College football is full of thieves.
Kentucky’s Darin Hinshaw isn’t afraid to admit it.
“Everybody’s trying to steal from everybody,” he said on Tuesday with a smile. “If it can help us win football games, we can get it from Pop Warner, honestly.”
Hinshaw didn’t confirm nor deny that UK has looked into Pop Warner playbooks, but both of the Cats’ offensive coordinators did confirm this week that the Kentucky playbook has expanded this offseason thanks to a little help from the NFL.
With so many familiar faces back on offense, it seemed likely that installation this week would be an easy, breezy endeavor.
But there were new parts of the playbook for everyone.
“Everybody was spinning” a little bit this week, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said on Tuesday after a fifth straight day of install. “Some stuff we got over the summer from some NFL teams. There’s some concepts that are new to everybody.”
Obviously, there are plays that have served the Cats’ offense well in the past three seasons under Gran and Hinshaw, but the duo spent a lot of time this summer studying offenses, specifically the Philadelphia Eagles.
Coaches looked at why the defending champions were so successful.
“We went through their red zone packages and saw what Carson Wentz was throwing and having so much success,” Hinshaw explained. “And we were like, you know, this is something we can put in and it could help us having some success.”
Kentucky wasn’t terrible in the red zone last season, finishing fourth in the Southeastern Conference, scoring 92.9 percent of the time, but that number included field goals (12) and touchdowns (27).
Gran would prefer to only see the Cats kicker on the field if he’s jogging in for an extra point, so UK is looking for more ways to score six when it’s that close.
The Eagles were highly successful scoring touchdowns in the red zone last season, doing it 64.1 percent of the time, second-best in the NFL and dramatically up from their 49.1 percent the season before.
It’s not a wholesale grand theft throw for Kentucky, but there are pieces coaches would like to incorporate this season.
“The bottom line is there are some things we feel like can fit in our system and our kids can do well,” Hinshaw said.
Much of this preseason will be about making sure the new stuff fits with the UK personnel, whi
ch includes returning five veteran offensive lineman, All-SEC standouts like running back Benny Snell and tight end C.J. Conrad as well as a host of other versatile options.
“We’ve got three weeks to play with it a little bit,” Gran said. “There’s going to be a few we don’t like that we’re going to trash. And then the other ones if we’re good at it we’ll formation it and use different personnel, that way the quarterbacks know exactly where to go and everybody knows what to do.”
Because UK has so much experience on that side of the ball — well, except at quarterback — coaches thought like the veterans could digest new concepts.
“We feel like we can push the envelope with a couple of different plays here and there, using some NFL cuts and stuff like that would be good,” Hinshaw said.
Philadelphia was a good place to start. Including the regular season and playoffs, the Super Bowl champs scored more points per game (29) and touchdowns per game (3.4) than any other team in the NFL.
On third down, the Eagles converted on 44.7 percent of their tries, including 60.5 percent in their final three games of the season. That 44.7 percent conversion rate was up significantly from 38 percent in 2016.
That’s a place Kentucky would like to improve. The Cats were ninth in the league in third-down conversions, getting it 39.3 percent of the time, which is up from the previous two seasons, but there is still room for improvement.
It doesn’t hurt for Kentucky’s players to see professionals successfully running the same plays.
“You’ve got players who are looking at the screen and saying, ‘My gosh, there’s the Super Bowl champions running this play and we’ve got it seven or eight times on our cut-ups,’” Hinshaw said. “It reinforces what we’re doing offensively.”
This isn’t a new idea. From the little leagues to the professional ones, there are plenty of teams mimicking what they see working for other teams. Even the pros have latched onto the simplicity of run-pass option plays that are working at the college level.
And Pop Warner? Does UK really plan to take stuff from football’s littlest league?
Probably not. But Hinshaw didn’t rule it out in the future.
“If it will help us,” he laughed, “I’ll steal like crazy.”