Walt Bell is 31 years old and looks every bit that young. Bell is Maryland's babyfaced new offensive coordinator, fresh off two years in the same position in the Sun Belt at Arkansas State. He's only 10 years older than some of his players and has been in coaching for less than a decade. He's been busy, though, moving between Louisiana-Lafayette, Oklahoma State, Southern Miss, North Carolina and Arkansas State.
DJ Durkin didn't hire Bell for his experience, of course. He hired him for his ideas. And judging by a review of game film from each of Bell's two seasons as the Arkansas State coordinator, Bell is a man with a lot of ideas.
For reference points, we've got the 2015 GoDaddy Bowl (Arkansas State vs. Toledo) and a regular season game from this past season between Arkansas State and Missouri.
Let's go through a few points about Bell's offenses:
1. Get ready for screen passes.
Fun ones, though. We're not talking about your garden variety "offensive linemen let blitzers run at the quarterback, while the running back slips toward the sideline and picks up a phalanx of blockers" screens. This is a less common but potentially much more explosive brand of screen pass, and Bell appears to have done a lot of it at Arkansas State.
Here, receiver J.D. McKissic (No. 23) runs across the formation in motion and catches a screen from quarterback Fredi Knighten. Not a single offensive lineman is involved in the traveling convoy for McKissic, however. What's meant to spring the receiver is a block from Knighten's sidecar, Michael Gordon (No. 34). It works, and McKissic gets two blocks from receivers en route to a nice gain.
Here's something even better:
As college football screen passes go, this one is positively erotic. It's basically a pick play, with eventual touchdown-getter Tres Houston (No. 15) starting upfield and quickly cutting back toward the line of scrimmage to catch Knighten's pass. As he's doing that, McKissic (No. 23) steps in front of the cornerback who'd been covering Houston. The Red Wolves have their right tackle and right guard come over to eliminate the rest of the white jerseys, and Houston's gone.
This play, like the McKissic end-around screen, doesn't cost the quarterback his offensive linemen and thereby preserves options and time to throw. It's a less risky kind of screen, because it doesn't automatically expose the QB to getting walloped. If you've got speed and blocking ability at receiver, it can work.
2. Receivers had better be ready to block.
This is a common theme in Bell's spread, which leans heavily on edge running. I didn't have the time to tabulate exact formation frequencies, but Bell runs a lot of three- and four-receiver sets. His offense isn't going to have both a tight end and a fullback very often, and there won't be much in the way of power formations. That means a lot of the blocking heavy lifting falls to wide receivers. Here is one exhibit:
On the converse, here's what happens when Bell does go with something at least resembling a power formation. That only means a fullback and a slot receiver, of course, but this is all relative:
Bell opts to have Knighten throw an edge screen, just with a solo receiver as the blocker. The setup is a fake counter run, which prevents the defense from gravitating toward the actual target and leaves the blocking challenge as a one-on-one.
3. Interior linemen play a big role in the run game as pullers.
This is where it's pretty nice that Maryland has now gotten four-star guard commitments in consecutive classes. Bell's teams don't often run up the gut between the center and guards – sometimes called the "A gap." But they run off tackle or between the guards and tackles regularly (the "B gap"), oftentimes with guards or centers running across the line to lead the way.
The principal here is No. 74, center Devin Mondie, but think of him as a potential stand-in for Maryland prospects Richard Merritt, Brendan Moore or Quarvez Boulware, as it's much more fun that way. Mondie seals off No. 30 for Missouri, the would-be tackler had the best chance to bring down Gordon (No. 34) before he created a chunk play with his legs.
Pulling linemen is nothing revolutionary. Approximately every single FBS team does it, but I point it out here because Arkansas State ran to the edge a lot and therefore did this a lot. Expect the same at Maryland.
4. The Terps are probably going to move fast.
By adjusted pace, this was the 24th-fastest offense out of 128 FBS teams in 2015. The Red Wolves ran 74.8 plays per game this season, while Mike Locksley's Maryland offense ran 69.1. That difference is steeper than it sounds; the fastest team in the country, Texas Tech, ran 83.5, while the slowest, Army, ran 60.3.
But Bell's offenses, in my limited viewing of them, don't veer wildly off course in the name of speed. The Red Wolves demonstrated a more controlled and purposeful chaos, using quick dashes to the line of scrimmage when they had defenses off balance but showing a willingness to chill the hell out when defenses had the upper hand.
That doesn't mean huddling, which they didn't do practically ever, but it meant empowering Knighten to check out of plays at the line of scrimmage and adjust his offense. The snap of the ball typically came with between 15 and 25 seconds on the play clock and regularly after Knighten consulted a little while extra with his teammates.
Quarterback empowerment, you see.
Bell's offense is going to be fast, but it won't always be furious. It'll rely heavily on wide receivers who eat their vegetables and are willing to do the yeoman's work of downfield blocking, especially because Bell's last Red Wolves offense ran on 68 percent of all standard downs – the 23rd-most run-heavy split in the country. It'll rely on versatile, agile offensive guards, a smart quarterback and quality endurance from all parties concerned.
It's not clear if Durkin and Bell have those pieces yet. But if they get them, watch out.