduate assistants, we talked about their duties at this time of year, how they chip in to the game planning process, what Baylor looks for in a quarterback and learned just what exactly "mind-melting" is. 

Part I can be viewed here.

Once again, the principals:

Mike Anthony: seventh year in the program, second as quality control

Jordan Shoemaker: third year in the program, third as a graduate assistant

Kevin Park: sixth year in the program, first as a graduate assistant

Andrew Walsh: second year in the program, first as a graduate assistant

Dominique Zeigler: sixth year in the program, second as a graduate assistant

FS: What does your day-to-day look like during this time of year? 

Anthony: When coaches aren’t here we kind of plan for ourselves. Like this past week and last week when they were on the road, we’ve kind of been looking at 2016 kids, trying to get a jump on that. We’re about to start really getting into SMU stuff, breaking that down, which that’ll happen more next week. I think we’ve got four games right now. We’ll probably break down six or seven. And then that’ll take a month. Just having this time we can really delve into it.

Zeigler: You get done at night at 7, 7:15 or so. Then you come in here, if you have anything else you need to work on hopefully you get that done in 30 minutes so you can do a little schoolwork for an hour and a half. I try to go to sleep fairly early, probably around 10, 10:30, so you can get up and be back out here at 6 the next morning.

Park: It’s slower because all the coaches are on the road. We’re watching recruiting film, if they hear of somebody we’ll pull them up on Hudl. We’re breaking down film from spring, breaking down what we did wrong, making perfect tapes, so that when the coaches do come back we can go to the meeting room and they can be like, “I want to see all the runs, I want to see all the 10 2x2 runs.” Boom, that’s done. We have some extra time, so I was watching the Oklahoma State-Missouri game, breaking that down. Just trying to get as far ahead as we can right now because when it hits, it hits.

FS: Where do you start when you're breaking an opponent down this far ahead of game day?

Anthony: Personnel more than anything. Who they’re losing, who’s coming back. Who’s good, who’s bad.

Shoemaker: Once you learn personnel you can focus on the scheme after that.

FS: How do things change when coaches are in?

Anthony: Kind of the same thing. It doesn’t change a whole lot. There ends up being more work because they’ll need something. Really this time of year it’s more odds and ends stuff. During the season it’s when you know, hey, at 8 I’m doing this, at 11 I’m doing this, at 12 I’m doing this. That’s when it gets more concrete.

Shoemaker: For me, I try to get all my classes done as early as possible. If I can, I’ll get them once or twice a week. I’d like to do it all on Monday, if not I like to do it Tuesday-Thursday. This past season I did a practicum and then just did one class Tuesday-Thursday. After that I’m around here the rest of the time. Doing it that way I only miss an hour and a half of film and breakdowns.

FS: So what kind of hours are you putting in right now?

Anthony: This time of year I’ll usually stay 7 to 5. During the season we’re here for a long time.

Shoemaker: During the season it’s an all day type of deal. This time of year if you’ve got something to do in the afternoon, you know, we’ll leave at 4 and go do it.

FS: What are your responsibilities during a game week?

Shoemaker: We break up as a staff, we’ll go watch the box in Coach Clements’ office and they’ll go watch the passing game and all that. Then we’ll meet back together later on and put everything together later on. I follow Coach Clements around because I work with the offensive line. Anything that we put together, any plays for that week, we put them on their iPads. They have an app on their iPads. So I just upload that on the Internet and they can pull that up.

Zeigler: I help Kendall with the breakdowns, me and Cal. He played defense before so he knows defense better than I do at this point, I know coverages but not a lot of front seven stuff, he’ll help me with that so we’ll do the scout team. I do the scout team out there at practice. This is a fast-paced offense so it’s not like you have cards drawn up. You basically have to look at the offense, the formation that we’re in and what we think the team will present us with, that’s what defense you have to have on the field. You’ve got to think like that on your toes. You’ve just got to know the offense, know the formations. That’s pretty much what I do. I help with special teams, kickoff, and then receivers.

FS: Uploading plays to an iPad isn't a typical duty one thinks of when they take a coaching job. Is that something you kind of had to teach yourself how to do?

Shoemaker: Yeah. They had a guy come teach us but you don’t really learn until you do it yourself. But once you got it, you got it. It’s simple. We use GamePlan.

Anthony: We went to GamePlan last year. The year before we were a different one. That’s probably the most important part of our office. All of us are a little bit more tech-savvy.

Shoemaker: GamePlan will tell you who’s watched the most. Like, this offensive lineman has watched 215 plays. It’s good for during the season because we give out hard copies and we put plays out over this. Most of the guys will leave the hard copies in the position room after they read it. This kind of helps track, Did they even open up the play and look at it? You can kind of get on to them if they haven’t because it shows out there on the field if they haven’t when they don’t know what to do.

FS: I think you were one of the first nationally to do that.

AnthonI know we were in the Big 12. It’s been great. It really does eliminate paperwork. You don’t have to worry about stuff floating around. Not that that’s ever been an issue.

FS: What are your duties on game day? 

Anthony: I’m in the box charting the secondary.

Shoemaker: I’m down on the field. Coach Clements watches the near side of the offensive line, I’m watching the far side. It’s picking up anything that they’re doing blitz-wise, anything that our guys are messing up.

FS: How much input do you get on substitution patterns?

Shoemaker: If I’m watching that side of the line, I’ll see it I’ll definitely echo it to him. Kind of like the deal with Spencer (Drango) at Texas Tech, you could tell when the beginning of the third quarter came around he’s dragging his leg. I saw it and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I think it’s about that time.’ Which is super-impressive he even played with that. We got the other guy in and he did fine. If I see it, he definitely wants me to say something. I’m not going to hold anything to myself.

Zeigler: I work with KB, Kendall, we’re the signalers. Coach Monty calls in the plays from upstairs and then me and Kendall will be the ones signaling to everybody on the field.

Park: We haven’t necessarily gone over it in detail, but I would assume I’ll be on the field coaching the defensive tackles. My game day responsibility last year was helping watch the offensive line blocking scheme and splits and all that stuff. Coach Acuff was watching the ends, and then I was watching the far side tackles so after the series we could come back and be like, “Well this is what I saw, what do you see?” I really helped out with that. This year I’m assuming I’ll be coaching the defensive tackles on the field, watching them, correcting them.

Walsh: Last year I was in the box doing hit chart and what now. I assume that’s likely what it’ll be again.

FS: Dominique, do y'all have a dummy signaler?

Zeigler: No, we move too fast, I think, to even have a dummy.

Anthony: I know the times we tinkered with it we really felt there wasn’t a point because, 1) we’re going to snap the ball before anything gets relayed if they are onto our signals and then just the confusion of “Hey, which one’s live, which one’s dummy” that kind of thing.

FS: How often do you change up your signals?

Anthony: Pretty rarely, honestly. 

FS: Have you ever gone in at halftime and felt like the other team was on to you?

Zeigler: That means we’re moving too slow. If we’re moving at a pace where they can say, “Hey, he just signaled in this” and we haven’t snapped the ball yet, well then we’re not running our offense.

FS: You had a lot of institutional knowledge as a former player, but not much familiarity with the Briles offense. Was there much of a learning curve there?

Zeigler: I’ve been in a lot of offenses and this is the first one I can say there’s a lot of freedom in. You have a lot of freedom in this offense, which is good if you’re the type of person we recruit, athletes. If you have a superior-type athlete and you allow him to do what God’s given him the ability to do without thinking, you’re going to make a lot of plays. I don’t think my learning curve has been that bad, it’s just something different to get used to because we don’t have so many rules. It’s not easy by any means to know the offense, but it’s not handicapping people either. I’ve been in a lot of offenses where it took me a little bit longer to grasp, but then when I did grasp it I would be questioning, why are we doing this? In this offense it’s not a situation where I’d be like, “That doesn’t make sense.” Why are putting our players in a position if they can’t succeed?

FS: How much verbiage is there in the offense?

Zeigler: No. Not at all. You’re talking to somebody who’s been in an offense where’s 12 words just for one play, and that’s entirely too long.

Anthony: If we say 12 words in this offense, like he was saying, we’re moving way too slow.

FS: How do you jump start things when you get bogged down?

Zeigler: First downs.

Anthony: That’s the biggest thing. If you can pick up your first first down in a drive, everything’s more efficient. You have confidence. It gets you in a flow. We’re kind of looking at it from that mindset.

FS: How much does your staff delve into deep stat stuff like analytics?

Anthony: Nothing crazy. I know there’s services that you can buy where it’ll say, this is this guy’s burn ratio where he gets beat deep. Honestly, I think our outlook has been that the tape doesn’t lie. We’ll look at, hey this is what they’re averaging doing this and that, but it’s nothing way out there.

FS: Defensively, how do you possibly get a call on the field when the opponent is snapping it every 10 seconds?

Park: Verbiage. You’ve got to cut down verbiage. You can’t have long sentences. If we said cover this, line this, blitz this or whatever, they’re going to snap the play before you even get halfway through it. So you’ve got to really cut down verbiage. Knowledge is important. You’ve got to know what’s coming, where it’s coming from. And really just a sense of urgency, not only for the players but for the coaches. Coaches have to know and relay from the top what their personnel is so (Coach Bennett) can get a call out in 10 seconds so we can spend the next six seconds getting lined up and getting ready to go. It’s down and distance.

Personnel is real big. We know what we want per personnel. There’s certain calls we won’t have when they come in with 10 personnel, there’s certain calls we won’t have with 11 personnel so that dictates a lot. And then there’s certain formations that we have checks built into it. So he can call a play and they’ll line up in something that we saw that (Coach Bennett) will automatically checks us into. 

FS: What's the defensive game planning process like here?

Park: It’s extensive. We break it down to the bare bones. We want to know everything about everything, and that way we can build it up from there. We have a hit chart that (Andrew) runs now. What we do is we break down six or seven games and we put it all into formation, personnel so we’ll know how many times they’ll line up in 10 2x2 pistol. We know how many times they’ll run, how many times they’ll pass, what runs, what pass and then we build it up from there. Sunday we’ll come in, watch the game, then we’ll watch it with our players and then everybody starts watching next week’s game. And so each coach has different things they do like inside run, outside run, play-action pass, drop back, screens, motions, goal line, short yardage, each coach has that. And then Monday at 10 we’ll get together as a defensive staff after every coach has had his own time to watch, we’ll talk about it, start watching it as a defense and then we’ll go from there.

FS: Is it more work to coach defense than offense?

Park: I wouldn’t say it’s more work. It’s different because they know who they are, they’re going to do what they’re going to do and teams have to react to them. We have to react to other teams. We have to know what they’re doing, when they’re doing it, how they’re doing it so we can employ our defense. We have a phrase, “Knowledge is power.” If we don’t know everything then we can’t relay it and kids play slower, we’re out of position. The biggest thing about defense is alignment. You don’t get lined up right then you’re beat from the get-go.

FS: How much does it help that the Big 12 is pretty homogenous offensively?

Walsh: I prepped for Wofford last year. It was definitely one of the most challenging weeks of prep. We had a whole month because it was the first game of the season. We never see triple option teams. Even though it was Wofford it was a big deal because it’s all about responsibility at that point. It was something we hadn’t seen before so it was extensive.

Park: You can practice a lot of your game plan against an offense that’s similar. Even though they’re running their stuff and we’re running our stuff, you can still have the same game planning concepts. But if we’re running against a Power I, you can’t have the same fronts, the same coverages, it’s different. So it really helps us if we see the same thing day in and day out at the best in the nation.

FS: What's your offensive game planning process like?

Anthony: I think really, philosophically, Coach is what makes us tic. He’s the one that makes us fast and makes us aggressive, because that’s how he is naturally. And then schematically, he’s the brainchild of it. It’s stuff that trickled down and developed. As far as the staff goes, really everybody’s got input. They’re open ears.

Shoemaker: They’re not going to turn down a good idea. At all.

Anthony: They want to hear it. It’s a big melting pot in there more than anything.

Shoemaker: We call it mind-melting when we’re sitting in there drawing up stuff and writing stuff down.

FS: I'm guessing here that no one here was surprised by your start to last season?

Anthony: Not terribly. And again I think it stems from him and his mindset. We expect to be like that every week. We should be like that if we’re doing everything right.

FS: Are there any certain benchmarks you try to hit every game?

Anthony: With the up tempo guys you hear, “Hey, we’ve got to get to X amount of plays per game.” We don’t ever go in thinking like that.

Shoemaker: We just want to get yards.

Anthony: We just want to go fast. We don’t have a set number or anything like that.

FS: I can't recall Art Briles ever playing a bad quarterback. What's the first thing y'all look for in a QB?

Anthony: Intelligence is one. I don’t think we’ve ever had a guy that isn’t super smart. Griff, Nick, Bryce, all those guys are highly intelligent guys.

Shoemaker: That’s from Houston as well.

FS: Are you talking, like, straight A's-type of smart?

Anthony: Case, Kolb, all those guys are smart guys. Not necessarily straight A’s guys. It can be more of a street smart. Guys that are quick thinkers, concepts you give to them. And then guys that have presence. That’s the thing about Nick that a lot of people don’t know. The first day of spring practice after Griff left it was like Nick had been there forever and he didn’t hesitate as far as being a leader and telling guys what they needed to do, and that kind of stuff.

FS: Every Briles quarterback since he's been in college could make things happen with his legs. Is mobility a must-have for this offense?

Anthony: I think it’s preferred. It helps. It helps a lot in more ways that you would think. But I don’t think (a lack of mobility) would handicap us. If we find a guy that’s slow-footed but he’s smart and can rip the ball, he’s good and makes plays, we’re not going to leave any stone unturned. We’re going to look at everybody and if they fit us, they fit us. I will say I don’t think we’ve ever had a guy that (couldn’t run). Even the Houston guys were mobile. Kolb could move.

Shoemaker:That’s part of the offense, for them to carry the ball a little bit, too.

FS: Bryce Petty is a senior. What do y'all have behind him?

Anthony: Seth Russell’s the two right now and he’s a guy that’s unbelievably talented.

Shoemaker: He’s got a lot of work to do but he’s steadily improving. He’s a gifted athlete.

Anthony: Athletically he’s out of this world. His arm is unreal. He’s long, he’s tall.

Shoemaker: Works hard

Anthony: He’s smart.

FS: How much do you borrow from other people?

Anthony: We’ll talk about it if we see something. I will say one of our things is we like to be unique. Everybody always says it’s a copycat league in pretty much all of football, but with us we’ll do it if we see something but more often than not we like to stick with our stuff and roll with that.

Shoemaker: If we see something we’ll see how to run it our way, kind of put our own little twist on it.