LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- Last season, when quarterback Will Stein was injured in the second quarter of the University of Louisville's game at Kentucky, Cardinals coaches turned to freshman Teddy Bridgewater. As with any first-year player, the offensive staff had to keep things simple.
They built on Bridgewater's foundation from week to week, but it wasn't until this past winter that they were able to sit down with Bridgewater and go deeper into his performance last season, and into what they want to do going forward.
This summer, Bridgewater and Stein have been immersed in a master's level course in football film study, with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson acting as absentee professor. He can't sit down with the players and conduct meetings, but his presence is palpable in the film room.
In an interview last week with WDRB.com, Watson shared a little bit about what that study experience is like for his quarterbacks.
To start with, Watson put together what he calls an Orientation Book for the quarterbacks, which not only details deeper points in what he wants to be a more complex offense than the Cardinals ran last season, but delves deeply into defensive philosophy and why the U of L offense is built the way it is.
In this offseason, Watson said he's had three major objectives: Improve individual players based on their performance from last season; improve the scheme; and finally, to "push the learning curve" for Bridgewater and Stein.
"As a quarterback coach and coordinator I believe this -- the most critical time in a quarterback's life is the offseason," Watson said. "If you're trying to learn the things you need to know during training camp, you're in trouble. Teddy has been really good at this, at making the most of the opportunities to learn and study in the offseason. He's a great, self-motivated player and so is Will Stein.
"It's great for both of them that they have that same drive, especially when it comes to film study."
Watson spent most of the spring installing new offensive nomenclature and instilling a new offensive philosophy. He said he wants the offense to be less static and more "multiple." He wants to use more personnel groupings, while being able to run multiple types of formations and plays out of those groupings. In other words, he might send out a passing personnel group, but wants to be able to run out of that. Or send a two-back personnel group into the game, then shift to a passing formation.
"I love multiplicity because that allows you to play to your skill set and your team but at the same time be creative in the way you use them to create touches for the playmakers," Watson said. "Our installation right now has that in it. So now we develop the way we do our business, creating touches and matchups that our players can take advantage of. And it's conceptually driven so it allows you to be multiple without being hard. The thing for us to teach our guys is the how and the why. Last year we were teaching the how. This spring and summer, we're getting to the why."
But rather than jumping straight into studying quarterbacks and offenses, Watson first set up their study sessions to focus on defensive philosophy in college football.
"I always teach quarterback play from a defensive perspective first," Watson said. "I want them to know how a defense is put together. That's the why part. Why do we do what we do? Why are we trying to attack in this particular way? People forget that part. I start at the very beginning, and they have the whole summer, so now they can study defensive football and how it relates to opponents that we are getting ready to play, and also the management aspect of the game."
The quarterbacks will have available cut-ups and clips of all the defenses they are likely to see this season. They will see the defenses of league opponents in detail, with different looks and tendencies edited together. In July, that study narrows to the first three opponents next season, before going back to UK.
"That's the one they get in their blood," Watson said.
Watson also obtains video from various NFL teams so that his players can watch particular quarterbacks -- Drew Brees and Tom Brady were those he mentioned specifically. He wants them to see how the best do it, their footwork, their eyes, decision-making. Then he gives his quarterbacks detailed video of their own play.
They will get cut-ups of every snap from last season, every throw. Watson can't sit there and critique the video, but he has written detailed notes on every interception, every significant play. The quarterbacks went through those videos once in the winter in preparation for spring ball, and will go through them again this summer.
"This is where they really get to know the game," Watson said. "I know it's coming back when I can hear Teddy articulate in detail why we're doing something. The how is the obvious. The why is the real reason. When he can see why he made an interception, study a decision error and tell whether it was a bad read or ball placement or poor pocket awareness or poor confidence, kicking and sliding in the pocket, those details mean a lot. . . . If a kid knows why we do something or why something happened, that means it's in their DNA. If we had a visiting staff in here, my goal would be that they know this stuff so well that our quarterbacks could get up and articulate a play on the board and explain the how and why of what we're doing, and why it works, just the same as I would."
"It's amazing. He watched the video in the winter and maybe was a little defensive, thinking, 'It wasn't really how coach saw it.' The other day Teddy came in and said, 'I can't believe I did what I did. That's not happening again.'"
Beyond studying defenses and studying their own plays, the QBs also study U of L's offense, looking at plays from spring practices or scrimmage to see what worked and what didn't, and try to understand why.
"Everything is broken down conceptually with the video," Watson said. "In their orientation book they can go through this past season in detail. Every time they threw, say, 361 dog lightning, it's in there and they can go through their coaching points and get that in their blood."
The final piece will be to study situational football, two-minute drills, going through coaching points Watson has written and watching film of their own play in those situations, the Cardinals' offense, or play by NFL quarterbacks in particular situations.
"I can't call meetings," Watson said. "It's against NCAA rules. So they have to be self-motivated. As they hit it, I do know this, I see them because we've been around camp and I've seen them at least three times a week."
Watson said a great deal of progress has been made, but because so many key players will be only sophomores, it still won't be a finished work when it hits the field for the opener against UK.
"Offensively this season, we want to be able to run the football," he said. "All championships, at all levels of football, the teams that win run the football. It'll always be this way. And you have to have a good run scheme, but a lot of times the reason you can run the football is because you can throw it. Developing our players, having our personnel sets, receiver sets, tight end sets, running back sets, where everything is balanced run and pass and you have guys who can make big plays if they touch it. Those are all the things we're trying to do.
"In the season, one of the big challenges we have besides running the ball is delivering explosive plays in the passing game, and then being efficient with it and managing it, where if it isn't there, check it. We've got so much work to do it's not even funny. But the cool thing is that keeps you humble. The humbling part is we have so far to go. The hungry part is that we can do it, we've got some talent to get there."