The Importance of John Benton
🌟 Good morning!
It’s going to be pretty quiet over the next month or so for the Jets, I’ve never really been one to scour the players’ social media accounts to see which beaches they’re visiting and which computer games they’re playing…so I’m going to have to come up with some alternative content ideas. We do know that Zach and the receivers will be meeting up in the middle of July for some fun, frolics, and pitch and catch practice.
For today’s newsletter, I wanted to take a look at Jets offensive line coach and run game coordinator John Benton.
Recently I was reading an article about the Shanahan system and that article articulated how important the offensive line coach was, which got me thinking about John Benton, who by all accounts is one of the more respected offensive line coaches in football.
First of all, let’s just take a quick look at his coaching timeline with a rudimentary graphic that I knocked up…as you can see my design skills are severely lacking but I wanted to give a visualization of his journey from a graduate assistant at his alma mater to one of the key components of the Jets coaching staff.
When the Jets made the decision to hire Robert Saleh from San Francisco and he in turn decided to hire Mike La’Fleur from the same system, the Jets made it a priority to bring John Benton the offensive line coach with them. A lot of this offensive philosophy is designed around the outside zone running concept and teaching that concept is extremely difficult, Mike Shanahan said as much when he said:
“It’s gonna take you years, it’s not going to happen overnight. You gotta believe in it. You gotta be a product of the environment. It’s gonna take time. I don’t care if you’re the offensive line coach or the tight-end coach, you need to understand all phases of the running game. There are different types of defenses you’re facing every week, and so the scheme has to change. Read defenses, penetrating defenses, eight- and seven-man fronts. There are lots of different directions you have to go. But if you really believe in the outside zone, if you can use those techniques in the running game successfully, you can adjust against all those defenses. It starts on a day-to-day basis, believing in what you’re doing.”
The popularity of the outside zone grew in the late 80s and through the 90s, most notably with the late great offensive line coach Alex Gibbs and Mike Shanahan in Denver. Those concepts remained prevalent in the Shanahan system which was passed down to Kyle Shanahan. Gibbs worked with both John Benton and Kyle Shanahan in Houston between 2008-2009, and Benton worked with Gary Kubiak there too, Kubiak being a disciple of Mike Shanahan, so when talking about the need to be immersed in this system to really be able to communicate it…Benton worked with the man who was largely credited with advancing the outside zone concept, so it’s safe to assume that he knows what he’s talking about.
John Benton joined the 49’ers coaching staff at the same time as Mike LaFleur, and so both have significant experience working together, Benton also worked with Robert Saleh in San Francisco, Jacksonville and Houston too. When Benton was hired by the Jets his offensive line had blocked for top 10 rushing offenses seven times in the last 11 seasons, including the league’s best rushing attack in 2019 as the San Francisco 49’ers marched to the Super Bowl.
In the simplest form, the outside zone run sees offensive lineman block zones instead of defenders. Lineman will often caravan to the sideline stressing the defense horizontally, the running back is then trained to look for specific options. They can bounce it outside, cut upfield through an open lane, or cut back across the formation. It’s often said that running the outside zone is a war of attrition, because of the stress it places on defenses you are betting your lineman will execute and stay disciplined more than the defense. It’s often said that there is no play that gets stuffed more, or that creates bigger gains than the outside zone.
Kyle Shanahan started window dressing the outside zone play calls with pre-snap motion and play action, a method deployed to keep defenses off balance and prevent tendencies from developing that are easily identifiable by the defense. It’s something that Sean McVay took to the Rams with both the 49’ers and Rams ranking in the top 10 of pre-snap motion usage. I don’t have the figures for the Jets from 2021, but if you re-watch some games you’ll see the Jets used motion a lot, a lot a lot. When coaches leave to take up coordinator positions elsewhere they often take staples of an offense and adapt it to their own philosophy, Shanahan’s fingerprints are on our offensive philosophy but it has been adapted to be unique as well.
I’ve often heard it said that an offensive line unit operating the outside zone scheme is like a synchronized ballet. The movements required by the offensive lineman in this system are unique, prioritizing blocking space instead of defenders and it takes time to teach and to learn. One key aspect that is pivotal is buy-in from the players, Robert Saleh is obviously a players coach, but Benton also worked under Sonny Lubick at Colorado State who was one of the first guys to really be labeled a “players coach” and Benton has often spoken about the influence that Sonny had on him. Lubick was a huge proponent of putting trust in the players, evident in this quote to the Denver Post:
“When I first came in here, they had rules for everything, like where you sat when you ate,” Lubick said. “When you treat your players as human beings, you find out that they’re pretty damn sharp. What I found over my career of 50 years of coaching is that when you treat them right, they’re going to reach further to help you out”
People will often say that the modern NFL is a passing league, and that’s largely accurate. But the run game still goes a long way to helping move the football down the field and making it easier for your QB to find those lanes when asked to pass, which is why it’s so key for the Jets to be able to run the ball effectively. The Jets ranked 32nd in 2021 in terms of rushing attempts per game (usually because we were playing behind), but when we did rush our 4.4 yards per attempt ranked us 14th.
This off-season we’ve brought in Laken Tomlinson, a player who’s played in a similar system for years, and drafted Breece Hall to give us one of the most dynamic 1-2 punches we’ve had in the backfield for some time along with Michael Carter. The Jets are likely aiming to be in the top 10-15 teams in terms of rushing attempts per game in 2022 and that will be key to their success.
You’ve probably heard this a lot over the course of the off-season but the offensive line will determine how effective this offense can be. So by that nature, John Benton is one of the key components of the projected success. His ability to communicate both with the players and his fellow coaches will be vital for the Jets to effectively run this offensive concept that is so critical to the success of the scheme, fortunately, Benton has all the experience you could hope for.
It would be remiss of me to not mention the fact that John Benton was arrested earlier this off-season for a DUI in NJ. Robert Saleh did reference it during the owners’ meeting when he said “It’s a great lesson for everybody: it doesn’t matter if you have one, two … in this day and age, it’s very easy to get an Uber, I know he knows he made a mistake. Hopefully, it’s something we can learn from.” - Benton could well be disciplined under the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
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