Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Part II Handling the back to back defense with a 4i

In the first part of this article on handling the back to back defense and the 4i (fig. 1), we discussed the quarterback mechanics and reading his way out. But what happens if the quarterback struggles in the game with this stunt? Speed of the defense versus speed in practice can make even the most adapt quarterback struggle in a given situation. Or, what happens if even though your quarterback is reading well, your best athlete is never touching the ball? Do you go a whole game being sound strategically and executing the triple well while the defense dictates the player who has the ball in his hand?
In our system we would never allow these two situations to happen. First and foremost, we are never going to continually put the quarterback in a situation where he has been struggling. In the same realm, you can say that we have supplemental plays to offset this stunt. However, I have always believed that if you are a triple team – you are a triple team! If one stunt can get you out of running the basis of your offense then your offense isn’t the soundest. Along with this, how do you know when the defense is going to call the stunt? Are you going to make play calling a guessing game?
Secondly, we are never going to allow the defense to dictate to us. That means play wise or personnel wise. How do we accomplish this? Simple! All our plays are actual packages. Every package for the triple has a different pre-practiced answer to the defense shown in fig.1. (For quarterback recognition we refer to this as a “fifty.” That means #3 outside and a playside linebacker inside the handoff key) In the first article we referred to our 41-49 package (all our triple packages are 40’s) where we read ourselves out. In this article, we will refer to 44-46 our “load” package and 42-28 our “arc” package that have different answers built into them to handle this fifty look / stunt. In each of these we will block one aspect of he defense and change / simplify the quarterback read while keeping at least two of the three options alive. Additionally, we will explore some tags we run in order to enhance and dictate what we want!
44-46 (fig.2)
In our load option vs. a 50, we are going to block #2 with our tackle (he will drop step and aim outside hip. Do not position – this is a physical log) The halfback will lateral step, wait for the tackle to pass then load the backer. (If #2 is coming down he will go outside the tackle’s hook to seal the wide scrape linebacker.) The quarterback will read #1 (the handoff key) and sprint around the load option support. If the load widens he will tuck. If, as he looks to tuck, the safety fills inside with the halfback he will leverage pitch.

This scheme has essentially eliminated the back to back reads for the quarterback. He now knows he has time to come off the mesh and get to his pitch key.

Although essentially a quarterback fullback play, this keeps all three of the options alive while taking the back to back away from the quarterback.

(I know this resembles the midline tuck play to many people but there are a couple of differences. First the proximity of the FB mesh allows the handoff key to get to the FB and the play to continue to the perimeter. The midline tends to be a give because of the distance to the key. Secondly, we are trying to log #2 – not make it a tuck play. Finally, being a gap wider a physical nose cannot push the center into the mesh.)

42-48 (fig.3)
Fig. 3

In our arc scheme instruct our tackle to make a call vs. any 4i that tells the quarterback and fullback the give aspect of the option is dead. The fullback will now aim wider and wrap for the scraping backer. (In essence, he and the tackle will exchange assignments.) The quarterback will skip out and pitch off #2 (we have him skip because it puts him on the top of a crash pitch key – keeping the ball from being batted down; and it allows him to clear the fullbacks path.)
We have now taken the back to back out of the read and made it a quarterback / halfback play

Keeping the fullback in the game
Many defensive coaches will tell you that once they play a 4i the fullback is dead. They also teach this concept to the defense, letting them run to the other options. A good option coach will not allow that to happen (unless, of course, you don’t want your fullback to carry the ball!) We accomplish this with two tags that become automatic gives.
Check Donate (fig.4)

(When you donate – you GIVE)

Used with 42-48, whenever we add “check donate” to the call, the tackle will change his call vs. a 4i (everything else stays the same except the tackle will only split 2’ regardless.) On the tackles call the quarterback will give the ball off with the fullback bending around the tackle’s block and making a “soft shoulder cut” under a scraping linebacker.
Used sporadically (4-8 times per game vs. a 4i defense) this can create a number of long runs as we are not an outside veer team but have slipped it in without the HB sealing down as a key.

Check Kebbler (Fig. 5)

Fig. 5

(The Kebbler Elves made chocolate chip cookies – we are chipping the handoff key with our guard!)

Used with 41-49, whenever we add a “check kebbler” to the call, the tackle will call “kebbler” vs. a 4i. This tells the fullback and the quarterback it is a give and the fullback should square up as soon as getting the ball. The tackle will loop as called but go right to the near / middle safety. The guard will step lateral so as to gain width and catch the slant with his near shoulder, blunting his move as he continues to the safety. The blunting action should stunt the 4i enough to allow the FB to pass. (Note: we do not cut down our split in Kebbler)

Run Midline triple vs. the defense (fig. 6)
The midline triple is, in essence, the same play as 41-49 (see first article) except for the fullback mesh is further removed from the read. This does two things. First, there is a greater chance that the fullback may get the ball. (The path of the defensive tackle must change for the two meshes!) Secondly, the back to back is easier to read due to the time it takes to reach the quarterback.

An additional element of this play is the position of the force player relative to the pitch. To be successful with back to back reads you must get force to the pitch immediately, otherwise the halfback has a great advantage in the footrace to the perimeter. The use of twirl and no motion will put the secondary in a softer position vs. the pitch.

Some additional notes on the 4i and the back to back reads:

  • Reading a 4i consistently will add wear and tear to your fullback. The proximity of the 4i and the force he comes down with, unimpeded due to a loop scheme, will take its toll. One thing I didn’t like when I use to visit Army was this aspect of their offense. It seemed like every week another fullback was out with a nick or a concussion. By keeping the fullback alive they were killing him.
  • Putting in these calls for a specific game may be okay but having them always in your repertoire is better. You will perform them better. There will be less doubt in the team about them (especially the quarterback) And you’ll have answers when the defense tries to surprise you!
  • If your quarterback is constantly getting battered by a crash pitch key or not recognizing the back to back, the first thing you need to do is look at your teaching methodolgy. This includes your teaching progression, system for recognition, mechanic taught, practice methods, and vocabulary used. Secondly ask him what he is seeing. It will give you great insight into why you are having this problem. Too often we blame the kid and his ability. Triple option is a coach's offense and as a result a teacher's offense.

You can see that my philosophy is to not let the defense dictate to you, whether that be
In what play you run, In the quarterback read mechanism, or in who handles the ball.

The second partof that philosophy is to be a quarterback friendly offense. We tell him we will never ask him to do something he can't do or doesn't understand and we will never ask him to take a beating for the team! He's gotta know you have his back!!!

I hope you find this article useful. Any questions can be addressed to 3backoption@gmail.com

I hope to get 2 or 3 articles up during the holidays

Merry Christmas to ALL!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008


I was watching the Navy game versus Army the other day and I noticed a number of “leverage pitches” by the the Navy quarterback, so I thought I’d write a short article on the subject since it is often ignored and misunderstood when teaching an option quarterback to attack the perimeter. It is definitely a technique (or concept) that can add numerous explosive plays to an option offense as seen by Shaun White’s first run from scrimmage. To the naked eye many of these pitches seemed like the quarterback was pitching off the wrong man.

So what is “leverage pitching?”

I first came upon the term back in the early 80’s during a routine conversation with a good friend of mine and option guru, Tony DeMeo. At that time, I was just making a gradual transition from the wing-t to becoming a full fledged triple option coach. Naturally, I was more concerned with the basics than some advanced concept that, in order to be implemented you needed a thorough visual understanding of the application of these concepts. (You really needed to see and understand when a pitch could and couldn’t be made with leverage pitching ven though you might be pitching contrary to basic option rules. It was not a concept that could be taken from paper to the field and taught rote by a system of rules which was where I was a the time.)

Later in the late 80’s and early 90’s I spent every spring at West Point and probably studied over a 1000 game tapes of three back option football. One thing that kept popping up was “leverage pitching.” (If Tony hadn’t talk to me about it, I would have thought that most of these situations were a product of getting lucky on a bad pitch decision!) So we started teaching this concept on the run.

Leverage pitching” is simply pitching the ball in a situation where the quarterback technically does not reach the pitch key, HOWEVER, the pitch man has such great leverage on the pitch key that it is impossible for the pitch key to chase him down.

Leverage pitching is a product of the Flexbone / spread offense; where the use of motion allows the pitch to be flat down the line rather than back into the backfield, characteristic of the I / wishbone offenses of old. If you do not pitch the ball down the line and wide then do not read on because the depth of the pitch will allow the pitch key to chase it down. (Our pitch relationship is 6 yards wider and only 2 yards deeper then the QB. Our pitch is almost literally down the line of scrimmage. We've even been called for a few illegal foward passes. I got this from Delaware and listening to Bobby Sutton preach that the motion back can never outrun the quarterback, so sprint as wide and as fast as you can.)

The execution of this is simple. If the quarterback thinks that the pitchman cannot be caught by the pitch key, he pitches it. This takes place as long as there is no immediate support outside the pitch key (i.e. cover 3 strong safety or rolled up corner in cover 2) as this constricts the running lane and allows for a shorter alley the pitch key has to run.

The easy way to understand this is through a number of examples:

  • Army-Navy game: There were numerous times the quarterback did not get to the pitch key, yet had big games. In most of those situations the MLB or playside inside LBer, depending on the defense would scrape over the top and insert himself between the pitch key and the quarterback, technically outnumbering the offense. However, because the pitch key was FLATFOOTED and close enough to the quarterback, the pitch was made and a big result occurred. Technically, Navy pitched off the wrong man but with “leverage pitching” the ball is out and on the perimeter.
  • Georgia – Georgia Tech game: Counter speed option away from trips. The pitch key stepped inside and got hung up with the tackle. The guard could not get the log who kept stringing it out. Technically the quarterback should have tucked up but upon seeing the pitch key hung up inside, he makes a successful “leverage pitch
  • Georgia – Miami game. (I believe that was the game.) Tech runs triple to the stack. They get a give read with the lber “hanging” to tackle the fullback after it is given. Since it is not an echo stunt the correct read should be a give read for limited yardage. However, Tech pulls and pitches because the pitchman has leverage on the pitch key. Big gain.

(For us this read is a “never wrong.” If he gives and the fullback hugs inside you get 5 yards / if he pulls and pitches – you get big play.)

  • Vs. any slow play pitch key: The pitch key feathers the QB in order to bide time for the support. There is a time in the sequence where the pitchman will out leverage the pitch key. If the quarterback isn’t by the pitch key he should pitch, rather than being stretched to the sideline for no gain.
  • Vs. any load block: Take a tightend load with the halfback sealing inside vs. a 50. As the quarterback attempts to out run the tightend’s block to get outside, he realizes that the stretch is too great. However, when he looks in the seam, he realizes the pitch key has folded (not a stunt) inside with the halfback and is waiting to fill inside or out. PITCH IT. The pitchman outflanks the pitch key.

You can see the advantage of the leverage pitch. What is even more important is how you teach it. First and foremost, we teach our Quarterback he is always right as long as the pitch key does not tackle the pitch. Simple. That’s his job. Period!

Secondly, although we talk about leverage pitching and we’ll walk him through and run him through some situations in order to understand the concept, it is only through numerous “live” reps that he’ll get a feel for it. Point it out on film and on the field when the opportunity occurs but never force it. Over time he’ll get it. Over twenty years of teaching the option, I’ve realized that “leverage pitching” is not a technique, not a concept, but a “feel” acquired over time and reps that can separate and average quarterback from a great one and a three yard offense from an explosive one.

We have always felt that big plays come in the perimeter. We will get our fullback yards no matter what but if you get the ball on the perimeter, "circling the defense" your offense becomes EXPLOSIVE!

Hope you enjoyed!

Looking forward to your replies.
My next article will be Part II of the back to back reads – “Blocking the stunt in order to keep your options alive.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Attacking the "Back to Back" keys with the triple - part I

Sorry for the delay in getting up a new article as I was a little under the weather.

Over the years, the two most prominent comments I hear from defensive coaches are “If you insist on running the option we’re going to hit the quarterback in the mouth every play till he says ‘uncle!” (commonly referred to as “back to back” reads.) and “a 4i totally eliminates the fullback from the triple.” Very simplistic approaches to defense indeed but I still get numerous emails from novice and veteran coaches alike that have a problem with this format of defense. So let’s take a look at some answers when both these problems are present. (see fig.1)

First and foremost, when we built our offense system we built in the answers to these problems so that they can get reps every day, give our quarterback confidence that the answers are there and he does not have to “read his way out” when he is having trouble doing it, and we can execute answers within our system and not be surprise by a defensive front popping up on us each and every week.

We do not, all of a sudden, say “This week we need to put an answer for back to back in.” We do not grab back every week and expect our quarterback to execute the “plays of the week.”
Since our system is based on concepts built within packages, we will handle the 4i and the “back to back” with the following concepts, all taught from the first week and instilled within the system:
1. 42 – 48: Our base triple.

The concept here is that we are a veer / arc scheme whenever possible with the exception being a fifty. We are reading the handoff key (#1) and pitching off the next man. (#2) Built into the concept is the fact that we will not read a 4i, instead we will block the 4i, wrap the FB and turn it into a double option keeping the QB and pitch alive.
2. 41 – 49: Our loop / arc whenever possible scheme. (the exception will be a fifty front or certain 4-3 configurations)

We will again be reading the handoff key (#1) and pitching off the next man out. (#2) In this concept we never block the 4i and will read our way out. Thus all three of the options are alive.

3. 44 – 46: This is our load scheme

We are reading the handoff key (#1) and pitching off support. #2 is going to be blocked (except in a reduced front where he is the handoff key) In this scheme we are basically becoming a QB / FB play although the pitch is alive on the perimeter.

4. 42 – 48 Charity:

In this scheme the 4i is blocked as in any 42-48 (see above) except it is a predetermined give with the FB wrapping around the 4i and making a “soft shoulder” cut under the linebacker who should be, by sound defensive theory, scraping over the top. This keeps the FB alive with the 4i. (It should be noted that in this scheme our tackle only splits 2’ to facilitate the FB’s path.)

For the sake of space we are going to divide the article into two parts. In this one we will deal exclusively with reading out way out. (41-49) In the second article we will deal with the other three ways to block ourselves out.

Reading Back to Back: (41-49) (fig.2)

Over the years I’ve really become more and more favorable to this scheme and, being a triple option team, we will always start off this way: “reading ourselves out.” I know most people frown on this as a method that causes fumbles and insecure quarterbacks. However, I have not had those problems and have linked our success to three reasons:

  1. Mechanics of the mesh and off the mesh.
  2. Teaching spatial focus through the mesh
  3. Practice organization including reps with this scheme every day regardless of what e “expect” to see.
  4. Confidence by the quarterback brought on by pre-snap reads and clues, repetition and knowing we have answers if he cannot accomplish the feat asked of him.

(I cannot emphasize the confidence factor in the quarterback, by teaching all of the above factors and knowing he has another way out – alternate blocking scheme, the quarterback can attack this read with confidence.)

A. Mechanics off the mesh

It is important that the proper mechanics be practiced without the complexity of the read. This simplifies the learning process as he only has to concentrate on footwork necessary to protect himself and the ball without worrying about reading. We do that in a section of practice called “handoffs.” Every offensive day the quarterback will practice all our meshes and where applicable there will be two gives and two pulls. On the first of each segment, he will sprint off the mesh as if there is a soft key. On the second he will use the mechanics listed below for a crash or “back to back” reads. This segment allows for perfect execution of the technique without having to worry about the read.

The mechanics are simple but must be practiced. Versus a crash we want the quarterback to retrace his first two steps, pulling him away from the pitch key and creating better separation (pitch relationship) with the receiving back. (see fig. 3 below) Basically, as the quarterback sees the flash of the crash (see spatial focus below) he will “retrace” his first two steps, snapping the ball to his chest in good position and placing himself in a seated position. The pitch will come out as soon as the second step is in the ground.

It is important to note here that what you say to the quarterback about his job with the pitch key is critical. It is not the quarterback’s job to get hit by the pitch key; it is his job to “absorb” the pitch key. We define absorb to mean that the pitch key does not make the tackle on the pitch. PERIOD, nothing else! If done properly the quarterback should never be touched by crashing end.

(It is important that you explain this and the situation to the refs PRIOR to every game. The rule states that, after he pitches the ball, he is not there for target practice. Only if hit while pitching or upon releasing the ball is it legal.

About 7 years ago we played Madison High School, whose coach made the statement that we’d be lucky to have a quarterback by the end of the game. Needless to say, despite crashing every down with an all-area player, they never hit the quarterback once. Late in the game, frustrated, the player continued on his course, was flagged for 3 unsportsmanlike penalties, and finally ejected from the game.)

B. Spatial Focus

This is perhaps the most important aspect of teaching the quarterback the back to back read. To easily understand the difference of spatial focus to fine focus, picture yourself driving to work this morning. Although you were focused on the car in front of you, you were also aware of the car to your left or right and everything else you could put into your peripheral vision. Spatial focus is simply seeing through the handoff key to the pitch key. Although detail both of the handoff key and, to a greater degree, the pitch key is lost, the quarterback can still differentiate gross motor movements.

Fine focus is the narrowing of scope to a fine detail within a scene. On the drive this morning it would have been to focus in on the license plate number of the car in front of you. Once you do that your peripheral vision becomes narrow. In the case of reading the handoff key, fine focus would be zeroing in on the helmet stripe or the far shoulder. This prevents the quarterback from reading to back.

In order to accomplish this, your methodology of teaching the quarterback must be in terms that align themselves with gross muscle movements. Our thought process for the quarterback is “I will give the ball to the fullback every time unless the handoff key makes a direct path in front of the fullback’s crease.” Nothing more. No helmet strips. No shoulder turn. No far shoulder read. (for those that think this is too general and aligns with misreads, I invite them to talk to teams that have played mine or seen my game footage at clinics. Even with the notorious “up move” our quarterbacks read at a high level.)

With the back to back look we teach the quarterback to react to the flash (gross muscle movement / out of focus but none the less seen) of the pitch key coming down the line while reading the handoff key; not after it. The reaction to this “flash” should trigger the quarterback to perform the mechanics mentioned above, abort the ride, and pitch the football.

I don’t mean to be critical of other methods but if you read the helmet stripe, shoulder turn or far shoulder you have to refocus on the pitch key once the pull decision is made. In essence you have to read twice. If you do that it takes an added split second, just the time for the pitch key to get a shot at the quarterback. I really hope that if you use a fine focus key you think about it. You will always have trouble in any combination reads: back to back or stacked.

C. Practice organization
After we initially teach the quarterback the mechanics of the mesh and the initial handoff key looks and we cover the pitch technique versus the various reads, we always include a pitch key in our reads. We never just have the handoff key. In essence we force our quarterbacks to spatially focus in everything he does. We do this in three phases of the practice schedule.

1. Mesh drill

This is where we just have the quarterback’s and fullbacks. Most teams do this with just the coach as the handoff read. We however always include the pitch key but using the rotating quarterback and placing the rotating fullback in a stationary “relative” pitch position. We get multiple reps and spend 5 minutes on this every offensive day. (2 ½ on back to back; 2 ½ on stack) I simply single the read (extra QB) behind my back on what read I what.

2. Ride and decide.

This is exactly as above except we add the c, g, t and interior defensive players. Even though the halfbacks are working on blocking or receiving, we use a pitch key by incorporating the rotating quarterback and he rotating fullback as the pitch man (stationary) thus getting carryover even on defense. (they get pretty good at gining the same looks!) This is a 7 min segment 3 ½ to the right and 3 ½ to the left with no huddle to get maximum reps.

3. Team ½ line

Everything is scripted and all echo and back to back stunts are included regardless of the defense we are seeing that week. If you are to “read your way out” the quarterback must be exposed to these stunts; full speed and as a surprise. We’ve had more then one QB get knocked on his butt by stepping into a crash end in this segment of practice. Usually it only takes that one time to get the message across to the quarterback. Additionally, in the previous two drills, as much as we try, without full contact on the quarterback he can never learn to read it properly. Over my years of running the triple I can safely say that the biggest problem in dealing with the crash off the mesh is not the recognition of it but the game speed it occurs with.

D. Development of quarterback confidence.

In order for the option quarterback to develop confidence he must be given a good set of pre- snap clues. We teach the quarterback to look for the following:

  1. Position of support player: You will rarely get back to back in a reduced flank without the appearance of a support player outside. It is simply defensive suicide if the pitch is made.
  2. Subtle changes in defensive alignment. A crash read must be close enough to crash and reach the quarterback. With the advent of the rocket, this is usually a tighter alignment than normal.
  3. Change in stance. A parallel stance player will usually stagger into a racehorse stance.

All of the aforementioned pre-snap reads can be enhanced through sound film study.

Additionally, our quarterbacks know that if they are having difficulties, whether because of the speed of the stunt or the quarterback having a bad day, they know we have ways to block the stunt (or at least half of it) and simplify the situation for him. You will be surprised that by just knowing in the back of his mind we can save him; the quarterback will make a great effort to read it properly. Simply stated, he knows that we’re not going to let him fail regardless of what we initially ask him to do.

In part ii of this article we will explore the three other ways we block ourselves out of this stunt when reading it becomes a problem.

Have a great Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 6, 2008

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Setting a simple rule for when and why to run the triple to an a-gap player

There has always been much discussion with option coaches about when and where to run the triple. This article will deal with one of those discussions: “When and Why to Run the triple to an A-gap (guard-center) player rather than a B-gap (guard- center) player.” It will also present a set of rules that hopefully help the coach with his decision where to run the triple.

For the sake of this article, we are going to limit ourselves to the non-tightend flank and eliminate any formational or blocking adjustments and supplemental plays that may be called in order to counter some of the problems we will mention here. We are strictly going to be talking about running the triple.

That being said, we will then be limited to 2 flank looks: an “ace front” and an “reduced front.” We will define those as follows

ACE FRONT: #3 (counting out from the handoff key and eliminating a defender to cover the wide receiver) is outside the tackle and there is no linebacker inside the handoff key to that side. (fig.1)

REDUCED FRONT: #3 (same counting system as above) is inside the tackle box. (fig.2)

(Since we are concerned with counts here, coverage configurations are irrelevant. Also if a 4-3 goes to 3 deep, by definition it becomes a REDUCED FRONT away from the rotation.)

Looking at the ACE Front, in a basic triple scheme (read #1 – option #2) the playside halfback is need to arc on support, if the play is run to a b-gap linemen and the defense has a middle linebacker who is trying to get over the top to outnumber the offense on the perimeter (fig. 3), commonly referred to as "squeeze and scrape," the offense will be outnumbered on the perimeter.

The offense is only left with one alternative in order to keep perimeter numbers on their side: single the 3-technique and attempt to seal the box with the tackle (fig.4) The problem lies here in that the qb’s vision to the handoff key is blocked by the push of the 3-technique and on a “give” read the triple is effectively reduced to a zone dive. (If the handoff gets any chance at all!) A regular diet of this scheme will entice the defensive coordinator to force a give every time and make the offense a traditional one to his defense.

(It should be noted though that if a defense is effectively giving a “pull” read every time (we’ve all seen defensive coordinator’s get into this rhythm-thank God for them!).) the pre-mentioned scheme of singling the 3-technique and sealing the middle linebacker with the tackle is highly effective providing the guard can neutralize the 3-technique’s penetration ability. Width of the defensive alignment becomes a factor.)

If the offense runs the same scheme to the A-gap player, the tackle’s release (whether you are running loop or veer) gives the offense a chance to seal the box and not disrupt the give read. (fig.5)

(Note: when veering vs. a 4-3 the tackle should always work vertical first assuming that the MLB is running over the top and then adjust by his third step to the dive reaction.)

Now let’s look at the same play to the REDUCED front. With #3 inside the tackle, the HB can now be used to seal the linebacker so he isn’t a problem on the perimeter. However, the safety can be the player who outnumbers the option on the perimeter. (fig.6) if the tackle again is absorbed by the b-gap player in order to create the running crease for the fullback.

If the play is run to the a-gap player the tackle and the halfback both have a chance of getting the linebacker with the other coming off for the safety. In fig. 7 the tackle captures the linebacker allowing the Halfback to take off for the safety. In fig. 8 the linebacker scrapes over the top forcing the Halfback to block him allowing the tackle to come off for the safety.

(It should be noted again that if the defensive coordinator is giving the triple a steady rhythm of having the 5-technique take the fullback, the offense can single the 3-technique and create the same situation on the perimeter with the halfback and tackle accounting for the linebacker and safety.)

So what are the general characteristics that can be used to fomulate a rule as to when to run the play into the a-gap player?

  • The defense must be forcing the offense to take the ball to the perimeter the majority of the time, however, not all the time. If the defensive reaction constantly becomes a give read the play can be run to the 3-technique providing the guard and tackle can get movement of the 3-technique vertically allowing a two way cut for the fullback. Also, as we saw previously, the play can be run to the 3-technique if the defense constantly makes the offense take the ball to the perimeter and the guard can keep the 3-technique’s penetration to a minimum. (See that DC a birthday gift!)
  • In all cases the offenses ability to handle the 3-technique must be a factor. If the guard can handle him or if the combo from the tackle can secure the guard quickly enough to get to the backer (ACE only) then this isn’t a factor. So the width and ability of the 3-technique’s alignment becomes a factor in game planning or an in-game decision. Additionally, if you get enough movement on the 3-technique to cut off the linebacker (happens often) then you can run it to the 3-technique. The linebacker’s depth has a lot to do with this.
  • The defense is absorbing both the tackle and halfback as blockers while running an unblocked player from inside the handoff off key out. (In the ACE example, the halfback is absorbed the playside safety and the tackle by the 3-technique with the linebacker running from the inside free. In the REDUCED example, the 3-technique and linebacker use up the tackle’s and halfback’s block allowing the safety to run the alley.) Of course if the defense is not runningthe linebacker in an ACE or the free safety and linebacker both in the REDUCED defense, the need to run to an a-gap player is off!)

So as a general rule we use the following summary to decide if we need to run the triple to the a-gap player:

“If we cannot handle the three technique with our guard (rarely can we) and / or the defense has absorbed the blocks of both the tackle and the playside halfback and are outnumbering us on the perimeter by running somebody from inside the handoff key outside, we will then run / check the play to the a-gap player.”

This is where the coaching staff either needs to check the play or formation the a-gap where you want him. Of course there are other answers in schemes, formations, and auxiliary plays to handle this problem but we never want to get far from our roots – the triple. Additionally, we will run the play in this situation occasionally to the 3-technique and leverage pitch negating the inside backer or put the pressure on the free in the alley to make the tackle. Depends how good we are.

Then there’s the tightend flank but that’s a whole other animal……..

I hope you enjoyed this article and leave some feedback. I've enjoyed reading the many people's comments they've sent me. I realize that this article is a "basic" univeral idea but I think it's important to get those out there for new coaches or just as a review.

Please pass on this site to friends, fans, and other coaches.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Please look at the list in the sidebar often

.....and at the bottom of page as I add to them every week!

Myth #3: the difference in hig school and college from an offensive perspective

Let’s continue to look at the differences of high school and college from an offensive perspective this time, taking in the greatest difference the hashes. (For actual measurement differences, please refer below to Myth #2)

I often see coaches run the exact same “system” offensively that they get from a college or at clinics. Many times, this includes the same method of attacking defenses through the use and placement of formation and / or the structure of their “attacking philosophy” or audible system. While there is nothing wrong with learning new methods and employing new strategies, as we have seen in “Myth #2” the horizontal differences in the playing field cause the college philosophy to be tweaked. As a college coach once showed, with the ball on the hash in high school and using 3’ splits and a 1 yard body width, there is only approximately 11 yards between the tightend and the boundary. This distance is further shortened by the presence of secondary defenders (support, alley, and second contain) whose support pattern can flatten out a runner even more. Not a very large distance to “turn the corner.”

To illustrate this point, let’s look at number of examples from different types of offenses:

1. An option team: for the sake of this article, we will take what is probably the most popular option system today: Georgia Tech’s or Navy’s, and work through some of the “short side” problems.

In this no tightend system the triple option checks are based on “numbers, angles, grass.” This means that if the number of defenders is equal the offense will run to the side with the best blocking angles In the examples above and below (fig 1 and fig 2), the numbers to both sides are equal as are the perimeter angles, so the quarterback should direct the play to the boundary due to the better interior angle: the A-gap player. These are both common structures since the majority of defensive coaches would prefer the 3 technique to the field vs. a non-tightend formation in an option attack.

Assuming that we are not getting a crash on the quarterback and using the width of the option alley as described in Larry Bekish’s Option classic “40 + 60,” you can see that the high school hashes leave about 1 yard of leeway to turn up the field. (fig. 3 below) (I’m using coach Bekish as the option expert. I highly recommend his book "40+60") We are taking 1 yard for the width of each linemen and 1 yard for each split. The 3-5 yards from the halfback represent the average distance to absorb the quarterback. According to option experts the optimal option alley starts here and extends 7-9 yards wide. Further complicating matters is the fact that the option alley forces the running to usually gain further width as he heads up the field. (Running hash, numbers, sideline. The reason the “alley” is tilted.) Add to this the free safety flattening out the runner further and a wide defender on the stalk block using the sideline as a twelfth defender. These additional defenders flatten out and limit the gain by the running back.
To further back up this analysis, this weekend I took 3 college teams running the option from my DVR. When studying options run into the boundary, 75% of the pitchmen turned up within 5 yards from the sideline. (Granted this was an estimate; done completely by eye. So there is no effort to say it is empirical data!) This would translate to turning up 1 – 2 yards from the sideline using the high school hashes. Furthermore, of the 25% that did have a chance, 80% of those were flattened out to 1 -3 yards from the sideline within a 4-5 yard gain. (or less!) All of this data would back up a statement I heard years ago, from Barry Switzer at a clinic, that the current hash situation (old college – same as high school) are 3 yards short of having a consistent option game in which the ball is pitched to the boundary.
(It wasn’t coincidence that one of the leading proponents of moving in the hashes was Tubby Raymond in an era that Delaware became an option and Jet team. Do you think he was setting himself up for success?)

This does not mean all s lost. There are answers and we’ll mention them later. In an upcoming article we’ll talk about tweaking the option offense in order to counter field dimensions in detail. (Remember, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and all the rest of the bone teams had their heyday on the exact hashes!) Also I've included a list that overviews some of these ideas at the end of this article.

2. A zone team: For simplicity, we’ll talk about the stretch play, run to a tightend - flanker into the boundary. (see fig 4 above)

Again let’s add up the 3 one yard gaps and 3 one yard wide linemen and we come up with 12 yards left to turn it up the sideline. (Now I know the stretch gurus out there will tell me the splits are smaller and if we get vertical push by the tightend we can create a soft corner to turn up faster but for the sake of this article we’ll keep the splits consistent [we haven’t counted the ½ of the center’s body] and assume the defense fills all the gaps and plays the play properly. Against a poor or unsound defense you can do anything you want.)

A good 9 technique should be able to stretch the zone at least 3-4 steps so we’ll make the turning point now at 8-9 yards from the hash. (fig. 4 above) Certainly a little better then the option example but with an outside leverage team (i.e. a seven man front) to run away from, an alley player coming to flatten out the ballcarrier and a wide defender playing the stalk that can use the sideline, the gain can certainly be kept to a minimum.

A zone option is usually worse as it needs an “option Alley” for the pitch in addition to the stretch of the zone to get the quarterback to the perimeter.

Again, there are answers. (see below and later articles.)

3. The pass: This is perhaps the most intriguing and most unrealized of the group. For the sake of the example let’s use the four vertical pattern: popular for a long time against a single high safety defense.

If you look at fig. 5 below, you can see that the #2 receiver is wide of the hash and has to find a way to get back to it for proper field distribution. A single high safety team can funnel out the #2 receiver pretty easily due to the proximity and leverage of the inside backer. This would force an overlap of patterns for the deep 1/3 halfback allowing the safety to favor the receiver to the field.
(you older coaches might remember that, except for the 3-step game, the original run and shoot people ran almost exclusively from a 3 x 1 final alignment when on the hash and a 2 x 2 when in the middle of the field.)

As a matter of fact the whole 4-wide concept of counting defenders in the box is defeated by the proximity of the hash. With the short distance a defense can overload the box, yet be relative to #2 for the pass. (see fig. 6 below) This defensive concept is still employed today with the narrower hashes but much easier with high school field dimensions.

Finally, the loss of distance into the boundary puts a strain on any horizontal stretch patterns. The other day I saw the Auburn run a short trips pattern with a choice route into the boundary for a first down. The quarterback needed to zip the ball into a very tight window to a ballcarrier who was swarmed immediately for a four yard gain. Although it did serve its purpose as it gained 4 yards for the first down, if you take away 3 yards from the stretch there’s a good chance those tacklers are now intercepting the ball.
So what are we to do?
I’ve composed the following list of ideas to deal with the shorten sideline. I won’t discuss them all here but will try to elaborate on most in later articles.

General: (relative to all offenses)
1. Unless the defense declares strength formationally with you and you can run to the field or you meet one of the following criteria below, putting the formation to the boundary is not a good consistent strategy. (although it works as a good change-up with a specific plan on a specific down and distance.)

2. Avoid, where possible, running consistently into the boundary vs. balanced defense (5 ½ to each side) If the need arises to run to a certain technique (i.e. A-gap player or 3-technique) change the formation to get that to the field. (i.e. using a tightend to the boundary will usually get the a-gap player to the field in a 4-3. A two wide look would not do this)

3. Use formations to equal numbers to the field, allowing you to run there.

4. Use an “Artificial Hash” system in play calling. I first came upon this method while coaching in Cornell in the early 80’s. Simply said, the coach would gameplan based on 5 horizontal spots on the field: the old hashes, imaginary new hashes that are3 yards in from the chalked ones to the goalpost, and the middle of the field (between the goal post). A coach, knowing the room he needed would call formations and plays based on these 5 horizontal positions on the field. It’s really not that hard and, if you know your offensive system thoroughly, you really don’t have to chart it. I’ve been doing this for years off my head; knowing and eliminating the plays that have a hard time with the short side except in position 2 and 4.

5. Use formations that eliminate or put greater distance to the alley player running to the boundary. This eliminates flattening out the running back and gives you a greater chance of getting north and south.

As an example, I’ll give you a situation that arose 2 years ago in our opening day. Play placing trips/ open to the field, a traditional 50 team would go three deep to the field and really skew the free safety to that side. By running midline triple without motion, we were able to break 5 runs over 60 yards to the boundary. The runners (QB and HB) were able to square their shoulders and get north and south without the presence of an alley player to flatten them out. If the defense didn’t comply, we had a field call included in all the packages.

Another example of this would be the one-back zone with twins to the field and wing to the boundary. Tough to get 3 on 2 for the pass and run support to the boundary.

6. Use constricted formations to the boundary. Without a wide receiver to the boundary the offense has a greater chance to circle the defense, seal the pursuit thus creating a “pivot point” to turn up the field, and hit the alley running. (To still defend the field, the safety is usually in the middle of the formation and has a way to go to get to the perimeter.) The nub away from unbalanced is a great example of this.

7. Understand and gameplan that certain plays are only 4-6 yard runs to the boundary. Live with it WHEN you want it.

Option Offenses (all of the above are included)

1. Only run options that constrict the defense thus bring the reads to you and widening the option lane. This is as opposed to running plays like zone options and rockets and jets that widen the defense and constrict the option alley.

2. Run loaded options. Getting the quarterback in the seam is a great way to counter the limited space. Also, if combined with a constricted formation it gives you the chance to “circle the defense” and allow the pitchman (or QB) to turn up for greater yards outrunning the second and third level defenders.

3. Only run to the boundary where #’s and angles are both on your side.

4. Run options that you pitch off #1 (handoff key) such as midline and double options. They happen quickly and give the back time to turn north and south.

5. If 3 back, run your twirl and no mo options to the boundary, restricting the amount of flow from the defense that constricts the running lanes.

6. Use formations to the boundary to enhance running to the field. For example, we might use a splitend to the boundary to get the three we want to the field or to get the defense to balance up giving us numbers to the field, or to occupy a perimeter defender in our passing game.

7. It should also be noted that the “tougher” the runner your quarterback is; the greater your success will be running to the boundary. (As opposed to a speedier quarterback)
8. If 3-back option consider flipping your better runner to the boundary, giving him a chance to outrun people and get the use of a full option alley.

This are but a few “bullets” the offensive coach has to combat the reduced area to the boundary in high school. I hope to elaborate on these in later articles. Hopefully, it gave you an idea or just made you think. Please feel free to leave a comment or email me directly at 3backoption@gmail.com
PS sorry for some of the pics! I'm still getting a feel for this

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Have an All Encompassing Recognition System

One of the projects I enjoy working on is to DVR as many option teams as possible and then take my time and analyze the games. The advent of Direct TV, multiple channels, and all the Fox branches allow for a plethora of action to be dissected. My analysis though is not based on technique or new schemes but rather getting a feel for the “system” employed and how a particular school attacks a particular defensive structure and vice versa. Over the years this has given me the advantage when I see something new; for I really have already seen that defense and have a preconceived idea of how to attack it. It is important that a coach constantly put his “system” to the test theoretically before the actual events happen.

To illustrate this point, I will use an Army game I was recently studying. It’s pretty obvious that their system is based in the old Sutton / Young methodology of recognition and play calling. (A fact further enhanced by the info passed on to me that they had Young, Sutton, and former offensive coordinator Greg Gregory in to “school” them in the off season.) They may not be using this system but for the sake of this article we will assume it to get a point across. It is the same recognition system that I learned option football in and the one we have refined to call our own. That makes it easy to make my point.

(Please understand that in no way am I implying Army doesn’t get it. These are just some facts that, over the last seventeen years, people have pointed out to me or “learning experiences” (a positive tag on my mistakes) that have allowed me to correct the system.)

A simple flaw in the recognition system or the “trap” 6 man side

If you know anything about the old Army recognition system, it counts to the non-tightend side and recognizes “looks” to the tightend side. The tightend side is recognized as tackle / tightend +1 (seven man fronts), tightend void or empty (eight man fronts), and tackle / tightend +2 (six man sides). To the non-tightend, although they counted from the outside in, it basically came out the same as counting from the inside-out: #3 outside is a seven man front (50 or ACE) and #3 inside as a reduced front. (plus the variance of six man fronts.)

One of the advantages when playing an eight man is to go unbalanced (end over – tightend or splitend) and be able to handle the free safety in the alley. In the game in question, Army went with a tightend over formation that certainly would handle the pesky free safety in the alley (fig. 1 above), even if the free moved over to that side. (fig. 2 above)

The defensive answer to this was to flip the Corner from the nub side (fig. 3 below) matching numbers with number and absorbing all the blockers while allowing the free safety to still run the alley untouched.

At this point, most experienced option coaches are saying just go to the nub and with the interior leverage (A-gap linemen) either the halfback or the tackle will handle the playside backer with the other coming off for the free. (fig. 4 below) The problem though lies not in the scheme but in the recognition system and the need for an “exception” to the rule. The flaw lays that in this system, the quarterback is recognizing from the alignment on the tackle out. Thus he was “trapped” by the system into running to a six man side (including the unblocked free.)
You can see this yourself by looking at figure 2 and figure 3 and placing your hand over the diagram from the guard in. In essence, both configurations look identical. (With all the checking done in a triple option offense, it is impractical to both label defenders as free safety, etc. and number them as well.) Thus, the quarterback is duped or “trapped” into believing he is not only handling numbers but accounting for the alley player (free safety) as well.

There are a number of these “trap” six man sides in every system; anomalies that don’t match up with a given recognition system. These seem to happen the most in end-over, tackle-over, or funky formations where defensive adjustments (some by design and some by their confusion!) can muddle a picture for a quarterback.

So what do you do?

  1. Give an easy “exception” to the rule – an all encompassing “out.”

When we first started encountering these we thought of a number of ways to recognize them individually. However, these amounted to added work for the quarterback that included the memorization and recognition of specific rules for a situation we may encounter once or even no times during a given year. Too much learning! So the answer lied in a general out. Something the quarterback can hang his hat on and know he is never wrong. We came up with two: one for an unbalance formation and one for a balanced.

  • Unbalanced Formation: The quarterback will scan nub to unbalanced (we always teach him to do this anyway so as not to stare at the side we are running) If the nub side is reduced he will always check the option that way. This gives him a safe out and alleviates him trying to figure out any muddle unbalanced looks since he never even looks there.

(In unbalanced sets - if the nub is reduced there has to be 6 men to the other side.)

  • Balanced Formation: Any time we are balanced and the quarterback gets a look he is confused by we allow him to check any options the opposite way, providing the numbers are applicable.
    (This notion of giving the quarterback an out – a security blanket may seem redundant throughout my post, but, it is the biggest lesson I’ve learned throughout my years with the option and calling 90% of our schemes on the line. An “out” makes the quarterback confident. The last thing I want is an unconfident quarterback making a give / keep or a pitch / keep decision after the snap. Additionally, with the “out” the quarterback will project as a confident playcaller both in the huddle and on the line. This, in turn, will transfer over to an aggressive, confident team with a high level of success in execution. If you ever had an unconfident quarterback call plays, even in the huddle, you will understand this statement, or, as Napoleon said “morale is to the physical as three is to one!”)

2. Know the exceptions before they happen

In the offseason take your package and line up the formations against every defense. Think from a defensive side and draw up every conceivable adjustment they could make. (Let your imagination reign) Then see if your system holds up. You can take one defensive front a week. If it doesn’t hold – save the look and put all exceptions together. Then look for a common thread or rule that gives the QB an out for ALL of them. One rule taught with the system – not a series of individual exceptions taught new each week. (In the science of learning there is always a learning curve. If you a simple exceptions rule in the beginning of the season, the quarterback will make his normal progression of errors early when it doesn’t count. If you teach a new exception and a new “look” every week, he will make the same number of “beginners” errors but now they count. They are in games!)
Along with this line, when you get a chance to watch other teams run your offense or an offense similar in style (I often do this in wing-t games also) do not only examine what the offense is doing but look at the defensive adjustments and analyze how your recognition would hold up. (we are always looking for the “miracle play” and at times missing the big picture.)
The end result is “DON’T WAIT TILL IT HAPPENS.” Have an answer now! Don’t get caught in a game and have to start figuring out what a look is or how to get to the desired side / scheme in your system. It’s too late then. Have the answers before it happens, even if it never happens.
(After the game, I read where the Army coach stated “This is by no means a complete system. We will continue to grow and tweak it as the season goes on.” Well, I hope that the seniors get another year of eligibility so they can come back and run a “complete” system that gives them answers and a chance.)

3. Keep a running notebook:

Every time you see a new look or an exception - write it down, categorize it, and answer the problem. This can be from film study, clinics, brainstorming, after a game, whatever. Just write it down with answers. The book can then be kept on the sideline or in the both to give quick answers when needed. (Also writing will embed the answer into the coach’s mind and will probably result in quick recall when seeing this look even after a long period.

The point of this article was not to criticize Army. I am sure, as they become more experienced with the option, the system will become more and more complete. The whole point of this article was that if a coach does use a recognition system to check, he must recognize the weaknesses in that system and have answers for those flaws.

My next article (after the next “Myth”) will be slightly different from the theory approach of the first two and concentrate on the teaching of the combo (bumplead) block to a three technique when running the triple.) Feel free to comment and also use the message board listed below and on the side panel.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Myth #2 The college game and the high school game are the same

Throughout my years I've probably attended hundreds of coaching clinics. In that time, I've come away with many great ideas. Truth be told though, many of those ideas had to be adapted to the high school level and there are two basic reasons for this:

  1. The field dimensions
  2. The timing of the game

Anybody who does not understand this difference is depriving themselves of a valuable resource to be used in the success of their team and, although not as obvious, are probably not getting the most from the conversion of their learning experience to actual playing strategy.

(For the sake of this article we will concentrate on the effects of the field dimensions from a defensive prospective and hope to touch on the offensive in the next "myth."

If you look at the high school hashes they are equally distant (53'4" to the middle of the hash.)from one another, dividing the fields into equal thirds. The NCAA field has the hashes set disproportionately (60' from the sideline and 40' in the middle) Although this does not seam like a lot (6' 8" from the hash to the sideline and 13'6" between the hashes) when one takes a look at it closely you will see the difference.

In high school the ball is approximately on or near the hash 83% of the time. That means that 83% of the time you are attacking a "skewed" field of 2/3's to one third.

On the college level, you are probably on the hash a greater amount due to the closeness to the middle and the field disproportion is now approximately 3/5 to 2/5. Not as great as high school.

So where does that change the game? Strategy and Alignment.

First lets look from a defensive view:

Prior to the changing of the college hashes (To all you younger coaches: yes, the college field was once the same as the high school.) the top defenses in the country were schools such as Michigan and Ohio State that defended field first by personnel or / and alignment. The thinking being that if you ran the ball into the boundary the defense could be outnumbered and / or out manned but could quickly make up the disadvantage by closing the short distance through pursuit and using the closer sideline as a 12th man. (Where the term originally started) It wasn't till the hashes started moving in that the complete conversion to the balanced or formational defenses took hold.

(To illustrate my point I am going to use this year's Ohio State / Wisconsin game. The winning touchdown was scored on an option run by Terrell Pryor to the boundary that "squeaked" it's way into the endzone. Even with the college hashes, if Pryor had to pitch the ball, the running back would have gone out of bounds. And with the defense stretching the zone, he turned up about 4-5 yards from the boundary. (I'm giving a generous estimate here.)

Now look at the same play with the old hashes. If you take away the 6 yards, he never would have been able to turn the corner. The size of the field would have forced him to turn run out of bounds. Thus the "immediate" pitch / support player (necessitated on the college hashes) could have come more slowly from a secondary alignment skewed to the field.)

Besides the easier ability to defend the boundary, the added 6 yards to the field create a different defensive dilemma. The ability of offenses to make "formationally" set defenses align to the boundary and then attack the field puts a greater stress on run support with the added widths. Although "read" and "soft" support systems can be gameplanned, there is a definite need to a field based call. (throwing the ball to trips set into the boundary often results, on the high school field, in a 3 man pattern that is so bunched one man can cover or a flat pattern running out of bounds.) The use of extended formations (i.e. Twins, Trips) forces a "tiled" or 3 on 2 / 4 on 3 defense due to the extension of inside coverage people.

The second place that the hashes affect the defenses is in alignment. First and foremost this is seen in any two high safety defense. Take quarters for example. How many times do you see the safety over #2 align as if the ball was in the middle of the field. You look out and he is standing virtually next to the corner. In essence you have two guys aligned in the outside 1/3. And, if you are a zone drop team, your field distribution is way off with regards to the field side. Additionally, if you pattern read, the inside patterns will most likely be run far to your inside. We've all had underneath curl players who consistently overrun curls and slants thrown to the boundary.

So what does that mean for the defensive coach? Does he ignore what he hears at clinics from college coaches? Absolutely not. But he adapts so as not to lose the advantages the high school field gives him.

Some suggestions as to how:

  1. Play your best people to the wide side when on or near the hash. People did this for years prior to the moving of the hashes. (When I usually suggest this - most coaches say "You just can't put all my bad athletes on one side! They're that bad." My reply is always the same: "Would you rather have them defending space? I even like my odds of defending Michael Jordan in a phone booth!") You can then adjust tactically by scheme to defend what the offense is doing to the sideline.
  2. Have a package completely set to the field. I'm not saying "be unsound to the boundary," I'm saying defend the field first in this package.
  3. Have hash rules for your secondary and underneath droppers. In certain coverages (actually we do it in all our coverages except where the free is spun down) the safety should not cross the hash. You cannot tell me a zone technique to the boundary you cannot play from the hash. (Even the flat - it was done for years!) Playing contain from the inside out is not a problem with 18 yards and a boundary helping. (An offshoot of this is that when your defense starts getting confused, this is a "static" defense you can line up and just let them play.) Our Hook / Curl player knows the maximum width of his drop with relation to the hash.

Hopefully this gets you thinking. It was done for that. There are a lot of ways to skin a cat and it's great to learn as many as possible. Defending the field is not the only way.

In my next "Myth" I will explore have the differences on offense between high school and college.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Give the Quarterback an out vs. the “echo” stunt

The initial reaction of most defensive coaches when they play the triple option is to test the decision making process of the quarterback. Simply stated that means either a) disguising or giving multiple looks to see if the quarterback can get the offense into the right scheme or side, b) playing games with the handoff key (i.e. “bluff” or “up” moves, or 3) using perimeter stunts such as the back to back stunt (fig. 1) and “echo” (fig.2) to put pressure on the quickness and stability of his decision making while, hopefully, causing that added pressure to take away from the mechanics of the mesh.

I have found over the years that many coaches will attempt to read their way out of these stunts no matter what. If that fails they will go to another section of their offense. “Reading out” is not a bad philosophy and our offense starts there. However, no matter how good the quarterback there will be times this gives them trouble. Why? Perhaps the speed and execution of the defense is too fast for him to handle. Perhaps the alignment of the defenders, for some reason (quarterbacks are human), confuses him. Or, perhaps, he just has a hard time with this particular stunt.

(I was once told and since came to understand that coaching a triple option quarterback is much like hitting a baseball. This is not only true in “one-way” decision making but also in “pitch” selection. Every quarterback, like every hitter has an “Achilles heel.” A read he just, for who knows what reason, doesn’t read as well as the rest. This is akin to the hitter who can’t hit the curve or has trouble with the high heat. If football many of us have actually witness this watching “NFL films” with Jon Gruden or Mike Holgram meeting with his quarterbacks and asking which plays in the game plans they felt comfortable with and which throws they felt comfortable making. It’s up to the coach to acquire that knowledge and not only work on those weaknesses more (we script a hard read at least 30 – 50% more throughout practice) but also give him “outs.”)

So the answer of reading the stunt is not the problem. What becomes the problem is the abandonment of the triple if the quarterback has trouble reading his way out. You are now basically saying to the defense, you have eliminated the biggest portion of the offense and made us play left handed. Not only is that true but the defense, once this weakness is exploited, does not have to continue on this strategy for just the threat of a repeat performance is enough.

So what does a coach do?

Simply stated, he gives his quarterback outs. These are mechanics, packages and tags that are built into a system and allow the quarterback to still function in the triple vas this stunt or any stunt. Understand, these are not licenses to decide he doesn’t want to read the stunt but rather controlled strategies (we call our triple packages and tags – so we control if he reads it or not.) to enhance his confidence and execution. If he knows you can take him out of reading it, he will gain confidence in attempting to and trust in confiding with you what his problems are.

So here are some of those answers
1) Allow the Quarterback to check away from any stunt or any look he has trouble with: (This would be akin to a hitter staying away from the pitch he doesn’t like.) Since all of our “packages” are symmetrical (run to all flanks) and inclusive (have “tags” for all defensive fronts. If a quarterback doesn’t like the perimeter look he is getting (seem just about every bastard option defense in 17 years.) or he isn’t comfortable with a “stunt look” he is getting, we allow him to check “opposite” providing the #’s are similar. This means we will give up interior leverage (angles in the “numbers, grass, angles” vernacular.) in order to give the quarterback confidence in the execution of the offense. The play is still “option sound” but just not the best way. However, speed of execution through added confidence will level the decision to go that way. As Napoleon said “morale is to the physical as three is to one.”)

Think of how many times indecision caused a fumble. Then we blame the quarterback for it. Well as a coach, we could alleviate that indecision.

2) Take the stunt further away from the quarterback giving him more time: (This would be akin to moving a hitter back in the box in order to give him more time to pick up the pitch.) the easiest way to do that is to add a tightend into the formation. (see fig. 3)By widening the stunt (that is, if they even continue to stunt due to alignment changes) a number of phenomenon happen, all good for the offense:

a. The read is further from the quarterback / fullback mesh meaning that the stunter must go further to get to his fullback assignment. This gives the quarterback more time to decipher the angle and the stunt. (As a byproduct, I’ve seen quarterbacks read wrong and give the ball (“one way thought process”) and the stunter not get there.
b. Since the stunter is further away, he must make a flatter and faster path to the fullback. Thus it is an easy read. (I’ve seen the “echo” stunt where the player coming inside bypasses the dive and plays the QB and the looper runs to the pitch. In essence fooling the quarterback by the initial actions of a “false” echo.)

  • In order to make up lost ground the stunter will usually show it by alignment. Plus the usual seven-technique will have to cheat out to avoid having the whole defense pinned in on a supplemental play.

    (Another form of the echo that is perhaps the hardest mechanically on the quarterback is what we refer to as the “mesh echo.” (Only saw it once but QB didn’t like it) This is where the end comes right off the mesh and under the QB’s jaw while the stack backer performs the echo. (fig. 4) While the QB is reading the echo, he disengages and is suddenly smacked under the jaw with the ball flying out. This form of the echo is impossible to perform to the tightend.)

3) Block the stunt: Our quarterback knows that, if he is having a hard time with the echo, we will bail him out by going to our loaded scheme. (44-46 in our terminology – fig 5) By doing this we are in essence taking away the stack read from the quarterback. He now reading the 5 technique and pitching off the support player (#3) He doesn’t even look at the stack player.

  • A couple of coaching points on this are the loading HB, on seeing the stunt must check the middle linebacker for a wide scrape before working up to safety. (a well coached stunt will take dive and QB lleaving the middle linebacker free to scrape over the top) The guard must bump up through the MLB but only comes off for the Mike at his level if he sits or shuffles. If the MLB runs over the top the guard will stay on the bump to the backside backer. Also if the guard is covered (i.e. a 2i; we rarely see the echo to a three technique due to sound gap coverage.) he must go stack to MLB before working up o the safety.
  • An added advantage of this scheme is that it puts the fullback back into the triple against a well coach stunt that is predicted on taking away the fullback and the quarterback.

4) Block half the stunt: Running the load scheme is great but it becomes a fullback, quarterback play. What happens, as it did my first year at Langley High School where your quarterback is a marginal runner? Well, we solved the program by adding a tag that allowed the quarterback to check to a “half load” scheme if he faced a 4-3 with a hip player. (see fig.6)

What it was is simply a combination of our load scheme for the people inside the handoff key and our arc scheme outside the handoff key. The quarterback would not read the “echo stunt” since it was protected inside by the tackle’s release. However if they didn’t stunt and the tackle came down to take the fullback, the quarterback will pull the ball and pitch off #2 (the outside linebacker.) Thus we effectively had a way to NOT read the stunt, keep the fullback in the game, and keep the ball out of the quarterback’s hands.

  • (I have often been asked if you can effectively load a loop scheme to the non-tightend side and handle the stunt. The answer is an absolute “NO.” if the echo you essentially leave three people unblocked – the two in the stunt and the support player to take the three prongs on the triple. They win! If you loop vs. a 4-3 you must read your way out.)

In closing let me say there are other methods that we use for taking advantage of the “echo” such as double options, rockets, and other non-option plays. (Hopefully for another article.) The point of this article was to give ways out for quarterback to execute vs. the echo and yet, stay with the triple. To reiterate the most important points:
1) Always start with reading your way out
2) Have a system that has built in methods that will allow you to stay away from the stunt thus giving the quarterback confidence in the offense and your play calling. There are two important points I want to stress here:

  • Have a system. We always go into the game with all three of our triples. Thus our quarterback feels comfortable running all of them. Remember, this is an offense you run all the time. They only have one week to defend it. Don’t take that away from yourself.

  • Your system of recognition and communication must be consistent throughout your offense. We teach a “method” in preseason and ALL future packages and plays are based on that system

3) Time and distance always are a factor in reading. The further you take any stunt away from the read the easier it is to read.
4) Never give up your best player. Do not allow the defense to run one stunt and take your best or best two players away from the offense. Scheme it (within your system) to keep them getting touches within the offense, in general, and within the triple, specifically.
5) Don’t allow one stunt to take the base of your offense (the triple) away.

Thank you for your time and to everybody who ever taught me the concepts expressed here. Please respond with comments as to your thoughts on this article. Hopefully it’s the first of many more. (Please excuse the formating of the pictures. After I imported them, I realized there was a better way to do this from the start. Next one will be better.)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Myth #1 - The "Gamer"

One of my pet peeves is the notion of the "gamer" - the player who turns it up a notch in the game but is perhaps not the best practice player. Let's look at this notion logically -

1. we all agree that proper practice increases the excellence in performance of the player and team. (anyone note agreeing with this notion is basically saying we all are wasting our time and belittling the title of coach.)

2. the job of the coach is to secure the optimum performance of the individual player and team regardless of the ceiling the individual's ability may have.

3. with this information, the "gamer" no matter how well he plays in the game will never be as good as he could be, had he practiced properly. Simply stated his performance will never be as good as it could be.

4. if a coach relies and believes in the "gamer," he is essentially saying he has very little control over the performance of his team and the result of that performance is akin to rolling the dice or leaving it up to the "football gods." (aka matural ability)

The greatest example of this is Marcus Dupree (yep, I'm showing my age here!) He excelled in high school despite only showing up for games. He excelled at Oklahoma despite being allowed to slough off. When he finally got to play in the pros he failed because despite his great natural ability. It had not grown close to his potential. I am sure with a different work ethic - rather then saying "who?" people that read this post would be reminiscing about a great pro career he had.

So myth #1 is the idea of a "gamer"

There simply is no animal!

In my career I've associated this phrase from a coach with the interpetation of "I just can't get him to practice hard."


About 35 years ago I decided to enter the world of coaching football. During that time many people (too many to even attempt to list) have helped me in my growth as a coach. Without all those people and all their efforts (sometimes resisted by a very stubborn and often stupid young coach.) I never would have had any success. They stayed with me through my mistakes, guided, pushed, and cajoled me until I had the skills that enabled success.

This blog is an effort to give back what was given to me. I feel along the way I was fortunate to have been handed the keys to the kingdom. This is not to give the premise in any way that I know everything or the way listed here is the only way. The keys that were given to me were a great appreciation for those that went before me, a great thirst for the knowledge associated with this game, and a thorough understanding of the ingredients that led to success in this great profession. Based on that, I wanted an avenue to pass those ideas on. Thus grew this blog.

In this blog will discuss many aspects of coaching, ranging from the technical, to the inspirational, to the mechanical, to the moral dilemmas facing the coaching profession. Much of the information given here is not mine and mine alone but rather a library of collected thoughts gathered from many of the great minds I have had the pleasure of being associated with.

Although my main love now is option football and we will concentrate in that area, I will not limit the entries to this topic. Rather, we will include many of the peripheral subjects that are instrumental to having a successful program and team. Items that maybe are overlooked by many technical sites but make the experience of playing and coaching football what it is today - the greatest sporting experience in America.

We'll also have some fun with lists (such as the one for the best technical books I've read currently in the margin.) myths about coaching, "war stories" with a meaning, a just some plain rants at times.

Please take this site for exactly what it is - an effort to give back to a game that has absorbed and filled most of my adult life - and understand that at no time is it meant to infer that the author knows everything or is complete in his learning.

My only hope is that you get out of it what a young coach, disgruntled at the content of an attended clinic, learned many years ago "If you get just one idea, one thought, or even if it just reinforces what you believe in, then it was a good clinic."

I look forward for input and welcome you to the site.

Please stop back often. (or subscribe) My goal is to write at least one major entry each week. The list, myths, quotes, etc. will be an ongoing process so please check them often for upgardes.

I will continue to grow this site and attempt to make it a great place to exchange ideas.