The Recent Pep Hamilton Hiring and the 2013 Colts Offense

Indianapolis ColtsThe Indianapolis Colts have hired former Stanford OC Pep Hamilton to fill the recently vacated offensive coordinator position that was left behind when Bruce Arians agreed to become the next head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. According to CBS’ Bruce Feldman, Hamilton recently interviewed for the head-coaching job at Oregon, but instead opted to reunite with Andrew Luck, whose offense he coordinated while at Stanford in 2011.

Who is Pep Hamilton?

Hamilton’s football career dates back to his days at Howard University, where he was a starting quarterback from 1993-1996, and the team’s scholar-athlete award winner in 1995 and 1996. His coaching career began at Howard University where he served as quarterbacks coach, and later, the team’s offensive coordinator. From 2004-2009, he coached in the NFL at various levels, for the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears, before accepting a job as co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach for the University of New Mexico Lobos in 2010. But before the season even began in New Mexico he accepted a position at Stanford as wide receivers coach, replacing Ron Turner who, ironically, left Stanford to become the Indianapolis Colts’ next wide receivers coach. He was promoted to Stanford’s offensive coordinator in 2011.

The 2013 Colts Offense

The Colts knew what they had in Bruce Arians. Under Arians, the pass-heavy Colts were not afraid to stretch the field vertically. Not only did Andrew Luck led the NFL in passes of 20 or more yards, tied with Peyton Manning midway through the season, he finished the regular season with an NFL rookie passing record of 4,374 yards.

But what will a Pep Hamilton-run offense look like? If his recent comments, first reported by Rotoworld, are any indication, the 2013 Colts will utilize a west coast offense, with an emphasis on a “short, efficient passing game, (and) a high completion rate.” Says Hamilton, “I’m a big believer of the power-running game and I think that ultimately opens up your passing game, the play-action passes.”

On the surface, at least, this move makes a lot of sense since Luck is already familiar with Hamilton’s approach.  But whether the 2013 Colts will have the personnel to establish a “power run game” and by extension, a play-action passing game, remains to be seen. Certainly, they were anything but dominant in 2013. During the regular season, their 22nd ranked rushing game averaged 3.8 yards per attempt, and finished 22nd overall with just 1,671 total yards. But then again, the offensive line never played together as a cohesive unit for more than 4 games. And even if they had, it most likely would not have made a huge difference.

Making the Pieces Fit

To really execute a Pep Hamilton offense, the Colts will need several upgrades along the offensive line. To do this they will need a good draft and some good free agent signings. Fortunately, this year’s draft class is somewhat top-heavy on offensive linemen, with the likes of Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M), Eric Fisher (Central Michigan), D.J. Fluker (Alabama), Menelik Watson (Florida State) and Justin Pugh (Syracuses). And there are some fairly promising names on the list of NFL contract year players for 2013. Players like Jake Long (Miami Dolphins), Sebastian Vollmer (New England Patriots), Jermon Bushrod (New Orleans Saints) and Andy Levitre (Buffalo Bills) will no doubt be among the more sought-after players in the event they are unable or unwilling to reach an agreement with their respective teams. Plus, Colts GM Ryan Grigson has already proven adept at spotting affordably priced, free agent talent. And considering the Colts will have close to $48 million in cap space to work with in 2013, there is every reason to expect the upgrades not only along the offensive line, but at other key positions.

The point is that the offensive play-calling must match the team’s competencies, or else the Pep Hamilton hiring could start to lose a little luster. Even with the right personnel, there will still be questions as to whether Hamilton has what it takes to call plays at the NFL level. Sure, he was successful at Stanford with Andrew Luck as his quarterback. But then again, he inherited an offense that was already posting similar stats the year before he took the reigns as offensive coordinator.

Bottom Line

All we really know right now is that this has this move makes sense on the surface, even if there are some pieces that need to fall into place before the season starts. With an eagle-eyed Ryan Grigson at the helm, and a little luck in the draft, there is no reason to think the 2013 Colts won’t be noticeably better offensively. Life in the NFL has always been somewhat of a crap shoot. Over the past decade or so, luck has mostly favored the Colts. Hopefully, this hiring will go down in history as one of several pieces that fell into place on the Colts’ re-ascension to greatness.