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Will former Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Todd Monken light up the the Georgia offense?

Even with major departures all over the offense, Todd Monken steps into a Georgia football program that isn’t lacking for players to work with that were highly coveted out of high school.

The new Georgia offensive coordinator will have six players on that side of the ball that were rated five-star prospects as recruits, including wide receiver George Pickens, running back Zamir White and tight end signee Darnell Washington.

“With the athletic ability some of those guys have talent wise, it’s got the makings to be something pretty good,” said Brandon Weeden, quarterback under Monken in 2011 when he was coordinator for an Oklahoma State offense that set school single season records for points, touchdowns and passing yards.

Weeden spoke to Monken in the days before he was announced as Georgia coordinator on Jan. 17. After two seasons at Oklahoma State, Monken was head coach for three at Southern Miss before leaving in 2016 to become offensive coordinator in the NFL for Tampa Bay and then spending last season with Cleveland as coordinator but not play-caller.

“A lot of people always assume he’s an NFL guy because of his personality and the way he goes about his business,” Weeden said. “He coaches like an NFL coach.”

Coaching for Kirby Smart in a program that’s finished the last three seasons ranked in the top 10 in the final polls is a plum job, Weeden said. To “recruit the talent he’s going to be able to have access to is something he’s never had. He’s never been able to go get the pool of players he’s going to have the opportunity to get.”

Oklahoma State’s recruiting rankings ranged from No. 25 to No. 34 from 2008-12.

That didn’t keep Monken from running an offense that ranked second nationally in scoring offense and passing offense and third in total offense in 2011 and third in scoring and fourth in total offense in 2012.

Weeden joined the Cowboys after five seasons in baseball’s minor leagues. Justin Blackmon was the No. 722 rated player nationally out of high school and won the Biletnikoff Award in 2011 as the nation’s top wide receiver. Both Weeden and Blackmon became NFL first round picks.

“We didn’t have any Dez Bryants (a top 50 prospect in 2007), the higher profile guys,” he said.

Monken took over an Air Raid offense run by now Houston head coach Dana Holgersen and kept it rolling.

“When Monken came in, he’s like I’m not going to come in here and screw this up because we had such a good year in ‘10,” Weeden said. “He just said, you know what I’m going to put my fingerprint on it. I’m going to come in and tinker with some stuff and see if I can get guys to maybe change little nuances of the offense, not change the entire thing because we had so many good players, so many guys back for that ‘11 season. He just kind of took what we had and just expanded it and kind of made it better.”

Monken employed RPOs and tempo in the spread offense at Oklahoma State in 2011 and 2012 but worked in a pro-style offense at Tampa Bay from 2016-18 where the Buccaneers used play-action and worked under the center as well as out of the shotgun and led the NFL in passing in his final season.

“We were much more of a throw it down the field team,” said Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who was Tampa Bay head coach for all three of Monken’s seasons there as offensive coordinator. “We were much more of a five and seven-step drop and much more of a hard play-action from under center. That’s different where a lot of the college teams are primarily in the gun and you can still do some of that and almost always throw off of run action. Todd knows all that stuff, both ways. I’m sure when he gets with Coach Smart and gets with the rest of the staff as to what they want it to look like at Georgia, they’ll figure all that out.”

Monken’s arrival has excited fans who see it as a sign that Georgia will modernize its offense and follow the lead of Alabama and LSU, who opened theirs up and scored at a much higher clip.

“I think they’re going to be running the pro-style still, but with some more passing stuff into it and maybe some of the RPO stuff,” Prince Avenue Christian’s Brock Vandagriff, the top-rated quarterback for 2021, told the Athens Banner-Herald after he announced his commitment to Georgia this week. “Still, to be able to win the games in the SEC you’ve got to be able to run the ball. I understand the importance of that but I also want to be able to throw the ball down the field as well.”

Said Koetter: “He knows the pro stuff, he knows the RPO stuff. He’s got a really good background. The sky’s the limit to what they can do and I’m sure he’ll tailor it to the player he has.”

Monken will take over an offense that ranked 61st in the nation in yards per game. Smart’s offenses under Jim Chaney and then James Coley last year leaned on a strong stable of running backs and a big offensive line. Georgia went 12-2 last season with the nation’s top scoring defense but an offense that ranked 71st in the nation in passing.

“I didn’t watch a ton of Georgia,” Weeden said. “I saw a little bit here and there. I think Jake Fromm is a good player. They have good players, but at times it just looked a little vanilla. He’s going to add a little flair, a little flavor and I think some wrinkles that may give them a chance to be successful. Some of those SEC defenses are so good you can’t just line up and play football. You’ve got to create opportunities, create mismatches in certain different ways. He’s very ahead of the curve with that. He sees the game through the quarterback’s eyes.”

Weeden spent one season with Monken and in 2012 Oklahoma State started three different players at quarterback. Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman is the favorite to start for Georgia in 2020.

“He wants to do what the quarterback wants to do, he wants to do what he’s good at, what he’s comfortable with,” Weeden said of Monken who was his position coach in 2011. “That’s the way he coaches even when he coaches receivers. He shows guys what the quarterback sees. It all starts with the quarterback. The quarterback’s got to play well.”

Koetter, who also worked with Monken from 2007-10 in Jacksonville when Koetter was offensive coordinator and Monken wide receivers coach, said Monken is “excellent” in developing talent and teaches concepts well.

“He knows what it’s supposed to look like and he’s had success with it,” said Koetter, who spoke while on vacation in snowy Idaho. “He’s seen it work at both the collegiate and pro level so he knows the spacing he’s looking for, he knows the timing he’s looking for and he knows how to drill it. He knows how to get the reps because, especially in college, you only have a limited amount of time you’re with those guys, a limited amount of time in the meeting room, a little amount of time on the field. He knows how to get the most out of his time.”

Weeden estimates Oklahoma State probably went four wide on offense 90 percent of the time in 2010 before Monken arrived and more than 85 percent in his first season but switched up personnel as defenses countered.

“He found a way to maybe add a tight end or maybe add a fullback or maybe add two tailbacks,” Weeden said. “We didn’t do any of that my junior year. That’s a large part of him coming from the NFL.”

LSU’s offense took off this season to become the nation’s best when assistant Joe Brady came from the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and Joe Burrow became the Heisman Trophy winner.

“I think everybody in Athens is hoping that he does what Joe Brady did,” Weeden said. “I’m not knocking it. That offense, it’s not prehistoric, but it’s just not up with the times from what I’ve seen. They don’t play real fast. ...It’s an NFL style type offense right, wrong or indifferent, but I think he adds some creativity. He’s very innovative and I think that’s what that system kind of needs. That’s what Joe Brady is. Whatever Burrow was (in 2018), he had a good year but you bring a guy in that has some new ideas and a new flavor. It just takes a little bit.

“I hate the term system quarterback because I don’t even know what that means, but I think if you find a system, whatever that system is that fits the quarterback, that’s what makes the machine go. LSU found it with Burrow and obviously Tua and Alabama they just do what he’s good at. If Monken likes his quarterback and he’s got some weapons on the outside, I think the sky’s the limit. With the athletic ability some of those guys have talent wise, it’s got the makings to be something pretty good.”

At Georgia, Monken will be coaching in the SEC, not the Big 12 like he did with Weeden, who said the SEC’s upper echelon teams have outstanding defenses, but the bottom half would compare to the middle of the Big 12. The Bulldogs return most of their starters from last year’s defense.

“I think he’s going to do what benefits that football team whether that’s play fast, slow it down,” Weeden said. “Time will tell on that. The jury is still out. He’s a very brilliant guy. He’s going to find out what works collectively for that offense, for that defense and do what’s best for them to obviously win games.”

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