While it remains to be seen what type of role San Diego Fleet offensive coordinator Jon Kitna will play in creating the team’s playbook, much has been made (and rightly so) of the impact we can expect from head coach Mike Martz.
Martz is most famous for his high-octane offense that brought the (then) St. Louis Rams not just back to relevance, but to record numbers on the field and ultimately to a Super Bowl Championship as The Greatest Show on Turf. Kitna might not fill up the stat sheet with his career playing numbers or even professional coaching experience, but being a journeyman quarterback in the NFL has gained him valuable knowledge and player perspective that will no doubt be well received by the Fleet’s players.
One key is that he actually played quarterback in Mart’z system for two seasons while with the Detroit Lions. So what type of offense will the Fleet be running come week one when they face off against the San Antonio Commanders?
The last offense Mike Martz had his hand in was a 2008 San Francisco 49ers team that featured lackluster quarterback play from J.T. O’Sullivan and Shaun Hill — not names that necessarily struck fear into their opponents. However, the 49ers did boast a few weapons on offense that Martz would utilize extremely well that season.
Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, and another familiar weapon from Martz’s time with the Rams, wide receiver Isaac Bruce, all put up solid numbers running a fast-paced offense. Bruce had an especially potent season with 108 receptions and seven touchdowns while Gore was his usual model of consistency, rushing for over 1,000 yds (1,036) with eight touchdowns (six rushing and two receiving). This team was nothing like the one Martz coached in St. Louis, but we could see his fingerprints all over it. Of the six running backs on the team, each of them averaged over eight yards per reception. Throwing early and often to his backs is a staple of a Martz-led offense.
Looking at the Fleet roster, a couple of guys really stand out to me in this department. Despite lacking high volume in college (University of Washington) and the NFL (Tennessee Titans) in the receiving department, Bishop Sankey has shown to be quite adept with sure hands when thrown to. He should be on the field often, and if he wants to be the lead back, pass catching and pass blocking are something he will have to prove he can excel at.
Another running back who I believe will surprise many is Ja’Quan Gardner out of Humboldt State University. Gardner might remind San Diegans of another running back who has made big problems for many NFL defenses despite being what many considered too small coming out of college. Yes, I’m referring to the Lightning Bug, Darren Sproles. While at HSU, Gardner averaged over eight yards on his 81 receptions all while standing just 5-foot-6 inches tall. This is something we can expect to be used by this staff if and when Gardner can show the elusiveness he was known for in college.
We know that Martz likes to use his running backs both in the running game and the passing game. This benefits the rest of the offense in a couple of ways. Primarily, it gives you the ability to spread the defense out. Whether the back is motioned out of the backfield or used in play-action, the running back is often shadowed, which means someone else will be open. This offensive philosophy was personified in NFL Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, who took home the 2000 NFL MVP award. Faulk, who was so prolific at being diverse, rushed for 18 touchdowns that season while catching another eight.
There is one common denominator found in this San Diego Fleet’ offensive story. And that, my friends, is America’s Finest City herself. That’s right, San Diego. Not following me here?
That’s okay, let me show you just how full circle Mike Martz has come in bringing offensive genius back to us. Martz, a native of San Diego, coached Marshall Faulk, who we all know had an illustrious career which started at San Diego State University. The inspiration for The Greatest Show on Turf has been attributed, by Martz, to another master of offense from San Diego. That person was none other than Don Coryell. According to Martz, “The route philosophies, the vertical passing game, everything stemmed from the founder, Don Coryell. The Genius.” Coryell got his start right here in San Diego at SDSU, where he developed his pass-first approach.
It seems fitting now for Martz to pioneer a new football team in a new football league, here, in San Diego. With the season fast approaching, let’s just say it feels like there’s something in the air in San Diego, and with this offense, you can almost bet there will be.