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.

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Location:Yardley, Pa