Mike Canales spent the past two years as South Florida's passing game coordinator and receivers coach before being promoted to be the Bulls' offensive coordinator for the second time in his career.
Canales is transforming South Florida's offense to a true spread attack this season. As someone who has worked closely with receivers, he can tell you how important that position is in a spread offense. And I asked him about just that subject in a recent conversation.
Can you tell us about the role of the receivers in the spread?
Mike Canales: The biggest thing I look for with receivers in the spread offense is, they've got to be able to block. It's so crucial to the success of the run game, because you're going to get to that second level of defenders, and if you get the running back to that position you need to create angles.
People think throw-throw-throw with the spread, but as a coordinator, what I tell our receivers is, you're not getting on the field if you don't block. These guys are basically your fullbacks down the field, but they're not built like fullbacks.
Most receivers have probably done some blocking in high school, but it must be a major adjustment for them in college, right?
MC: That's right. One thing is, in most high schools, you're not allowed to cut. So we have to teach them about being aggressive, how to cut, the proper angles to cut, not to cut too early so the defensive back can't get on his feet again to make a play, etc.
The angles are all based on defensive schemes. If it's the zone-read outside option, what are you trying to get done, if it's a quarterback run who are you trying to get free. With all these things, young kids are lost at first. They're like, 'What do you mean, coach? I just run a route, a fade in or out, and throw me the ball.' But kids, when they get to this level, it's about teaching them defenses as well.
Do the receivers have more or different responsibilities now that you're running a true spread?
MC: We've added a few things. We're trying to get Matt (Grothe) outside a little bit more.
It's more about them understanding what their roles are and getting more involved in the running game. But the kids have done a good job the last couple of years of understanding what we're doing. We'll try to get the ball outside a little more with boots and nakeds and all that.
How difficult is it for receivers to learn the proper spacing and timing in this offense?
MC: We talk all the time about minimum, normal and maximum splits and how it fits the scheme. We teach it so they understand the full scheme. Not just, 'I run a corner route here,' but how does it fit the whole scheme. We try to teach them the concept, and then whether you're the one, two or three receiver, it doesn't matter if you know the scheme. People have been describing us as a "Spread Coast," because it's a spread with West Coast concepts.
People see the four- and five-receiver sets and just think about the passing game, but there's so much more to it.
MC: We try to spread people out, but we're trying to spread people out to run the football and create angles for the guys up front. (Our receivers) know they're going to get the ball. It's about understanding what the defense is doing and how to get windows, how to get seams.
Jessie Hester and Dontavia Bogan have done a really good job of understanding defenses, knowing where the linebackers and the drop-down safeties are and where the holes are. They've got a pretty good idea in their head before the snap count.
The spread creates favorable matchups of receivers against linebackers and safeties, but doesn't that also mean that smaller wideouts have to block much bigger guys sometimes?
MC: I tell our guys that the big thing is just to get in the way and become a nuisance. Get in their chops, try to hand battle and get in a position to create leverage. It's not about being so aggressive and making a block too early. It's about getting in position for a back to make a move off it.