July 2, 2013

Quick Thoughts on Speed Option

Speed Option itself is a relatively simple play that I've never been a huge fan of until this past season when I began to see it for what it is: a cheap, easy, quick way to punish the defense for poorly adjusting to a formation.

My uncle is a pretty successful shotgun coach and was really one of the pioneers of the shotgun in this part of CA.  For years he was a 21 personnel I formation kind of guy, but he just couldn't get over the hump.  Part of the problem was this: he was lining up 185 lb tight ends against 225 lb OLBs (specifically Andre Carter, who went on to play in the NFL).  One game against Mr. Carter, they ran a sweep to his side.  Outraged at their audacity, Mr. Carter reached over the 185 lb tight end and grabbed the running back and threw him to the ground.  At that very moment, my uncle had what alcoholics/drug addicts refer to as a moment of clarity.

His school just wasn't going to compete with the tops of their league by running the same stuff as the tops of their league.  With a population that is ~50% Asian, he perennially lacks numbers and size.  He realized that if he split his TE out, he was also removing their OLB from the box, effectively trading a pawn for a knight.  So, he began opening up his formations and throwing the ball more, while using his reduced box to run the ball more effectively with his undersized but well-coached offensive line.

But he began having problems with teams that started manning up on them and play Man Free, getting a numbers advantage in the box while limiting the quick game that they were fairly reliant on.  He did what good football coaches do and went to an expert, Matt Logan of Corona Centennial HS in SoCal.  Logan was one of the first shotgun coaches in CA and more than a bit of an expert.  When he met with Logan, he came back with a lot of really great ideas and one really big piece of the puzzle: speed option.

This was before zone read was all the rage, their run game was mostly just direct handoffs with fakes by the QB.  Enter speed option.  What speed option allowed them to do was punish teams for manning up on their receivers and for overshifting their underneath zones toward 3x1 sets.  Because of the nature of how force responsibilities tie into coverage, when teams were manned up that left their DEs responsible for playing force.  When that happened, at best speed option became a real threat to create an opportunity to get a RB out in space quickly with lots of space in front of him and at worst it became a really cheap 4-5 yards for the QB to basically just fall forward to pick up.  At the same time, zone teams were taking their curl/flat player and flipping him to the other side in 3x1 formations, leaving no one to play force on the backside.  Same situation: the DE can't really win.

The primary reason why I'm now a fan of Speed Option and I think it merits inclusion on top of Zone Read is this: Zone Read represents two players going in opposite directions while Speed Option is two players going in the same direction.  That full flow, instantly threatening the perimeter RIGHT NOW nature of the play isn't seen in shotgun offenses very often.  Zone Read has a sort of rhythm to it with the snap, mesh, read, while Speed Option is just snap and gogogo, forcing a decision sooner and threatening the defense faster.

So, at the end of the day, I think it boils down to this: Speed Option is cheap to install, easy to be good at, and offers great return on the time investment.  I'm honestly considering whether it's worth it to have Speed Option be an automatic check for the QB any time he gets a certain look to the weakside of the formation because I really think it's just that good for dictating how a team can adjust to you.

March 30, 2013

Shallow Cross: WHY IS HE ALWAYS OPEN???

I have a few pass concepts that I'm REALLY into and want to use as a base for an offense, namely Stick, Snag, and Shallow.  There's others that are necessary like 4 Verts, but those 3 are the cats pajamas for me.  The one I'm going to cover in here is Shallow, aka Shallow Cross, aka NCAA concept (because everyone in the NCAA runs it) shown here (image from Bruce Eien's page):

The basic gist of Shallow is as follows: there will always be a post route, a dig/hunt route, and a shallow crosser than runs right behind the heels of the defensive linemen at about 2-3 yds depth.  From there, you can tag it up in about a thousand different ways in order to accomplish what you want.  While doodling/performing thought experiments, I eventually realized that the most important thing is actually limiting how many tags I would want because SO MANY things can work off of this.

The first thing that I wanted to do was establish basic rules for the concept before branching out into tags and these are what I settled on:
1-Tagged receiver runs the Shallow.  Typically this is either a slot or a TE, but can be an outside receiver, too.
2-Inside receiver opposite the Shallow runs the Dig/Hunt.
3-Outside receiver on the Shallow side runs a Fade.
4-Outside receiver opposite the Shallow side runs a Post.
5-RB runs a Shoot to the same side as the Shallow.  Can be a check-release if you want it.

From there, there's certain tags that I prefer, the foremost being "Drive", where you get the Dig and Shallow coming from the same side, preferably with the Dig being run by the inside receiver like the Levels concept that Peyton Manning rode to his HOF status.

What I like about the Drive concept is that it creates a nice high/low read on the H/C defender while also attacking vertically on the opposite side of the formation.

   Next up is "Curl", which simply changes the Fade to a Curl route and adds a nice Curl/Flat concept on the backside.  I'm actually contemplating the potential of never installing Curl/Flat as it's own concept and instead just using this tag creatively when I want to run Curl/Flat.

This one is lifted directly from Chris Brown and Bobby Petrino by extension, I'm just calling it Wheel.  Wheel changes the RB's shoot route towards the Shallow into a Wheel in the same direction as the Shallow.  The purpose of the Wheel is to clear out a Flat defender who's lurking for the Shallow or punish a Corner who's jumping onto the Post route.

   Scissors is a secondary tag off of Drive where your Post and Fade routes perform a quick Switch ala the Run N Shoot concept, but with a hard-set Post and Fade instead of the RNS read-as-you-go.  I'd love this for Quarters coverage in particular because I'm doubting the defense's ability to handle the route exchange.

   As you can see, Shallow is a terrifically variable and flexible concept and I'm just barely scratching the surface of the play.  Hope I presented a good case for it's inclusion in any offense, it's a stone cold lock to be in mine.

Further Reading/Viewing:
Chris Brown's excellent article on Bobby Petrino's Shallow Cross
Brophy's Video Library comes through yet again: Noel Mazzone explains Shallow

March 28, 2013

Tackling Circuits: My stance

This is inspired by a recent discussion on Coach Huey about tackling circuits and their place in defensive practice plans, etc.

I was a heavy, heavy tackling circuit/turnover circuit disciple in 2009, I really was.  We did both every week, usually one on Monday and one on Wednesday.  We created a lot of turnovers, something like ~2.5/game and I really felt that they were worth while.  We made a lot of tackles, which is to be expected, but I wasn't happy with our tackling, which surprised me because we spent SO MUCH time on tackling circuits.  I mean, 15m/week for something like 15 weeks adds up to about 3 1/2-4 hours of time JUST tackling.  My best tackling LB was a guy that I coached for 3 months.  My worst tackling LB was a guy I'd coached for 3 years.  Evidently, I'm a shitty coach.

Review our film from that season, I noticed some stuff that wasn't necessarily clear to me during the season.  First, most of our turnovers were the result of athletic interceptions or gang tackling.  We had two fumbles forced, one recovered by the same kid who had a TERRIFIC tomahawk move from behind, but that was probably the best example of practice time carrying over into game time.  Almost all of our fumble recoveries were the result of hustle, violence, and fumble recovery skills (which we did work).  Almost all of our interceptions were the result of pressure, vision of the QB, and skilled athletes with a shitty coach.

Reviewing our tackling, I noticed a few things.  The biggest thing that came to me was that no two guys on our defense really tackled alike.  The reason why?  No two coaches on our defense taught tackling alike.  We were working tackling all season, but everyone's message was SLIGHTLY off.  The next biggest thing was that our guys needed to get their asses into the weight room.  That was outside my jurisdiction, so to speak, but it's 100% something I believe very strongly in.

So, after this ordeal of self-reflection, I came to the conclusion that I didn't really care to use practice time to work on turnovers and I didn't necessarily like tackling circuits as much.

That Said...
I think tackling circuits are valuable because you CAN use them to teach fundamental skills rapidly, with lots of repetitions, and do it often.  I'll follow that up by saying that I think you really need to be careful about how you administer your tackling circuits.

Tackling circuits should be:
1-Reflective.  You should be focused on improving the aspects of tackling that you're not very good at and your drills should show that you've reflected on how to target those precise aspects.  If your kids can't angle tackle very well, then you should be working angle tackling in your circuits.
2-Corrective.  Don't let bad reps stay bad reps.  Force them to do the drill again, and again, and again until they do it right.  Then move on to the next kid.  If only 3 kids get reps, then you can safely say that next time that's 3 less kids you have to coach.  But force them to have a successful effort.
3-Inclusive. I fucking hate kids standing in line.  Sometimes it's necessary for their recovery between reps, but if you're not pushing their cardio, why have lines?  Work as many kids as possible while still giving good coaching.
4-Short.  15min, TOPS.  Time is precious, budget it appropriately.

The school I coached at last year used tackling circuits on every defensive day and we got nothing out of it because the DC had us run the same 4 drills with very little correction going on, lots of standing in line, and poorly budgeted time.  You can imagine how I felt about it.

(I'd like to point out that I followed a very strict "direct answers to direct questions only" rule because I was more or less laying low last season and I didn't want to be that coach that was being overly critical when he wasn't going to be a long-term member of the staff.  Probably not the best approach I could've taken, but I didn't want the DC to go through an experience similar to the BS I went through in 2011.)

Anyways!...  I like tackling circuits for lower level teams (JV/Frosh) because you can use them to enforce good mechanical skills in players without the experience base necessary to tackle well, but I'm not so crazy about them at the varsity level.  To me, at the varsity level there's DL tackling and LB/DB tackling and the two are only somewhat related.  So, having everyone do the same drills all the time is inefficient and ultimately counter productive.  Just my stance on the matter.

Tackling circuits are good if you coach them well, but they suck if you don't.  Teach tackling in a uniform fashion, coach up hustle to the ball and aggression, good things will follow.

March 25, 2013


First things first:
Link to Apple Store

What Bdud had to say about it...

To follow up:
Have you bought it yet?

My thoughts:
   I'm super in love with Coach Grabowski's offense at Baldwin Wallace.  It's EXACTLY what I would like to run as a potential HC/OC.  Pistol, 11/12 personnel, Downhill run and playaction focus, concept carryover galore.  It's like he read my mind, then said, "This guy is clearly an idiot, it should be done this way" and then did it.
   For all of that fanboy-ism, I think EVERYONE (note: that's everyone with an iPad since it's iBooks only) should buy this book because of this: it's the best executed example of how to teach an offense to ANYONE I've ever seen.  The book describes the concepts, includes Keynote (Apple version of PowerPoint) presentations of coaching points and key ideas, shows diagrams of the plays, then shows film of the plays themselves.  As coaches, we should aspire to have the most efficient ways to install/teach our offenses or defenses and make sure that our players understand and comprehend what we're trying to get them to do.
   If you want to approach it as a educator, this is a concrete example of appealing to multiple learning styles, especially if you are talking to them as you go through everything, which you will be.  If you have them take their own notes, then you're hitting another learning style.  If you then have an on-field walk-through as your pre-practice, you're hitting another.  I'll defy you to find a better way to present information to kids in a way that they will have stronger recall or understanding, especially when dealing with time constraints like we all have.
   So, again, this book is an amazing example of how to teach ANYTHING to our players.  Plus it's pretty bitchin' technology.  Further reading on Coach Grabowski: Coach Grab on AFM's Site.


March 24, 2013

Strength and Conditioning - Big picture

The head guy at my alma mater is someone who's on a different level compared to most folks.  He's something else, he really is.  The football program there is undefeated in league the last two years, with only one league loss in the last three, three playoff appearances in a row including a run to the finals last season (which was supposed to be a rebuilding year), and is looking at winning his 6th section championship sometime in the next two years as his rising Jr class is STACKED with talent, several of whom got significant varsity playing time as sophomores.

How has he done this?  It's hard to point to any one thing, honestly.  He brought the Wing-T with him and is running for 400+ yards a game with it.  He has ~40 kids on the team at all three levels of the program.  He works his players as hard as anyone else in practice and demands accountability from them like no one else I've ever seen.  That said, in my opinion, the biggest impact on the program has been the change in the weight program.

His workout style is different from anything I've seen in a football program.  They do Upper Body on Monday, Lower on Tues, Core on Wednesday, Olympics on Thursday, Shoulders/Competitive Games on Friday.  They rotate three times through eight different exercises with minimal rest in between.  It's essentially a body building split with superset/circuit training infused with lots of stability exercises.  Explaining it doesn't do it justice, however.  It's organized chaos with hustle, energy, and lots and lots of sweat.  If an overweight kid has a half decent work ethic, the weight melts off his body and his body composition completely changes after a year of going through the weight program.

Recently on Coach Huey I asked about this program and if I was missing something compared to the traditional style workouts that I'd seen other people using.  The resounding response I got was this: the results being achieved were because of the kids committing to working their asses off, his ability to drive them to work said asses off, and teenage physiology being fantastic for building muscle/losing weight.

So if this fairly unique workout style isn't the key, then, what do we learn from this?

1-What you do isn't as important as how you do it.  Countless hours are spent debating what we should/shouldn't be doing in the weight room, but really, as long as your program is organized and safe and your kids are working hard, you'll get good results.

2-Change your lifts up, avoid settling into a routine.  One of the best things that Coach B does is he's constantly having them do new and different exercises, which helps keep things fresh and therefore keeps the energy/enthusiasm good because the kids never know what's coming.

2a-Corollary: Don't necessarily do new/weird stuff just for the sake of doing it.  One way to incorporate point #2 is to have a PROGRESSION of exercises to develop their abilities, as well as keep things fresh.

3-Get bodies in the weight room.  You don't know who you're helping when they start coming in and you don't know how you're helping them.  Some kids need football more than football needs them and some kids look like Jane but lift like Tarzan (and vice versa).  Football teams need depth and they need to have second tier players (not your stars, but not your scrubs) who are strong, healthy, and mobile athletes.  I truly believe that the team with the better second tier players will usually come out triumphant.

4-Incorporate competitive games/drills during the off season.  You'll learn about your players by putting them in new/different settings.  You'll see who you can count on, who you can't, who your winners are, and who is a competitor.  Just make something up, it doesn't nearly matter as much as having them get after each other.

Bottom line: get them in the weight room, push them hard in an organized program, keep things fresh, keep it fun.

Taking a new direction

When I started writing this thing, I didn't really know what I wanted to do with it beyond just writing stuff about football. Without much of a direction, I had a hard time creating content and it eventually just fell by the wayside.

 So I'm changing the direction a bit and caring less about exactly what I write here. Instead of trying to do Chris Brown or Brophy style analysis articles, I'm going to be using this to take ideas I have about how I want to run a program and put them all in one place. So, I'm talking offense, defense, S&C, whatever comes to mind. In reading this, I'm hoping that you will find your own ideas and develop your own thoughts on things. God willing, you'll enjoy it, too.
 If not, well... 

December 16, 2011

The ‘Jack’ Backer…

(Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Versatility)

     Discussions on Coach Huey frequently revolve the differences between a 3 man line (3-3, 3-4, whatever) and a 4 man line (4-3, 4-4, etc).  One of the points that is frequently used to tout the benefits of a 4 man line is the fact that you really only need 2 'true' DL to play the DT spots, the DEs can be OLB bodies and still have great effect.  The point is made that in a 3 man line, you need 3 'true' DL to play the DT spots.  For the record, I'm not disagreeing at all.  In fact, I think this is a very good point.
     The development of my approach to the 3-4 has been tempered by my desire to do certain things that I know requires flexibility within your scheme and athletes.  I want to be able to run what I consider to be the "standard" 3-4 fronts: Under, Okie, and Bear.  However, I want to be able to get into a 4 man line with some degree of ease without terribly complicating things for the athletes.  Problem was, I ran into issues with this because of how it conflicted with certain beliefs/preferences I have.
     I don't like using left/right personnel.  Too simple, too exploitable, too passive, any of these and more.  I just do not like the idea in my head.  Plus, it messes with teaching at times.  I don't necessarily like strong/weak personnel because I don't want to get thrown off by teams that are 'tempo to the line', such as my alma mater's current approach of being an up-tempo wing-T (not Gus Malzahn style, but hustling to the huddle, getting the play, and SPRINTING to the line).  I like field/boundary personnel as a compromise between left/right and strong/weak personnel, but there's no shortage of learning involved there.  Teaching the front 5, in particular, to run fronts, stunts, and blitzes from several fronts on both sides of the offense is a load...
     I came to this conclusion during this season after playing a team that was running a no-huddle offense that alternated between full house T and split back 20 personnel by subbing straight from the sidelines to the formation.  I couldn't match their substitutions and get a good call in for the situation.  Luckily, I had a kid playing OLB/DE who could move back to ILB in some situations and play in the interior.  He was passable there, next year he's going to be a fearsome DE if they can't teach him to play ILB better (a position that will ultimately benefit his team more).  That kid knew 2 positions and was smart enough to recognize when to bounce between the two of them.
    I realized that creating a hybrid position, a DE/OLB or warrior/ninja, offered the opportunity to do several things:

  • Play field/boundary fronts with personnel that wasn't just left/right
  • Play a complementary even front to the standard odd fronts, specifically an "Over" front variation paired with the "Under" front.
  • Focus learning into a select position, one that had athletes specifically prepared and chosen for it.

Thus, the concept of the 'Jack' backer arrived into my head.

Jack of All Trades, Master of None...

    Not necessarily. Most offenses will have a certain position that is an essential position to their success. That position will almost always need to be multi-talented and/or cross trained in order to perform that position. Common examples can be H-Back, Tight End, and, most of all these days, Quarterback. Quarterbacks are asked to run, throw, think, and lead. Tight Ends must block and catch, H-Backs must motion, block, catch, all sorts of niches to be filled. Do smart offensive coaches throw inexperienced sophomores into these positions? Not willingly, no.
     A relative of mine is a very successful coach at a school about an hour away and is known for producing 1 outstanding receiver and 1 outstanding QB just about every year. Is he lucky to have some amazing athletes playing for him? Oh brother, you better believe it! But they are also developed well, particularly the receivers. At least one reason why is that there is an unofficial 'apprentice' program within the receiver ranks. As juniors, they play to the QB's blind side and learn the position at the varsity level, develop the skills, and hopefully punish the coverage. As seniors, they line up to the QB's throwing arm and catch lots and lots of passes.
    A friend was successful using a similar philosophy when coaching defensive backs. Juniors typically played corner, seniors typically played safety. For what he was asking the safeties to do in their cover 4 scheme, he needed players who saw the game 'slow down', players who made great reads and understood the checks and adjustments within the defense. Conversely, he joked that his corners started out as 'trained monkeys'. He drilled them and drilled them and drilled them to remove thought or confusion, which helped them slow things down and then allowed them to learn beyond their roles. Because they had played corner as juniors, they moved inside to safety as seniors with an understanding of how the corner position worked within the scheme and therefore had a more thorough understanding of how it all fit together. This 'apprenticeship' wasn't 100% consistent, but it worked out well for him.
     With the concept of the Jack player, the apprentice method can apply in two ways: 1-A player starts at another position and switches to Jack later, or 2-A player develops behind an existing Jack. For the first method, you must have an understanding of what you are looking for in a position. What kind of skill set is necessary to play there, or at the very least what kind of production must you get from that position? For me, this position needs to be able to do 3 things well: 1-Drop into coverage from the 50 front, 2-Pressure from the edge, 3-Play the edge vs the run. #1 and #2 ask for a degree of athleticism and agility, #3 seems to ask for strength and size.
     I would love to have a kid every year who measured in at 6'1, 205 and played like his momma had been insulted by the opposing running backs, but that's not the reality of our profession. Our players change shape and size every year. You can find someone to perform #1-2 fairly easily by looking to your LB and safety positions. But having such a player hold up against the run may be an issue if you don't have a body that is developed enough to take the constant banging on them from offensive tackles. This is where the Jack back and Sam backer tie into one another so well.
     The requirements for each position are close to the same, but the truth is that the Jack requires a more physical player vs an often physically greater opponent. In the Under front and the Over front, he is playing vs an offensive tackle, who will often be larger and more physical than a tight end or fullback (if he's worth a damn, that is).

     The OLB opposite him, the 'Sam' backer, is a position to use to develop players for the 'Jack' spot. More often than not, the Sam will be playing in space against athletes that are more comparable to him. Taking an athletic junior OLB with room to grow and develop and playing him at the Sam spot allows you to prepare someone to move to the Jack spot the next season. With a year of practice under his belt, another year in the weight room, and relevant game experience, he will be ready to move into a position that requires him to play coverage, rush the pass, and play in the trenches.
     By creating such a versatile player, you are then able to create opportunities within your defense to increase variety without necessarily increasing difficulty for MOST of your defense. By installing the Jack Open (Under), Jack Closed (Over), Jack Field/Boundary (Under or Over depending on formation) fronts, you create a lot of variable looks without changing much because of the pre-established versatility of your Jack backer. Consider the following diagram of Jack Field:

     In both diagrams, the Jack is next to a 3 technique and opposite a shaded nose and a 5 technique. In both diagrams the W is reading a guard covered by a 3 technique, the M is reading a guard with a shaded nose, and the S is paired with a 5 technique. The R is on the same side as the J and the W in both and the F is to the TE side in both, reading the same person in both. The run fits are consistent for just about every single position and there was minimal adjustment after the call is made. As soon as the huddle call is made, every player knows where he needs to be and can start to get aligned already, with or without the offense, eliminating problems usually associated with both no-huddle teams and tempo to the line teams.
    While this is delightfully consistent for the defense, for the offense it presents a problem. Is the defense going to align in what appears to be a 4 man front or a 3 man front? Are they going to be set to the field or to the formation? Will they be playing cover 4 from 2 high or 1 high 'robber'? You can be multiple and variable within a scheme like this. But the real benefit is that by taking one position and asking a lot of that single position, you are allowing other positions to have a simpler life. Simple keys, simple assignments = better, faster, more aggressive play.

So… What Should I Do?
    More than anything else, I'm hoping this makes you think a bit. Consider ways to take what you do and what you ask of your players and see if you can't find one position that would better your defense and better your scheme by demanding MORE of them. Maybe it's an ILB that plays as a flexed DL some times, maybe it's a safety that alternates between up high and down low, I don't know. But think about what you could do by taking that player and asking more from them and think about how you can prepare them for that assignment. We all have a 'best player' on our defense, someone that makes things click. What I'm proposing is that perhaps we should be guiding our 'best players' to a specific position, a specific role that can maximize what we want to do.