Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Packaging / reverse checking / and teaching conceptually

So people who have heard me at clinics, read, my articles, or had me in for a private session understand I'm always talking about packages and concepts rather then plays. I thought I'd get a little into it here as my people have emailed me for a clarification.
(This will be more of an overview as time and space does not allow for detailed information. Hopefully, it will give someone regardless of his or her style of offense an idea or two.)

Teaching Conceptually

I have always believed in teaching conceptually. In giving the team / player an overview of what your trying to accomplish and how you're trying to accomplish it with each play or package. By doing this you expand your capabilities to expand the packages and allow the player / team the ability to work through unique grey areas that appear on the field.

(An example of this is a stack Lber behind the hand of key in the triple. Is he inside or outside? If you teach rote and are a pure recognition team then you have to treat him as one way only. By his alignment or movement that can hurt you. Additionally, if the tackle recognizes him differently then the quarterback is taught by rote there is a scheme problem. However, if you teach conceptually (we are reading one and optioning #2 and the quarterback will distribute the perimeter blockers accordingly, you are right regardless of where the tackle calls him. Plus you can make an easy adjustment by just telling the tackle or the quarterback to treat him as outside or inside, since the quarterback will apply the concept and distribute blockers according to the concept.)

In our triple system we teach a number of triple concepts within our offense. they may look and be taught as the following

42 - 48 read #1 Option #2; veer whenever possible; block all 4i's and become double option ("jersey" call)

41 - 49 read #1 Option #2; loop whenever possible; Never block a 4i (read your way out)

44 - 46 (loaded scheme) read #1 Option Support (#3 in Ace or 50; #2 in reduced) Veer whenever possible. Block a 4i (double option) except a 50

43 - 47 (load Scheme) read #1 / option Support (#3 in Ace or 50; #2 in reduced) Veer whenever possible. Block all 4i's and move option out Read #2 Option #3 (turns into outside veer on the run)

When a quarterback has these tools and he has already learned option theory (taught in the off season) he can easily come up with the right call in the package.


"Packaging" is simply taking these concepts, coming up with the proper scheme and giving them tags. It is the grouping together of similar or dissimilar blocking schemes to make a concept mechanically sound. It gives us a chance to never be in the wrong play and never be outnumbered on the option.
(Nothing ticks me off more then a play called that has no chance or one that relies on pure athletic ability. That, in my mind, is not coaching. It's not giving the players every chance at success.)

In the all our concepts, our quarterback is trained to recognize FLANKS as a 50, ACE (4-3), reduced front, and a six man side. (For option plays we do not recognize complete or internal parts of the fronts. Our line rules will take care of this.) All our checks are based the same perimeter recognition so once it's learned - that's it. No more.

For each of the concepts above, the quarterback will have a "tag" for each flank (6 man side is to check opposite) One might read as follows:

50 RED; ACE WHITE, REDUCED BLUE (all the terms are just made up for this example)

The tag places the team into the proper scheme.

Some people have said that this is difficult to teach. On the contrary. The recognition is universal so once it's taught - it's taught. The tags are rote. The quarterback must learn them as a times table but that's not hard. First a cheerleader could memorize these tags. Secondly, rote has been proven to be effort. If, your quarterback won't give you the effort - he shouldn't be the quarterback in this offense (really - you're going to out the ball in the hands of a player who won't memorize - think about it!)
Thirdly, our tags are grouped by structure (i.e. all fruit might be used vs. reduced fronts, etc.) Fourth, there is redundancy in the tags throughout our system. Also, since he has already been versed in option theories (i.e. numbers / sealing the box, etc.) he can figure out which tag goes with which defense.

External Tags

"External Tags" are tags added to adapt / add to the offense for a particular play. It allows us to expand our offense greatly without overburdening the team with great learning. Their emphasis and the emphasis of practice is and aways will remain on the base part of the offense.

An example of "external tagging" is our double options. Although we run double options to keep the ball in the hands of who we want, we do not overburden the offense with them. A double option we like against a reduced front is our "Vegas" call where we pitch off the 5 tech. It might be the only double we practice that week against a 4-2-5 team. So we'll tag it onto a triple. It might be called as "42 ck Vegas"

Since the quarterback knows that "Vegas" can only be used vs. a reduced front it would take the place of a  "Blue" call in the above example of "red, white, and blue." If the defense surprises us, we by calls in the package, revert back to our base - something we have run since day one and have great confidence in.

By doing it this way, we can expand and contract our offense easily to handle potential problems. All "external tags" are taught to the team by rote. This can happen because we only run them vs. one defense.

Reverse Checking

Reverse checking is a method of helping the quarterback out and taking away the redundancy of repeating tags over and over again.

In reverse checking, the play is called in the huddle with the anticipated tag for the predicted defense. In the above example of "Red, White, and Blue," if we were playing a base 4-2-5 team then our huddle call would be "42 Blue" rather then just 42. The quarterback would then only use the other tags if the defense wasn't reduced. Otherwise the quarterback will give a non-sense check (something that doesn't mean anything) to tell the team to stay in the original call.

This method also clears up some grey areas. In the case we started with, if "blue" is called in the huddle, the quarterback knows that we want to consider that stacked linebacker inside unless he is clearly outside.

Practicing Reverse Checking

If you are going to reverse check, then you must make sure that the quarterback knows all the tags (and the team also) So, the first two weeks of practice he will call all the tags at the line of scrimmage. We will simply call 42 in the huddle and he must put us in the right play every time. This will go right through our scrimmages.

We will then start weening the QB off the no help system by every one out of three plays we will help and reverse tag (care must be given to make sure all of the tags are still practiced)

During the year, on Monday and Tuesday, he will call all the tags in our half line. (we cover every flank look in this) On Wednesday and Thursday we reverse tag. Care must be given in your scripts to make sure the quarterback has to check out. If you don't do that. He will get lazy AND the team will get lazy in their listening.


I hoped this helped you. I really believe any system can use and benefit from checking and using tags regardless of your offensive style. As I stated before, there is no reason for your team to be in a bad play or scheme.

Hope you got something from it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Rants from an idle coach #3

Redundancy in play call- the good and the bad

Something to just get you thinking a little! Hopefully it does.
Just reading an article in another site about playcalling and the ability to run the triple time and time again,whereas other plays in the offense do not have that ability. I agree with the post but I think there is more of a reason then just what was written. There are certain plays that can be run time and time again but there one catch which we will get into in this article ans there are plays that cannot be run repetitiously because of certain demands. Which plays fit into what categories? We'll try to give you and easy method for figuring that out and also how each category should fit into the design of your offense regardless of what you run.

First of all, we divide all our plays into "rhythm" plays and "intrusion" plays. The "rhythm" platys are hose we talked about that you can run over and over again, such as the triple option that we talked about above. As a play caller you and your offense can get into a rhythm calling the play over and over again and only disruption or lack of execution stops it. An "intrusion" play is one that is designed to take advantage of a particular reaction or alignment to stop your rhythm plays.

(It is important to note that here we are talking about playing against sound teams that are equal or slightly better then you. For teams that align unsoundly or you have a great talent advantage - any play can become a rhythm play if it exploits those aspects.)

Rhythm plays

There are reasons that these plays are able to be redundant in a playcalling sequence.

  1. They do not depend on defensive alignment. therefore they can be run against any "numbers equal defense"
  2. They have a way in your offense of getting away from numbers disadvantages. For example, in our triple scheme, we will check opposite if the numbers are greater then we can run against. No play can be run if there are extra defenders. Great talent can be run against extra defenders but then it is not the play that was successful, it was the athlete who beat the extra defender by skill alone. (I have never had one of those so they are foreign to me.)
  3. They read the defense at the point of attack, therefore they do not rely on a particular defensive reaction. (As an example I'll use the rocket - it is an "intrusive play because if the 5 tech is wide and runs up the field and out. He will destroy the play as it develops. As oppose to the triple where that becomes a give.)
  4. Rhythm plays must attack across a broad front. That means they must make the defense play either assignment football or be gap sound. (A play that has limited entry points can be greatly outnumbered by defensive reaction after the snap.) This is not to say that you have to attack the whole field on a play but you have to have multiple entry points threatened.
Let's take a look at a "rhythm" play I consider so but many people do not - the traditional power. (trust me from playing defense I've seen it run over and over again.) First, it can be run against any defense. Only numbers will stop you from running it and with a sound system the quarterback can check "opposite" easily. As the play has developed, the running back is able to read the defense. He can hit it in the off-tackle hole, read the wrong arm and bounce it, and, with the way the double teams are run now and the tighter entry point, he can cut it back to the A or B gaps. Based on that it is a rhythm play.

The inside and outside zone and zone read schemes are examples of this also.

"Intrusion" plays

There are reasons these plays cannot be run over and over again. (we call them intrusion plays because they intrude on the defensive flow or alignment.)

  1. Some are designed for an exact defensive alignment and cannot be run vs. everything. (Back when the 46 became big I know teams that had a complete package that was only checked to when the 46 - a unique alignment - appeared.
  2. They are based on a particular defense reaction and counter that. The majority of time these plays are "counters" or "reaction" type plays based off the defensive reaction to the "rhythm" plays. The problem with running these plays on sequential downs is the rhythm of the defensive reaction is broken on the first play. (A good example of that was Georgia Tech vs. Georgia. After running the triple Tech countered with the counter dive and had success. However, they repeated this play a number of times with no luck. The reason - the last reaction of the defense was to the counter - a play that needed the defense to be reacting to the triple away.
  3. They can be outnumbered after the snap without change of defensive alignment. Take the midline tuck play. Defenses have learned to fold players inside to outnumber the play. (Yes you can formation and that is exactly what we do. However, then it becomes formation restrictive.) The same is true of the Quarterback follow play - if you don't believe this just look at the Georgia Tech - Virginia Tech game. Short yardage became an exercise in frustration as numerous follows were outnumbered by a normal 4-3 alignment and a "universal" option stunt. (Of course I have an unfair advantage due to the fact that I'm critiquing after the fact. So any comment here should be no reflection on any playcalling. I'm sure there were reasons for this)
  4. It has limited entry points. Take a look at the zone dive. With the fullback getting the handoff right behind the line of scrimmage - he is limited to a one gap cut. (A-B or even if it's behind the nose - for anybody who's run this knows that with the nose working down the line it is a one gap cut!)
What does this mean in playcalling:
  • First you must call you intrusive plays with care and in conjunction to the rhythm of the offense. you cannot make intrusive plays the basis of your playcalling. (except of course against a poorly coached unsound team or teams you totally dominate athletically.)
  • Don't be scared to repeat your "rhythm" plays. Too often we out coach ourselves. Unconfidence shows in thoughts of "I have to counter them here" or "My run pass ratio isn't good." Make the defense stop the base of the offense. If they can't - don't get "fancy play syndrome."
  • Limit your "intrusion" type plays in your gameplan. You probably won't get to use them. Too often we worry about what we'll get - when in realty we get what we saw on film. (I've been guilty of this.) To quote a famous general "Don't defend ghost!" This worry will only take away from practice time of your rhythm plays and their execution. It will also overload the players with stuff you will never use. If they do come up with a "bastard" or surprise look go back to your base rhythm plays - they should by definition not be defensive restrictive and you've been running it for multiple weeks against a team that has only practiced a junk defense for one week.
  • Don't be afraid to have a personality in your offense due to your rhythm plays. It may not be popular but the object is to win the game note get votes. I once had a reporter accuse me of being limited offensively because all I knew was one play - the triple. We were 5-0 at the time. Along the same point - it's interesting that in an age of spreads Alabama and LSU are power teams that hang their hats on the power O. I don't think Miles and Saban are interested in being called innovative.
What does this mean in practice organization:

  • The majority of your practice should be on your rhythm plays. At least 60% of that aspect (run or pass) Maybe more.
  • The "rhythm part of the offense must be universal and practiced as such. This allows you to run this aspect vs. everything. For example - we have limited the defensive looks to 4 to the tightend and 4 to the non-tightend for the triple. Every week we have a 40 min 1/2 line segment where we practice all 4 of our triples vs. all these looks. Even if we are not facing a 4-3 we will run it. By doing this - we pray that the defense changes for us! Our advantage. I believe that this is why offenses can't get in rhythm anymore. Like people say they've caught up with the power. Yet teams run it. (Ask LSU / Alabama / Stanford) It's the way your practice it. When those teams run it, they don't care what you're in except for numbers. They have practiced and taught it to handle all situations.)
  • I truly believe that rhythm plays - since that involve reaction to defensive movements must be practiced live at some place in the week.
What does this mean in designing an offense:

  • The base of your offense should be rhythm plays - 3-5 at most. (for us it's our 4 triple packages) Any more is unpracticable. Any less is limiting your offense greatly.
  • An offense based on Intrusion or unrelated plays is a smorgasbord and at the mercy of defensive alignment and reaction.
  • Your rhythm plays must have a system built in to check yourself out of number disadvantages. The only thing that can stop rhythm plays is breakdowns or number disadvantages. (interestingly, one of the best defensive coordinators in the ACC told me in confidence - you don't stop the triple - you slow it down and hope it gets off rhythm or the offense makes a mistake. Many times he said getting off rhythm was a result of the offensive running a complimentary play that was easier to stop!)
  • "Intrusive" plays must be simple in design and easy to install (see article on Payout vs. cost) In addition they must come off or be answers for your "rhythm" part of your offense.
The key is that "rhythm" plays and repetition is not limited to the triple teams. It's also with spread teams, power teams, zone teams and even passing teams. (I heard BYU under Lavell Edwards say they had 3 "universal passing concepts and they would run those over and over against any defense. And interesting many more gun plays fit the rhythm section due to the depth of the backs.)

I hope this just makes you think a little about your offense this offseason. It's completely theoretical but I think it has it's place in offensive design

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rants from an idle coach #2

Meaningless end of year breakdowns

Nothing gets me to chuckle more then when a coach rattles off his end of year statistics with no caveats. They take all their games and lump all the stats together. They spout this play averaged this and that play averaged that. They had this % here and that percentage there. We led the league in this and we were last in the league in that. What gets lost in all of it is that it is an average. An accumulation of ALL your games - those against horrible opponents and those against the people you have to beat to win your league and district.

I remember when I first starting coaching listening to Woody Hayes talk about designing an offense. He talked about you start with your schedule and rank all your opponents from one to ten in terms of toughness to beat. Then you base your offense on beating the top 3 or 4 teams. That's it. Once you are done there you just make sure you're sound against everything else.

This logic really makes sense when you analyze it. If you can beat the 3 or 4 best teams on your schedule - you should have enough to beat the rest providing you're sound. (He did say that he also threw in the rivalary game as that usually meant somebody's job.) You shouldn't need any more.

Now let's take that to the statistics we talked about above. They should also be filtered in their use in analysis. Don't include your game with "Sister Mary's School for the Armless and Blind." Filter out your top three or 4 opponents and see what your stats we're against those teams only. If you average 50% conversion rate on 3rd and short for the year but only 20% against top competition - the 50% is a meaningless number and you better come up with some answers.

The same filters can be used in any aspect of football. I was just reading in "War Room" where Bill Bellichek thought that a key component to designing an offense to win the super bowl meant to design it to play in "playoff weather" in the Northeast. To analyze and tweak his system - he needed filter out his stats for games played in what he considered "playoff weather." Only then could he get a true meaning of the success of his offensive design.

So when yuo analyze your offense at the end of the year (or defense for that matter) or are listening to a coach espouse the statistical merits of going to his offense, take out the "give me's." You will get the same results vs. those weak schools regardless of what you run. The key is how you do / did vs. the games you must win.

Hope these rants make you think a little.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Running the rocket with downhill blocks Part III

(Note: Images can be enlarged by clicking on them)

Okay - so let's take a look at how we blocked the rocket in order to get downhill blocks. In this article we'll talk about the perimeter (WR and HB) In part IV we'll talk about the interior blockers and show it against many of the traditional defenses flexbone teams face. In Part V we'll deal with formational and blocking variations. (I know that this is a little change from my original schedule but when I did part III it was a little longer then expected and I was forced to cut it up.)

Three concepts to understand with our blocking:
Concept #1
We are a man scheme that applies some zone principles on the run. By assigning a man and then applying zone principles (they only have the defender on one side - the outside) we can be more aggressive with and quicker to our blocks. We also don't have to spend a lot of time reading the "daisy chain" to the sideline of the run and reach concept. Additionally, the blocks are made with the shoulders up field allowing us to be more physical.

In a fifty or 4-3 defense (assuming the secondary is balanced) we will have three defenders outside the tackle for our two blockers (HB and wide receiver) so somebody will be unblocked. (see fig.1 and #2) With this in mind, we will allow the non-support player to go free. I know people hate to let people go but in this case there are a number of reasons the play works so well this way:
  1. We are letting the player go who has the deep pass. We will throw the pitch pass on him if he gets nosey.
  2. In many cases these are small corners who don't want to / can't make the tackle. In today's football world many of these are picked for their pass covering ability first.
  3. Unlike when you do this in a traditional toss sweep or option (we do this to crack an alley running safety in the option game but with less success.) the play does not have to get to the edge - it's there now. When you run the option and set the non-support free, the defender has time as the ball comes down the line, it is pitched back and the halfback has to get his shoulders up field. Often the corner will make the tackle within 4-6 yards of the line of scrimmage with, because of pursuit, the back's shoulders not square restricting the cuts the the defender has to honor. The rocket however gets out there immediately and, because of the fact we try to create a pivot point on the defense (see below #4) with a leverage block, the back can turn up and square his shoulders almost immediately making the defender cover a large area and defending a two way go from depth.
  4. We always try to create leverage with some sort of a downblock / crack. (see concept #3) This allows the back to to turn upfield in space (I guess this comes with the wing-t background)
Concept #3
We will always create a pivot point around the defense with a crack or leverage block where available. We do not want to outrun the defense to the side. We are already outside the defense - we want to get upfield and get yards.

Base Recognition:
To a wide receiver flank we must have somebody make a 2 or a 3 call to tell the blockers and the quarterback if we are going to leave somebody free. It also tells the halfback if the crack affects his blocking and alerts the quarterback if he may have to check opposite. We use code words and let the quarterback make the call using his option count system. However, I've seen coaches let their halfbacks make the count call

Base Rule:
Playside Halfback: I block # 2 (option count) Aim 3-4 yards outside and attack. I do not have any hard inside moves.  If I get a 2 count call and the wide receiver says he can crack I will exchange assignments

Wide Receiver: I have the support player. If he is not blockable - signal in and block non-support. (Yes that is the corner in 2 deep and he has to read leverage as to who supports but it will happen very quickly.)

Quarterback: With a 3 count and the wide receiver signaling he can't block the support player - check opposite.

System mechanics
First: Wide Receiver signals if he can block support and quarterback give count

2 count - wide receiver's signal affects halfback and means nothing to the quarterback
3 count - wide receiver signal affects quarterback as far as flank is concerned

Okay, lets take a look at a couple of examples. (Then we'll talk about the halfback's technique)
1. 4-3 level coverage - a 3 count. The HB has number 2 and the wide receiver will block force. We will leave the corner go (fig.3)

2. The same is true vs. a 5-2 with level coverage. Again a 3 count. we will let the corner go. (fig.4)

3. In a 4-4 or reduced front the count is now 2. If the WR can crack #2 the halfback will arc on #3 (Note: This is not a traditional drop step arc but should get up field as fast as possible off the hip of the Wide Receiver as the halfback is turning up also. (Fig.5)

4. The same 4-4 and the WR can't crack the halfback and wide receiver will block their man by rule (fig.6)

5. Let's look at a 5-2 with 3 deep. If the strong safety could be cracked we will let the halfback go (we can also check away from numbers by a tag but we want to control where we run and we like the wide side.) (Fig.7)

6. In the same scenario as 5 but the strong safety is too tight to crack. Now with the 3 count and the "I can't crack" signal the qb knows to check "opposite" (When there is a 3 count you will and you cannot crack you will always have a reduced front backside. With the SS that tight they cannot rotate back out of it in time. (Fig. 8)

(In Part IV I'll also deal with 2 deep)

Halfback's technique on #2.

When are halfback is assigned #2 we do not want him turning his shoulders and going lateral to the line of scrimmage. Instead we borrowed something from my jet sweep days. We tell him to attack a spot 2-3 yards outside #2, keeping his shoulders as square as possible to the line of scrimmage. As the defender moves he keeps on a course for 2 yards outside of #2. By doing this we feel we have three advantages over the lateral run and reach technique. We also tell the halfback that he doesn't have any hard inside move. We let that go as we don't have to block anything C-gap or in. Basically he is beating the defender to a spot.
  1. We can be physical and not get knocked back. Blocking is always easier going north south and with the ability to let the c-gap move go we can be extra aggressive.
  2. We get on the block quicker. With the ball already outside the block you only need to tie up the defender for an instant. Many times the halfback will just get headup on a running defender but with the ball outside already that is enough to give us a great advantage.
  3. By having a man assignment there is a sureness in his execution and by giving him zone concepts of not having the inside move he can work levels and has a better chance of cutting off the alley runners (Linebacker and free safety.) If you break down your film you'll see these usually make the tackle on a stretched out rocket.

(Note: If I was able to cut I'd still do it the same way as you must get your shoulders square when cutting. It's easier and more jolting to cut going forward with your shoulders square. Additionally, as I mentioned above - if you only got the back leg of this technique but got it quick enough and, going upfield, forceful enough - with where the pitch is caught you already have speed in space.)

As added safety catch, anytime the defender is on the line and too far for the halfback to reach - he will make a "HOT" call. This usually happens in a eight man front. The quarterback knows that any hot calls are automatic checks to our midline double lead. (He will first look to check opposite if that's any better.) With #2 on the line and wide there is no way for the defense to outnumber the midline. You have a hat for a hat. (Figure 9) This is a call the halfback can make on any of our plays where he arc's or leverages #2 and the quarterback's checks are consistent.

PART IV will focus on 2 deep (including the inside corners that are commonly displayed nowadays.) and the guard and tackle assignment and techniques.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rants from an IDLE Coach #1

With time on my hands from being out of work, it has allowed me a lot of time for thinking, introspection (Both personal and professional), analyzation, and reminiscing. Professionally, you get to really analyze what you do and why you do it.  You also get to go back and relate what you do to the lessons you've learned. With that I've decided to add a new feature - "Rants from an idle coach." In it I'll take 1 or 2 points - maybe a lesson I learned a long time ago, an analysis of something I see, or just some thoughts on the profession. For you that are here strictly for the technical aspect - don't worry - these will just be fill ins. (Part III of the rocket article will be coming next.)

Rant #1
A lesson learned:
It's not unsound if you can't exploit it!

How many times do you look at a film or see a defense  or even face one that the first thought to come to your mind is "That's not sound!" Maybe it doesn't have gap integrity vs. the run. Maybe it doesn't keep contain vs. dropback. Maybe it just can't line up to certain formations.

But is it unsound or is it just a "tilted" perspective?

Like you I use to  complain vehemently. It was common to hear me say "I can't believe they played me like that. It was totally unsound. And they beat me!" In my desire to fit everything neatly into a nice "fundamental" view of football - I just couldn't believe that people could play me in and beat me with these bastardized defenses. It was also a way to justify what I was doing.

What I was really doing by putting the blame on the opposing coaches ineptitude was taking away my ability to see the real problem: my offenses lack of an answer or the ability to get to that answer and I also took away a chance to make our offense better. Basically, I was justifying my own ineptitude.

That all changed with a post game conversation with Tony DeMeo. As we usually did , Tony and myself would have these conversations often after games. One day, the conversation about unsound defenses came up and Tony made the statement "It's not unsound if you can't exploit it." Light bulbs went off. I had it all wrong. What I was pointing as the culprit for failure was not the reason at all. The reason was my offense was incomplete. All the defense was doing was stopping my offense. If I couldn't take the "unsoundness of the defense" and use it to my advantage - it wasn't unsound.

Lets give a couple of examples:

First look at the bastardized pass rush defenses of Rex Ryan. The infamous third down defenses where he puts 7 on one side and 4 on the other creating a supreme overload. Are these defenses gap sound - absolutely not but if NFL teams pass 100% of time on third and long - then they're sound. It's the offense that's unsound for not exploiting this.

If you look at Indianapolis a couple of years ago they ran every time they saw these defenses making them unsound, gashing them, and in essence making them all but disappear.

In a second example, lets take an extreme that would never come up but will illustrate this concept. Let's say the defense puts all 11 players on one side of the formation (again this is unpractical but just used for an example.) but your offense could only run the ball to that side - who's unsound. By structure the defense but not in this scenario. The object of defense is to stop the offense. There are no style points for following a preset pattern and looking sound. In this case the defense stopped what the offense did.

So how do we use this? First of all if you face a defensive structure that you cannot exploit it should send bells and whistles off that you need to tweak your offense. The key here is that you have to be able to get to it when they're in it and not a play late. If they lined up in that extreme defense and the next play you ran a play to exploit it you are basically a play behind. (Think about the 7/4 Rex Ryan defense and the offense decides to run the ball on the next 3rd and long only to find the defense has aligned conventionally.)

So not only do you have to have the plays to attack the weakness (Or as Woody Hayes said "attack across a broad front.") but you have a method of recognition to find the weakness and a packaging / audible system to get you into the right play at the right time.

(To further illustrate this think about the 46 defense in its popularity. It certainly had many flaws but was a bitch against certain things. The teams that had the most success and eventually drove the 46 out as a "Main line" defense were those that ran a small handful of plays against it, recognized it, and checked when it appeared. They made the 46 "unsound."

In the 90's, vs. Florida state UVA did this by checking into speed option on a Thursday night game every time they saw the 46. They scored 2 TDS on long runs vs.the 46 which FSU had crushed people with up to that point. I remember the announcer saying "There something unsound about the way FSU is playing that defense." UVA is what made it unsound.)

Hopefully, this gets you to thinking a little bit about the way you do things.

Next up Part III of the Rocket series

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Running The Rocket with "Downhill" Blocks - Part II

In part I of this series we discussed the parameters we used as our blocking scheme developed for the rocket in relationship to the "traditional" "run and reach" blocking of the rocket sweep. (See figures 1, 2 and 3) Every scheme has flaws - every system has holes. This does not make it bad - on the contrary, Navy and Georgia Tech have thrived in this scheme. But as any good coach should we want to keep evolving and trying to find answers.

When analyzing schemes we always feel it's important to look at a couple of questions
  1. Numbers - will a blocker be left unblocked and who?
  2. Leverage - do we have an advantage to does the defense have a advantage before the start of the play
  3. Personnel - who are we asking to make a block vs. a defender and what is the skill set we asking our player to perform? Does it fit his base job description.
  4. Timing - does the entry point of the back time up with the blocks made so as to maximize the efficiency of the block both in duration (least amount of time held) and in scoop. (Does the block have to be at a specific point or does the back have a chance to "option" run off of him.
  5. How does the scheme enhance our offense in terms of sequentiality (in scheme along with backfield series.), techniques, and overall efficiency? (does the scheme give US the best answer of are we just using it because other people use it as their answer?)
  6. How does the scheme fit in as to where we are in as far as rules (in high school you can't cut, the hashes are different, etc.) practice time, personnel (sometimes a great scheme answer is not an answer for you because of your given personnel (at Langley we did not run the rocket because of the type of halfbacks we had.) and learnability and carryover.
When the base system is run against a reduced front (that is 2 guys outside the tackle - see 4-4 above) the numbers are natural. That simply means that you can get a hat on a hat.(WR on Corner, HB on SS / OLB, Tackle on DE or inside backer) Given the additionally fact that the ball was pitched outside the tackle meant the offensive tackle would only have to slightly tie up a running 5 tackle. If the tackle was able to get around the end and to the inside backer that was a bonus that just enhances the efficiency of the play. The play against the reduced front was basically a "downhill" play with a fairly positive payout.

After years of film analysis of this play, only negatives we felt to the scheme were the flat reach by the halfback and tackle and the fact that there was no other play in our offense where the tackle pulled flat taking away any conflicts from the defense. The reach scheme,essentially, gives the defense time to catch up - stretching the play further to the sideline where the defense may have time to catch up or you may run out of real estate. You are even bringing the C-gap out to the play, a defenderthat by the play's design you didn't have to block in the first place. (A real problem if forced to run the play into the boundary in high school - i.e. free safety over to the field.) Additionally, pulling to the sideline mismatched our halfbacks and tackles vs. physical blockers who kept themselves gap sound and knocked our undermanned players back. (If we could have cut in high school the problem would have been eliminated. Look at Navy and Georgia tech tapes and you see the offensive player barely getting into the legs of these two players but that's enough to get gain leverage to the outside quickly due to the wide pitch.)
The biggest problems from this scheme come against the 50 and the 4-3 look and this is what forced us to diverge from the norm. If you look at figure 2 and 3 above, the first thing you notice is that there are 3 people aligned with defensive leverage on the slot. (the SS / OLB / and Corner with just the slot and wide receiver to block them.) This means that you have 3 defenders equal to or wider then the point (Outside leg of the slot) that the carrier receives the ball. Somebody from the interior has to make these blocks. It certainly does not put the blocker in an advantageous situation especially given the entry levy or the back (He receives the ball a full man outside the tackle already running full speed!) and the aim of the play (to circle the defense.) This is totally different then asking a halfback to tuck inside the kick out of a sweep or to be almost directly behind an arc block with an option to make a two way cut. In this scenario, in order to match numbers, two interior blockers (guard and tackle) will have to block a player with a full man (and sometimes more) head start on him. (see fig 4a and b below) Certainly these blocks are considered uphill but add to the fact that you cannot cut in high school and you are asking you tackle to block a skill player in a race and in space (OLB) the advantage fails clearly to the defense. (Once again, in studying many years of college cutups of this play, you see these players nipping at the heels of the defender just barely bidding time for the halfback to outrun the defense. You also notice that against these defenses there are just as many zero yard plays as there are great gains.) Against the 5-2 the problem is even more pronounced with the tackle trying to catch up to and hook an OLB ON the line of scrimmage.

(I know you can change formations to change numbers but for this section we'll deal strictly with 2 x 2 formations. In section IV we'll deal with formation variations.)

Additionally, if the defense was sound and kept its gap integrity with the OLB in D and DE in C etc. you end up with nobody on the support player. The very player the defense places the responsibility of stopping this play. (Fig 5) Usually a strong safety that is placed in that position to make tackles and support the run in the first places

The play also featured the pulling tackle again, making it readable to defenses.

One additional note that made us evolve away from this scheme was the inability to veer block or place the 5 technique in a bind. (We always felt that this would cause hesitation and either open up the fullback in our triple or shorten the flank on the rocket.) If you veer schemed this vs. a seven man front it was virtually impossible to match numbers since the guard would now have to block the OLB giving him a two man advantage and starting the guard in poor relative position to block in front of the halfback. (fig 6)

Three thing that this play did accomplish were that it 1) slowed down option stunts between #1 and #2, 2) give the offense a way to run away from garbage inside now in an instant, and 3) gets the ball in a good halfback's hands in space when option defenses wouldn't allow that. These positives we wanted to keep. We also didn't want to teach zone blocking which would require more practice time. (If you read my last thread on cost vs. rewards, you would release that any play that involves the reading of defensive reactions requires more practice time.)

In part III we will discuss what scheme we evolved into, how this has helped us, and how it has even simplified the practice and learning of this play.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Running the Rocket with Downhill" blocks. Part I

Over the last couple of years the "rocket" sweep (or toss play) has gained in huge popularity with both flexbone and wing-t teams. It has given the offense a method to get to the outside quickly with low cost both in practice time and number of defenders needed to be blocker.

Basically, most teams block the rocket as below (fig 1, 2, and 3) with the line and slot basically running and reaching, in essence blocking the 1st thing that shows or crosses their face on their way through the alley.

Recently we have seen more veer blocking with the tackle and the guard now picking up the tackle's assignment as he pulls around (Fig 4 and 5) This was to make the 5 technique close as he would with veer triple and thus creating some "indecision" in the defensive player's assignment. (Dual conflict for all the wing-t people out there.)
Since I first learned the play in the early 2000's from VMI (The origin of this play and when it started is greatly contested but for the appearance and meaning of this article  - who cares!) we have always blocked it a little different. In order to show you how and why we block it this way - we'll take it in parts . First we'll take a look at the thought process behind our scheme (Part I - here), then we'll look at the way the academies are blocking the play and why we didn't think that fit our needs (Part II), next we'll look at our blocking system for the rocket (Part III), and, finally, our formation adjustments (Part IV) Although a little lengthy, I hope it will give you enough insight to help you run the rocket if you haven't before or add to your success if you have or just make you think of why you do what you do.

It should be said here that we are not saying our scheme is better then any others. There is a reason why Georgia Tech and Navy block it as they do and part of that success is due to the ability to cut on the perimeter and the difference in college and high school hashes. The point is just to give you another idea of "how to skin a cat!"

Our Rocket blocking scheme has been based on the following principles:
  1. You did not have to block the C-gap player. If left to his gap assignment he could not make the tackle on the halfback since the toss was to be caught be the playside slot of even wider.
  2. In a traditional 50 or 4-3 look and using our base formations, there was always going to be one player you could not block. (This was important to me when I later studied other teams and schemes running the play. Even with the schemes above, except for poorly played defenses - you come up short by defensive reaction.) Funny thing is an answer to this became the tightend flank not employed by the schools above. (We'll show that one later.)
  3. From the center back (including the fullback) was completely negligible in having a big effect on the play and you could do anything you wanted with them. (we have at times had them block a complimentary play run to their side with no loss t the play.)
  4. The key points for the carrying halfback were that he had to catch the pitch going full speed and be on the outside leg of the playside slot when receiving it. he also had to be running flat and not gaining depth. (These are the points that I think most offenses fail, regardless of their scheme - I've seen nobody blocked and this play gain yards because of the huge space where it is caught vs. lack of defenders - most coaches because of fear of the long pitch either run the motion too slow or catch it too early and allow for interior players to catch up to the play.)
  5. The play is best run when you can set an edge to the defense. That simply means that if you can create a pivot point where the defensive pursuit is separated from the perimeter it creates greater space for a halfback running full speed to operate in and places less defenders in that area: speed in space. A pivot point can be created in three ways - a leverage block, a block that quickly gains leverage with no responsibility of the blocker to movement away from the leverage, or movement of a defender going in the opposite direction of the play (i.e. veer blocking with the play going outside. (This is probably the biggest difference in what we wanted to do vs. the above schemes.) This was called having "downhill" blocks or blocks with an offensive advantage.
  6. Since this was a complimentary play - we wanted the rules to be definitive and have the ability to carry across the use of formations including the use of a tightend. Simply speaking (For those who read my article on cost) we wanted to keep the cost of the play down including it's learning curve. 
  7. In keeping with a downhill play - if we had to leave somebody free - that player would be the farthest player from the ball, who had a dual responsibility, if possible a cover guy who had to tackle in space.
  8. Wherever possible, we wanted to tie it in with our veer blocking scheme in hopes of helping our triple out but opening up the fullback some (5 tech hesitates to see play.) and getting a clean release for our tackle (teams widening the 5 tech in order to help on the rocket).
  9. Finally, we felt it had to be a man scheme so it did not talk any additional practice time then team. (Cost vs. use again)
Before we get to our scheme, I think it's important to analyze the run and reach scheme so as to see the difference and how it didn't fit into our needs. This will be coming next week in part II.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Back from the depths - FINALLY

Well, I 've finally got back to posting. I should be up a little more regularly now. Hopefully the next article will be soon and will be technical in nature.

As most of you know I was fuoughed in a massive teacher layoff in PA. (riffed to some.)
(I succumbed to giving up security to the promise of administrators hunting a coach! Go ahead and say it "So you believed that!!" LOL Funny thing is I blame nobody. I made the decision to go there.)

Anyway, I needed to take some time off to figure out what I was going to do - guess what the answer hasn't changed - COACH FOOTBALL! So if any of you hear of any open head jobs in high school or college assistant jobs please let me know. If right I will move. (Yeah, I know - so you're going to trust administrators AGAIN!" But if we give up trust totally, why be in this profession.)

It is amazing what you think about when unemployed. But a little introspection is good. I hope to write some of those thoughts in future articles.

Enjoy the new article below. I hope to hear from you as you are my connection to my true bliss - coaching football!

Payout vs. cost - is a new concet / pay / answer worth adding

Many of us have fallen prey to it. Many have given in to it's temptations. There is always that big reward - that payday out there if we just add one more play - one more concept - have one more answer.

Whether it is the flavor of the month learned in the off season, a frantic answer to a struggling offense, or just an urge to keep from the boredom of the regular season drudgery of practice, we've all added that one play, concept, or package that we hope can get us over the hump and make us an elite offense.

Done in the right context there is nothing wrong with it - and that context is the weighing of cost vs. reward. How much is it going to cost in practice time, learning curve, disruption, and addition answers vs. the impact on the offense in terms of usage and results. We are all on limited resources (practice time, number of game run plays, meeting time, learning and retaining ability of of our players, and our knowledge.) Any addition that that further divides these resources takes them away from practice and the execution of the other aspects of our offenses / time  / mind. This is the basic law of compensation (with apologies to Emerson) For everything you add - you take something away.

So how then can a coach add and expand his system without a great cost and how can one weigh this cost to balance this out. There are some basic rules to keep in mind:

(Although most of these rules seam common sense, they are often overlooked and many times the addition becomes a substraction.)

  1. Plays that have moving parts have a higher cost therefore must be a bigger part of your offense to install then the actual % of practice time.  This means plays with pulling linemen or timing up motion. Because of the timing of these plays (phasing up guards with backs so as to have the entry of he backs time up with the blocks.) and the idiosyncrasies of there techniques (i.e. Teaching a guard to read on the run.) these plays cost more in reps and practice time. They also have a hidden cost in that they take longer to perfect and thus longer before they payout in the offense. Plays of this nature should only be a part of the base offense and not added "on the run" Additionally, their use in sheer volume must quantify their cost.
  2. Plays that use techniques previously taught have a lower cost and vice versa. If one has no trapping plays in his offense but decides to add a trap, the cost escalates because of the time it takes to teach the new individual skill of trapping. The cost is not only the reps of practicing the trap but the time to teach it (usually longer then the time to rep it) and the cost of the learning curve (the play will not look as good early with new techniques and the burden of learning a new technique on the individual will take away from the execution of others and his confidence in that execution.) Conversely, if techniques already taught are used then there is a shorter learning curve and less tax on the player (an example of this would be a zone team that wants to run a new play using the same zone blocking. This has a lesser cost to the offense.)
          Along the same thought, new line techniques are much most costly then new skill techniques.
          A wrong initial step by a back or being a yard off on a pattern, while undesirable, will still            leave the play with a chance of success. while, the same mistake in lineplay will sabotage of
          play because of the immediacy of action. Thus if putting in a play / concept / answer that will
          have minimal payout (use) one should stick to variations in the backfield actions or patterns .
          and keep the line play consistent
     3.  What is the cost of the play vs. practice execution and organization. This is something
          many coaches don't look at but this is big when deciding to add something. Not only do certain
          concepts / plays take away practice time from others but some change the landscape of
          practice. For example,the years we ran trap option and down option, we need a segment for
          just our guards and backs to phase up and allow for the reads of the guards with the backs. Not
          only is there a learning curve for the play and the practice reps taken away from other plays but
          there is a learning curve in how to practice it. There is an early period where the object of these
          segments are to teach the players how to run the drill. Plays and concepts like this should only 
          be added if part of the base offense andstarted from day one.

     4. Plays that can be learned rote, run vs. a specific defense only, and packaged with
         established concepts are the easiest to put in in short amount of time. This simply means
         that if you  put in an answer for a given week the easiest and simplest way to do it is by rote vs.
         one defense. It's basically: you have him and you have him. However, to do that you must be
         able to package it with your base plays (already perfected - hopefully!!!) so that if your
         opponent tries to change on you, you can get the players into a successful situation.

         An example of this is our double option vs. the 4-4 to get the ball outside. It is our "Vegas" tag.
         It only works vs a reduced front. So rather then putting in a bunch of if's and end's in our rules
         to cover any possible defenses that can seen, we only put it in vs. a 4-4 and tag it (Our actual
         call would 142 check Vegas.) If we saw the 4-4 we would run Vegas. If we saw anything else
         we would revert back. to our base triple which we had practiced vs. everything since day 1.

         In order for one to do this, we must have a check system in place that facilitates this method
         and the techniques used should be already taught. If a new recognition or audible system is
         installed or if the concept is totally foreign to the offense the cost gets higher and can actually
         bankrupt the execution of an offense.

     5, The cost in practice  or meeting time should be relative to its use in the offense and / or its
         its production in the offense. This simply means that if you spend 65% of the time practicing triple
         techniques and plays - you better be running the triple close to 65% of the time or better, or in your
         final stats the triple should constitute around 65% of your productivity. When figuring this out it should
         be for over the year and not for any particular game as time left / score / defense faced / and matchups
         all have a bearing on play calling. Additionally, a group of plays with similar use or techniques may be
         grouped to give you a certain %. For example our "axillary plays" constitute 5 -10% of our practice
         time. Therefore, they should as a group add up to 5 - 10% of the total use. (we would not run an end-
         around 10% of the time.) 

        How many people actually checked their % of practice time used vs. % of usage in game and / or
        productivity. I have and I will tell you I am always amazed at time I wasted on stuff I never really used.
        (Note: when tallying the time cost of anything other then base offense, techniques that are used for the
        base are not recounted in time used for any other as there is no additional expedenture. (another
        reason to use plays or concepts when adding that have a carryover.) Remember also that you are
        measuring in an either / or scenario. Some plays are used less then their allotted practice time but are
        bigger yields in yards per play. (The reverse mentioned above.) That is also fine as it meets the %     

        of productivity if not the % of practice time cost. Remember it's cost vs. reward - not just one or the

    6. Plays that involves reading are more costly then plays that do not and plays that involve two
        people reading on the same page are the costliest. This is a simple idea to understand. If you are
        adding to your offense during the year, don't make it plays that involve reads. And if it must, keep the 
        number of people involved in reading to a minimum. That is why, if we have to come up with an
        answer, we try to do it by adding a non-option play or one that is a simple read that we have already
        practiced and installed. Adding concepts like run and shoot ideas, where both receiver and
        quarterback must be on the same page are extremely costly in that their learning curve is broad and the
        practice time one must use to perfect these ideas will bankrupt any already established offense.
        Additionally, these take time to perfect and thus they aren't going to produce early so their cost vs.
        reward will be greatly reduced by poor early returns.  

    7. Plays that get the ball into your best people's hands have a higher production to cost ratio.
        If you must add a play, then give the ball to your best player. It's a easy formula, he will produce
        greater numbers thus boosting the cost to productivity average.

        Here's an example. In my early years, I felt we weren't running enough misdirection to hold the
        backside linebacker on triple. In previous years, we had run the counter Iso to our halfbacks. In
        the middle of the year, we put in counter iso again. This time, though, we put in QB counter Iso
        as he was the best player on the field. I could have put the normal counter Iso in to our halfbacks
        and it probably would have been good for us. (For this example's sake, let's say it would have
        averaged 5 yards per carry.) However, putting it in to the QB gave us a bigger average (almost
        11 yards that year.) thus giving us a greater production vs. cost ratio. (The cost was the same for
        both ways.)

    8. Putting in answers that don't fit your players ability reduce the cost / productivity ratio
        I love the counter option. I think it has a great place in our offense. However, with the triple as our
        main concept, we place our best drive blockers at the guard position's. At Langley, my two guards
        were Andrews Bernard at 6'4" 305 and MikeMilkin at 6'1" 330. Both were as good as drive
        blockers as I've had in my 33 years. However, when on the run or in open space, they didn't work as
        efficiently. I could have ran counter option with some degree of success but by coming up with other
        answers for the questions that that the counter option took care of, and using their drive blocking as the
        focal point we got greater productivity. We would have had a positive cost to productivity / use ratio
        with the counter option, however, we maximized it by going to a different method.

       The key principle here for numbers 7 and 8 are when running a conceptual offense such as
       flexbone, you are married to the concept and not the particular plays. Just because G Tech
      runs the counter trap option doesn't mean you won't be a triple option team if you don't. There
      are more ways to skin a cat. As long as you have the answers for the problems or are adding
      them, it doesn't matter how you do it. Oklahoma for years didn't run the counter trap option.
      Neither did Army. Both were triple option teams that had success. They fit the concepts and their
      answers around their people's talent. (How many times did Oklahoma run loaded option as an
      answer to a hard force rather then check away. When you have Thomas Lott, J.C. Watts and the
      bunch - that was a better answer.)

    9. Big or Key concepts should only be added in the off-season and installed in the preseason.
        Simply stated if you have to add a "big" new concept or a totally new concept, you probably       
        didn't do your homework in the off-season. These are too costly and not only will give you a
       poor bang for your  buck (due to their early deficit in the learning curve) but putting them in
       during the season will have  additional cost on your already established offense in diminished
       practice time, change in practice  methods and, probably not thought of enough, the confidence
      of the team. Many times kids will question why we need such a big change and also, the failure
      during the learning curve will deteriorate that which has been previously taught and mastered.
      Napoleon Bonaparte said "Morale is to the  physical as 3 is to 1. Keep your players confident but
      not adding major concepts with steep learning  curves.

Although these are relatively basic and pretty universal, (Mostly common sense), around this time of year, I get a lot of inquiries about adding plays or what people need to do to attack a certain defense or solve problems they encountered. The problem is really bigger then just tweaking. Many times the problem lies in the work that is done in the off-season. Most problems can be foreseen and the design of most systems, if competent, should have these answers built in. The real cost lies in the fact that many times coaches accept "cookie cutter" predesigned systems only to find they now need additional answers. Other coaches have a collection of plays and not a system which tends to grow every time a new idea is found or situation is encountered. Finally, some take their system as is from year to year, never analyzing it in the off season as to problems they had or personnel they have coming up. They hung their hat on past success only to find the little cracks in the foundation have been spreading.

Finally (and a pet peave of mine), if a system is truly a system it will cover all of these problems. Sometimes that answer comes in the form of a systems ability to add or subtract easily to fit its needs and its situations.

Although abstract and a little off the beaten path, I hope these ideas make you think the next time you want to add something regardless of the answers.
(next up - perimeter blocking the "rocket sweep" - a lil different way.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Location:Yardley, Pa

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

new email address

I am currently in the process of switching cable companies. All contacts should be made to Coach_john@msn.com

Please do not send to the verizon account anymore

Thank you

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Too simple may really be too complex; complex may be actually simpler

In keeping with the pattern of following a technical article with an abstract, I decided to write about a pet peeve of mine in coaching - the craving toward simplicity. We all hear it in the "coach speak" whether at clinics, listening to tv, or just in conversation with other coaches. Phrases like "it's not rocket science," "our number one goal is to keep it simple," "our goal is to make it easy on the athletes' learning," etc. Then there's the coaching axiom that I've heard more then the coke jingle, "Keep It Simple Stupid," commonly referred to with the anagram K.I.S.S. While I have no problem with these sayings and their meaning in "context." It is the application of these principals that I think many coaches miss. It is the term "simplicity" that gets tangled in the translation.

If simplicity for simplicity sake was the answer, then given that opponents athletes are relative to the level you are on, the pros should be lining up in the power I and running simple, vanilla power off tackle and isolation plays. So with that regard we know that just plain simplicity isn't an answer within itself.

The real question is what is considered simple and what is considered complex. And what makes something simple to learn, yet, broad enough to beat a variety of opponents. We've all been in a lecture where one person ones comes out saying "that made my head hurt" and other, who heard the exact same lecturer says "really, I found him quit easy and understandable." So there seems to be a personal perception involved with the term simplicity. To twist a phrase, simplicity seems to lie in the "eyes of the beholder." Certainly, current education on the topic (familiarity), the way it was presented and by who (source), and the individual learning it (is he a rote, conceptual, etc. learner?) all have a factor. But probably the most important aspect is perception.

We will take a look at all these aspects in regards to teaching football but first why is it important to define this to me:

1. It is our job as coaches to place the players in a situation they have a chance for success. All decisions in life are based on ultimate objectives. If you're #1 objective is to keep it simple then that is what you'll get - simplicity. Winning will become secondary to that. You're goal as a coach should be to give the players a chance to win. That may take outcoaching the opponent. But if you're ultimate objective was to be simple that may no longer be possible. Showing my age, I once heard Woody Hayes say that you build an offense to beat the top three teams on your schedule. He mentioned nothing about simplicity.

2. These terms themselves belittle the coaching profession. When a school hires a calculus teacher - it does not hire him to teach simple math. It hires him to teach the complex and make it seem simple. (we will return to this concept later as therein lies the key to simplicity.) As the football coach, you are the top level of the subject in your school and, like the calculus teacher, you were hired to teach the complex yet make it seem simple. If they just wanted simple they could go to the local little leagues. (no disrespect to little league coaches. Just comparing levels)

3. The simpler the structure, the more emphasis on athletes and the less on coaching. If everybody is as simple as possible then the winning falls with the ability of the athletes and away from coaching. Unfortunately, every game has one team with the better athletes. By this theory, the game has a better chance of being decided prior to the start. (this is also a result of espn) if this theory is working for you now, all the power to you but, remember, there will be a time or game when you has the lesser athletes.

4. The problem with some coaches and the kiss theory is it all goes to justify their lack of ability or effort to establish a concrete system that although complex to the outside is simple to teach and learn. Coach's use these terms as a escape for their own inabilities. (not all -so don't get made - I'll explain later in the article.)

Interesting, when Notre Dame was dominating under Knute Rockne, There was a movement abound to change the rules to abolish all his innovations. Many coaches tried to emulate his offense but said it was too complex to copy. Rather then raise their game, they choose to protest and abolish what they didn't know how to do. (this still happens today with many rules - gauzed under the wrapping of "for safety's sake.") After much barbing, Rockne replied that if he was forced to simplify and run what everybody else ran (as he put it, a neatherthal offense based on simplicity and brute force.) he would leave football and go into a career he could still use his brain. Fortunately, although the "shift" was eliminated, enough of a concession was made that he stayed.

So then all these simplicity axioms are wrong when thousands of coaches have professed to them?

No. The answer is much more complex then that. Taken in the right context these sayings and thoughts are valuable to putting together any offense. It is the definition of simple that poses the problem. To help let's eliminate what simplicity is not:

1. The number of plays you put in.

Although the sheer volume of plays you put into a system affects manageability, it does not affect simplicity. You must have a workable number (concepts) to maintain an organized and meaningful practice, however, one play may be presented in a complex and confusing manor while a multiple offense, that has a systemic approach, may actually be easier to install and learn.

I'll use 2 examples to cover this point:

A. I once went to work for a guy that told me he had 5 plays. That was it. Seems pretty simple. However, none of the 5 plays tied into each other technique wise, vocabulary wise, and concept wise. This caused multiple learning on the part of the players. Additionally, all his plays were blocked by rote recognition. That cause each player to memorize 10 - 12 diagrams (that mean actually nothing to him) and then recognize the defense on the field and apply his techniques that were random due to the recognition system.

B. A very good friend of mine, George Deleone, (I coached for George in the 70's) was giving us a private clinic one day when the install question came up. George said they had a limited # of concepts they would install and then proceeded to tell us that the first day they might be installing outside zone as one of the concepts and would run it 5 or 7 plays the first day. Sounds like somebody would be confused by all those plays on day 1 doesn't it. But when one compares it with the above example you realize that even learning 2 plays with the above method takes more mental learning then George's, where a concept is learned and carried across the board. Additionally, since in the zone case the techniques are carried over with the blocking rules there is an ease of learning that is facilitated.

2. The type of plays you put in does not make an offense simpler?

On the contrary, plays that require decision making after the snap usually cover more scenarios and allow for the use of less auxiliary compliments to be installed. The decision making aspect is a one person learning process that is accomplished through visual repetition and has nothing to do with complexity. It places less learning on the part of the other players since the quarterback's decision making allows for less to be learned by the others.

3. Keeping it limited does not make lesser athletes better.

As a matter of fact it's the opposite. The lesser your athletes the more you need to do to "level the playing field." In the 70's I had the chance to visit the University of Michigan and speak one on one with the legend -Bo. That conversation along with the mentoring by great coaches like DeLeone and my high school coach Tony DeMatteo, had a lasting impression on me. One thing he espoused was that the better the athletes you have the less you do. They will beat people with there athletic ability. The lesser the athletic, the more you do. They are outmatched anyway so give them the only chance to win.

So what is the fine line between complexity and simplicity and how does one make teach a complex system to athletes?

The answer is in perception or the M.I.S.S or "make it seem simple" concept. The overall system must be complex enough to not only handle but conquer and gain an advantage over all situations it may encounter;yet seem simplistic in it's individual learning to the players. (and other coaches as I've found out the hard way.)

Here are some specific points for accomplishing this:

1. Teach concepts rather then totally rote. The beginning of every concept must have a rote basis (I.e. Rules to be memorized, techniques to be associated with the rules but anybody CAN learn those.)However, concepts allow one teaching to cover a multitude of situations and a multitude of usages. (see the zone example above)

Asan example, I can have you memorize the multiplication table or I can teach you the concept of multiplying. In the first scenario you have a vast number of functions to memorize, log jamming the mind and often confusing the participant through its shear volume. In the second I just have to teach you one concept.

Additionally, teaching concepts expand to cover all scenarios. Teaching rote is limited to the scenarios memorized. In the above multiplication situation, the rote student can only answer the limited number of problems he has memorized. The one that learned conceptually can answer any problem including ones he didn't see.

To further illustrate this, look back at the coach mentioned above that had his offense run by a complete recognition, or memorization method. If a defense came up that wasn't memorized the players would be scrambling. Over the last 20 years, have seen just about every "junk" defense imaginable versus the option. Yet, by teaching a conceptual recognition system, our team has been able to handle them.

2. Don't just take - learn. Too many times coaches change what they do to what
they hear at a clinic or what's in vogue. As a result they teach something you barely understand yourself. This causes inconsistencies and lack of answers that future confuse the player. Also, there are specific methods to teaching certain concepts. (I can remember after my week at Michigan that although I really thought I understood the slant angle system, I realized I had no idea how to teach it.)

The same holds true for my private clinics I've given. I don't know how many times I've been asked for "more plays," rather then how to teach the subject.

3. Keep the offense manageable. I know this sounds like I'm being hypocritical but I'm not really. A nuclear scientist deals with very complex matters, yet, he tries to have a manageable workload during the day. The too are totally dissimilar.

4. Don't get hung up in symbols or technical terms. Use terms you are comfortable with, make sense, and have carryover from play to play. Additionally, limit terminology to what you need- no more! As an example, since we are an option team and count - there is no reason that we need to label the outside backer in a 4-4, 4-3, and 50. He is #2 to us regardless. I've seen coaches have kids recognize every position in every defense without need. For us it doesn't matter. He could be the coaches wife. It doesn't matter. For your offense it might. But if the player doesn't need to know if it's a nickel or the starting outside linebacker - don't tell him. You may need to know it for play calling but he might not.

The same is true in how you use your terms. Nothing gets me madder on the field then my coaches showing off their knowledge by calling him Sam or Stud and the player giving him that dear in the head lights look. Again, he's #2, nothing less - nothing more.

Also try and make your terms simpler and more descriptive. Remember the players are empty glasses ready to be filled. If you had no idea of what a fruit was and I said "go get the apple" you would really be scratching your head. However if I said go get the green round shiny round object on the table - you would have a good chance. Technical names are overrated when dealing with novices. (I have even let our players think up some code words when we worked on our audible package. You'd be surprised how good they are with association.)

5. Run packages not plays. Get yourself out of bad plays or plays that need to be accommodated to run against certain looks. This includes what I call "squeeze" plays. These are where you have a play that, although good against certain defenses, has problems fitting into every scenario. So you whittle the end of the square peg to make it fit into a round hole. The more "exceptions" you have to build into the design of the play the harder it becomes to learn. The more confusing it becomes. (think about when somebody gave you directions and then they started adding on exceptions.)

The answer is to have packages. Series of plays called together in order to give the player a "simple" answer as per the defense.

6. Run a system and not plays. A system includes "associated" plays that have a carryover in mechanism of execution, terminology, techniques, concepts, and teaching process. A series of plays present a whole new learning experience whenever one is introduced. A system builds upon one another in knowledge and theory.

7. Teach whole-part-whole. If you can't teach your base system in 5 days (3 in college) then it isn't a teachable system no matter how simple it is. I didn't say execute, I said teach. By teaching everything vs every defense at once you are flooding and overloading the athlete - however the mistakes don't count. Sure you will get more mistakes early but you're not playing anybody the first week. As with any learning curve there will be mistakes and frustration. However, as with any learning curve" these mistakes will lessen through repetition. However, piecemealing your offense up to the first game will get the mistake of the first day through the first game. Additionally, the offense will seem more complex as it never gets completed. There is always new learning, a learning curve, and confusion.

8. Before cutting things out find out where the problem really lies or try to grind through. This is really two considerations. The first one takes away the excuse that it's too complicated to learn and places it back on the players and coaches. Is the reason the player's not getting it because it's too difficult or is he just not motivated? It doesn't take any athletic ability to learn rote. (as a matter of fact, they teach rote in 2nd and third grade. So, an athlete in high school or college can learn his plays.) the problem may lie with the athlete and his real desire (or lack of) to be there. Is it the offense or the way I taught it? Too infrequently do we go back to analyze how we teach. We have computer breakdowns on stats, we study film endlessly in the offseason, but rarely do we look at how we taught something or go to a clinic to learn how to teach it. (with everybody looking for the "magic" play, very rarely is this subject broached in a clinic anymore.)

The second aspect of this is grinding through it. I once was flown in by an excited young coach who wanted to put in the triple. He took copious notes, studied, and planned intensely. About the second week of camp he called me to say, he was going back to his "simpler" offense as this just didn't look good and he was stymied in his first scrimmage.

In the first three weeks of the season everything looks bad. That's why you practice. The more complex the system the worse it looks earlier. However it grows to pass the simpler one on the way.

(to illustrate this let's look at 2 jigsaw puzzles on a table, undone. The first has 30 pieces and the second 500. At a glance the one with only 30 looks neater and more organized even though neither have been done. However over time the one with 500 passes the smaller one in magnitude and beauty. Simpler and less will always look better earlier.)

9. Avoid the temptation of a talent switch or the flavor of the day. Too many times we change our offense for our talent or because we become enamored by what's out there on the clinic circuit. Yes, you have to ADAPT your offense to your talent but not change it radically. Remember, every time you change completely there is a learning curve for you and your coaches in content, the completion of the offense (offensive packages get better when tweaked over time), teaching methods, and practice organization. This adds to player confusion.

Additionally, if you tweak your offense, the techniques, learned material, and method of practice are all carried over by the players, deleting some of the confusion.

10. Your auxiliary must come off your base and be simpler then your base package. Too often coaches put in an "auxiliary" play to either at tact a certain scheme or get the ball to a certain playmaker. While there is nothing wrong with this if kept in the context of the system, it is what whole new concepts and system mechanics must be taught.

I once had a quarterback that although "adequate" I didn't want the defense making him keep the ball every play. So we had a system of tags that we used to get the ball out of his hands. These were also options, that used our system and techniques and were designed against specific looks and packaged to be used only in those scenarios.

The opposite of this would be a option friend of mine who put in a whole "I" package for the same reasons. Used different techniques and different teaching and practice methods. Do you think this added to the learning curve?


As you can tell by the length of this article, I think this is a pretty weighty subject. By going around in circles we've discovered that the old axioms regarding simplicity are really correct except they've been taken out of context because of that one word "simple." Maybe what the should have said was "keep it manageable stupid" or "have a learnable system stupid." Either way, the important aspect is to have a system that is complex enough to level the playing field, seem to be of such magnitude that is gives opponents' coordinators fits, adapts to every scenario that may arise, yet, is teachable, manageable in game plan and practice and, most importantly, SEEMS simple to the players. The last part is the hardest but something the coach controls in his design of the system, its mechanics, and practice methodology.

I hope you Enjoyed it. The next article will return to the technical and, I promise, be much shorter.


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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Part II using "force blocking to solve problems

In our first post on"force" blocking, we saw how adding a simple tag that placed the responsible of blocking #3 (fig. 1) could answer some simple problems with the triple. In this article we are going to look at taking that same tag and answering some other problems in the run game. In order to do this we must first remember that "force" blocking allows us to treat the seven man front (50 or 4-3) as an reduced front.

(if you want to catch up because you missed part I or just want to refresh the process a link is available on the side bar.)

1. Force blocking allows for the midline triple to be run vs. a 4-3 without an "exotic" scheme or tag.

I, personally, love the midline triple (fig 2) due the the fact that you don't have to block any playside linemen and in the places I've been at that is a big advantage. (this comes in handy on any level. If you don't believe me then look at Georgia Tech vs. Iowa 2 years ago. The dominance of the 3/2 techs shut down Tech's run game.) It also allows you get the ball out of the quarterbacks hands. Finally it takes advantage of a #2 player who was peeking his nose into the midline tuck play when motion goes away.

However, vs a 4-3 there is a numbers problem. There are just two many men outside the pitch key. (fig 3) yes, there are exotic schemes including looping the tackle, veering to the 1 tech, arcing the tackle, etc. and at times, we've used them all, but just to run the base triple scheme, there is a problem.

An answer to this is to use the midline triple with fox blocking. Because the front is now considered reduced, numbers can be matched. (fig.4) Also a nosey outside linebacker on the tuck or aligned in a stack is an easy arc for the halfback.

(One coaching point is the play side tackle. When he veers we teach a "stack" release. That means he is responsible for any exchange between the olber and the defensive end before going to the mike. This always for consistent option reading and less teaching on the arc technique.)

2. force blocking allows for you to get the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly using the double options.

Whether we are purist or not, we've all had quarterback's who, although adequate, are less then idea in the offense. We've also had times where we would like to get the ball in a real good halfback's hands but the rocket has been shut down. This is easy vs. an eight man front where the 5 technique will always squeeze enough to pitch off of and you can match numbers on the the perimeter with the halfback arcing. However, vs a seven man front the defense can string this along because of the leverage they have with the 5 technique and force the quarterback to tuck up.

By using "force" blocking and making the flank now reduced, the offense can again gain leverage and pitch off the 5 technique. (fig. 5)

(some people will ask why this is different then the rocket? Two reasons: first the front is constricting and secondly the tempo is totally different as the defense has to honor another option aspect. Plus the extra long motion is not a tip)

Additional benefits of this are that we force the defense to play multiple option responsibilities, tempo the free safety in the alley with multiple options, and we dictate who carries the ball - not the defense.

(Again, the tackle will stack release when veering, allowing for the exchange to be handled without the halfback working on it. The tackle may bump the 3 vs. Certain teams and athletes to secure the edge.)

3. It gives us a legitimate way to block a seven man front with the rocket.

If you've run the rocket for years as I have, you realize that you will be a man short against a good seven man front team. If you stretch it as the academies do and people keep their gap integrity you will come up a man short. If you man the perimeter and veer / loop it as I learned years ago from VMI you end up leaving the non- support player free. You can draw it up theoretically and say you can stretch somebody to the perimeter but the game is played on paper and you should design your scheme to beat your best teams, not teams that allow you to reach past team. (you'll beat those no matter what you run!)

By using force blocking and the inside receiver assigned #3, we change the halfback's rule to #2 to the free safety. The nice thing with this is the speed of the play doesn't require the receiver to hold his block long. (fig. 6)

I hope these helped in using the "force" concept. Whenever we install a tag we do it as a "universal" concept. One that is consistent in both recognition and execution and can be used in multiple packages and scenarios. This allows what is a small simple package to seem as a multitude of schemes. Once the concept is learned the uses don't end with the limited info presented here. We have used it with many other concepts and expanded the actual "force" blocking into exchanges (cracks) and double exchanges. It has allowed us to use a flexed wide receiver as an interior blocker and load blocker, both with leverage. The possibilities are limitless and all require very little teaching if you start with a solid system.

I hope this helped.

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