Vernon Adams: Oregon’s Next Man Up

Replacing a Heisman winner is never easy, and FCS transfer Vernon Adams arrives as the Oregon Ducks heir apparent despite no summer practice. Will his late arrival affect Adams’ ability to run the Ducks offense? Mark Schofield has reviewed the film and thinks Adams is a perfect fit.

One of the biggest stories of the college football offseason was the long and winding road for Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams as he attempted to transfer to Oregon. The FCS standout and runner-up for the Walter Payton Award the past two seasons was required to complete a math class – and pass one last math test – before his transfer could go through. He finally cleared this last hurdle, but enters Oregon camp four days behind his teammates.

Questions abound whether Adams can pick up the Ducks’ complicated offense in time to beat out Marcus Mariota’s former roommate, Jeff Lockie. But the “eye in the sky” doesn’t lie and when you look at what Adams was doing at Eastern Washington, the film reveals that the new Duck should be able to step into Oregon’s offense with ease.

Packaged Plays

Oregon’s offense utilizes a number of packaged plays, which give the quarterback several run/pass options on each play. In an example from last season. Mariota is in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field, with a tight-end trips formation to the right and a single receiver split left. The California Golden Bears counter with their base personnel and showing Cover 6 in the secondary, with a corner in press man alignment across from the X receiver:


Two concepts are on display: the read-option and a quick outlet pass. Off the snap Mariota will put the football in the belly of his running back for an inside zone run. Based on how the defense reacts, the quarterback can complete the handoff to his RB, or continue his reads. Should Mariota keep the football, the next option is on the outside, where his middle trips receiver is running a quick out pattern:


The interior of the defense collapses on the inside zone run, so Mariota keeps the football and quickly delivers it to his receiver in the flat:

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The cornerback to that side of the field is deep because of the vertical route from the outside, and the interior of the defense reacts to run action, leaving the flat receiver wide open on the outside for big yardage.

Contrast that with Adams, running Eastern Washington’s offense in their playoff game against Montana. The Eagles have their QB in the pistol formation with 11 personnel on the field, using slot formation to the right and a wing slot formation tight to the left. The Grizzlies have their 4-2-5 nickel defense in the game, showing Cover 2 in the secondary. I apologize in advance for the red turf in these videos:


Eastern Washington also runs a packaged play here, starting with the inside zone read. The only substantive difference between these two plays is that Eastern Washington runs this play to a slot formation and not trips:


This is the same exact play that Oregon ran, and Adams makes the exact same decision. The interior of the defense crashes down on the inside run action, so the QB keeps the football and flips it outside to the short route:

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The Dual Screen

Another staple of the Oregon offense is the dual screen play where the offense sets up a screen play to each side of the field, and the quarterback can choose between the two based upon matchups, ball position or coverage.

Mariota stands in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field, with a running back to his right and dual slot formations. The defense responds with a 3-3-5 nickel package, and walking a linebacker to the short-side of the field and a cornerback in press man across from the slot receiver on the right:


Oregon sets up the crack screen to the right and a tunnel screen to the left. In a crack screen, the running back runs a swing route toward the sideline while the slot receiver blocks ‒ or cracks ‒ either the linebacker or defensive back to the inside.

On the opposite side of the field, the offense sets up the tunnel screen. This is a quick play to an outside receiver working back towards the quarterback while linemen and receivers work out in front of the target to block:


Mariota takes the snap and reads the linebacker across the line from the running back. The press CB gets a jam on the receiver, preventing the offensive player from cracking inside on the linebacker. Since the LB has a clear path to the RB, Mariota comes back to the tunnel screen on the other side of the field:

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The QB tosses to the receiver on the screen, who gets good blocking and breaks a few tackles for a huge gain and a fresh set of downs.

Returning to Eastern Washington against Montana, Adams in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field, with a 2X2 alignment on the field with each side showing slot formation. Montana has their 4-2-5 nickel in the game and display Cover 4 in the secondary:


As with the Oregon example, the offense runs the tunnel/crack screen combination here, with the crack right and tunnel screen to the left:


Adams takes the snap and locks onto to the tunnel screen immediately, without giving the crack a glance. This is likely because of the soft zone coverage shown by the defense on this play. With the defenders off the line, the offense has a chance to get blockers into the secondary as the play develops:

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However, outside linebacker Herbert Gamboa (#36) has other ideas, exploding on the receiver and holding this play to a minimal gain.

Winning From The Pocket

In addition to the packaged plays similar to those employed by the Ducks, Adams is well-versed in other concepts utilized by Oregon over the past few seasons, including plays that require the quarterback to win from the pocket.

On this first example, Mariota is in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field in dual slot formations, 2X2. Washington has a 3-3-5 nickel defense in the game that shows Cover 2 in the secondary:


The Ducks run a mirrored passing play here, with a dig/curl combination to each side of the field. The outside receivers run deep dig routes while the inside receivers run short curls, creating a high/low read on each side of the field.

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The Huskies flash Cover 2 at the snap but the cornerbacks bail and they roll into Cover 4. Mariota initially reads this play to the short side of the field, but inside quarter safety on that side squats on the dig route, forcing Mariota to survey at the opposite side of the field. The quarterback comes to the dig route on the back-side, makes a strong throw and the offense moves the chains. This is how the Ducks use mirrored passing plays, with the QB looking first to the short side of the field when the coverage is balanced ‒ as it is in Cover 4.

Now let’s turn to Adams, this time against Sam Houston State. The Eagles have the QB in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field and dual slot formations. The Bearkats have their 4-2-5 defense on the field showing Cover 2 man under in the secondary:


The offense runs a mirrored passing play here as well, with slightly different routes. The outside receivers each run vertical go routes while the slot receivers each run quick outs:


With the press corners sticking with the vertical routes, the quick out flashes open:

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With the football on the left hashmark, Adams takes the throw to the short side of the field, and the offense picks up an easy five-yard gain on first down.


Oregon’s offense also required Mariota to make reads and work through progressions from the pocket ‒ a trait he wasn’t given enough credit for in the build-up to the draft. On this play against South Dakota the Ducks implement a packaged play concept, with a slot formation to the left and pro formation to the right, and 11 personnel on the field. Oregon starts with a play-action read-option, setting up a bubble screen to the slot side of the field. The tight end and flanker run mirrored post routes on the back-side, while the running back carries out an underneath crossing route:


Mariota executes the run fake and checks the bubble screen. The Coyotes run Cover 0 on this play, with one of the safeties reading the screen action and converging on the slot receiver. Seeing this, the QB works to the backside from the tight end to the Z receiver, and opts for the receiver on his post route.

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Now we have Adams against Sam Houston State. The offense is in the red zone, and the QB is in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field in 2X2 slot formations. The defense has their 4-2-5 personnel in the game showing Red 2 in the secondary:

The Eagles run an interesting play here, with the inside slot receivers crossing at the goal-line, while the outside receiver to the left runs a short out-and-up route aiming for the back corner and the outside receiver to the right runs a deeper crossing route along the backline of the endzone. Finally, the running back executes a flat route toward the front pylon:


Adams takes a quick look at the interior crossing routes, but with the congestion inside he quickly moves off the shallow crossers and glances at his running back out of the flat. But the cornerback to that side of the field has squatted on the goal-line, taking away that option. Adams then swivels to the other side of the field, checking on the out-and-up route. As the receiver starts to make his break vertically, the CB is in good position to take that throw away, so Adams discards that route as well.

He comes to his last option here, the outside receiver on the right, who is wide open in the middle of the back of the endzone, and hits him for the touchdown:

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Here is a good look at how the quarterback works through his reads here:

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Going Deep

The downfield and vertical elements of Oregon’s offense requires the quarterback to execute strong, accurate throws into narrow throwing windows. The South Dakota defense shows Cover 1,  but the safety drops at the snap and they roll coverage to quarters. Mariota has trips formation to the right, with the inside receiver running a post route  between the two middle safeties. The Tennessee Titans rookie splits the DBs, all while dropping the throw over the retreating MLB:

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The inside post route is an “alert” read for quarterbacks against Cover 2/Cover 4. The quarterback will take a quick, initial look at this route during his drop and if the safeties widen enough in response to the outside route, the QB can take a quick shot with this route over the middle.

Which is exactly what Adams does here against Montana:

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Eastern Washington is in the shotgun with dual slot formations, against a defense showing Cover 2 in the secondary. At the snap the outside receivers execute vertical routes, putting pressure on the two deep safeties to widen in response. This opens up a nice window for the inside receiver’s post route.

In addition, the video gives an indication of how the post route from an inside receiver is effective against Cover 2. With the safeties on or outside the hashmarks, the interior WR can put pressure on that soft spot between the safeties (indicated by the purple-shaded zones) and behind the linebackers.

What is also impressive on this play is the anticipation from Adams. Both views of this play show how the QB makes this throw before the receiver’s break, throwing the receiver open. A very impressive throw to be sure.

On Monday, we will continue to look at Adams (and look back at Mariota) in a trait-based comparison between the future and past Oregon quarterbacks.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy

2 thoughts on “Vernon Adams: Oregon’s Next Man Up

  1. All this is great Mark. The unknown factor that you’ve not addressed are the athletes. Marcus was reading bigger, faster stronger athletes. Vernon was reading athletes that aren’t as fast, big or stronger. The key will be how well does he react to the bigger stage. That’s what any scout looks for right in how well does an athletes potential stack up moving to the NFL. My friends son is the new starting QB at Eastern this year. I’ve watched Vernon in the past couple of seasons and will be curious to see how he can respond too. He is a really cocky individual and that will be something that more experienced lineman, corners, linebackers will take advantage of to remind him that he’s moving to a bigger stage. Most succesful QB’s that have ever moved onto greatness are humble and quiet yet big in actions. Case in point, Russell Wilson. I’m going to watch the Eastern vs Oregon game with the family of the Eastern starting QB. Thanks.

    1. Bob: Thanks for the insight! Adjusting to the speed and reaction times of the PAC12 defenders will be an adjustment for sure. His familiarity with the offensive system should help. Thanks for reading and for your great comment, and best of luck to your friend, his son and their family this season!

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