What is the beauty to be found in great systems? To me, it is not just the ability put up huge numbers. Rather, it is the ability to teach - it is the ability to take the complex and turn it into something very easy for players to execute. My consulting clients know that they can get a flood of updated information from me throughout the year. To be clear, these updates don't necessarily mean something new; instead, they are often "tweaks" to the existing.
One such update (without necessitating a change in structure) is the revival of "Mesh" in this passing game. I learned the principle from Norm Chow when he was at BYU. Though the success of the pattern cannot be debated, few can argue the time commitment required to make it work the way Chow's BYU teams or the way Mummy/ Leach deployed their versions of the attack. Proving the flexibility of the system, we have found a very inexpensive alternative teaching method.
In the route tree we used, we simply augmented the definition and technique of the "6" route:
Even for younger players, the technique explanation is simple: run a 4 (hook), then run a 2 (short in). After all, 4+2=6. Running the "mesh drag" in this manner has several advantages:
- The initial stem provides an additional quick throw vs. pressure
- It is more effective vs. match up zone, as the hook stem is something a LB will drive on, and redirect to on the re-start
- This vacates the area for the backside drag better than the traditional mesh
- It is obviously less expensive than traditional mesh
- The timing provides a Third Fix outlet on the backside
From this simple adjustment, along with the stair step technique that is taught with standard drag routes vs. man coverage, one is able to assemble an exciting array of possibilities. This pattern has been extremely successful in 7 on 7 this summer, as it not only compliments the "471" pattern (seen here), but the weak side B wheel pattern as well.
Another variation inspired by the checkdown techniques of Steve Spurrier's teams, combined with DRIVE, is shown here:
How inexpensive is this tweak in teaching technique? My son's 7 on 7 team has been able to throw and catch both of these passes (along with Stick/Levels with RAM, 471, 220, and 09 A Badge) for scores in the last 2 weeks.
PS - days away from having my iBook available for purchase.
Thought I'd try this once, and see how it came out. Hopefully the volume came out OK, so you can get the coaching points as I run the video.
As many of you know, my youngster started 7 on 7 2 seasons ago, which brought about the need for Recoded and Reloaded terminology. You'd be amazed how much the kids have retained, allowing us to advance our teaching this season.
Nearing the completion of the first in a four-part series of iBooks on Developing an Offensive System. Each will have presentations, video, and voice over clinics imbedded.
Will keep you posted.
I am very excited to announce that I am partnering with Coaches Edge Technologies to create a series of iBooks that will give more depth to the system I have put together. The product will resemble the great work of Keith Grabowsky, where video, animated presentations, and voice overs are combined to give the coach greater understanding.
Hindsight is 20/20. We know this, but we also know that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. As I look back on the past Super Bowl, I am reminded of things I learned in a pro-style offense decades ago, yet can be forgotten with the preponderance of today's spread thinking. Going into the game, much of the talk of the Denver Offense vs. Seattle Defense conversation was the high percentage of "Cover 1" the Seahawks' defense would play. Many agreed that Peyton Manning's penchant for getting the ball out quickly would help negate Seattle's defensive prowess. Looking back, however, one wonders if this thinking helped play into Seattle's hands.
In the diagram above, we have a vanilla interpretation of the Cover 1, which is defines as man to man with 1 free safety deep (also called "Man Free" in football vernacular). The corners can play press, off, or "bail" in order to disguise their intentions. There is always an extra underneath defender (the M in the diagram) who can blitz, wall off crossing routes, or simply be a pest the QB must throw around. More on that in a bit.
Initial examination will call for getting the ball out quickly, on flat or drag routes -- often in some "mesh" configuration. Some forms of offensive thinking will depend solely on quick routes versus this defensive structure. Superior match-ups may allow for this, but the defense can counter vs. a limited arsenal, and pounce when they see a familiar pattern. The big hit on Demarius Thomas was proof of this:
Cam Chancellor, the frontside safety (F), rolled down in a version of 1 Robber. His depth allowed to track the shallow and make a big hit. Further examination, however, shows Eric Decker WIDE OPEN on his in cut. Had the progression called for scanning INTO the in route, as we teach, he would have seen the open route, as well as seeing Chancellor because his eyes would start in front on the flag by A (Wes Welker) and swing into the route. Homer Smith introduced this idea to me years ago, and it still resonates today -- our eyes jump (or "saccade") from one spot to the other; carefully planned progression passing should take the passer to these routes not only so he can see the "danger" out in front. Navigation Tags, as described here, are primarily for helping with zone completions (a coach needs the ability to direct his player on every snap based on game and coverage situations); defeating man coverage necessitates maintaining all possible options on a pass play.
As a collegian, the defense I saw every day in practice played press man on a majority of the snaps; here is what I know about beating man to man -- while rub/ mesh routes are great, there is no substitute for attacking with depth. The FLAG route might be the best of all routes vs. this coverage. However, a limited set of routes once again gives the defense an advantage. In another example, the Broncos are in the Scoring Zone. They have a Post/ Wheel combination to the left, with spacing/ comeback to the right. The defense shows Cover 1, then actually bails to a combo coverage, playing zone on the post/wheel side and man to man against Welker on the right side of the formation. Below, you can see the ball is already coming out -- and the potential danger awaiting. This is an example of why the ball coming out in the same rhythm (even quick rhythm) all the time is a potentially bad thing.
If the only objective of the offense is to get rid of the ball quickly, this actually plays into the hands of the defense, as cover men are not stretched to the limits of their abilities. It simply takes less talent to cover for a short period of time. For this reason, deep ins/ outs are a MUST when defeating man coverage. Depth makes a man defender, no matter how talented, turn their hips and run. Even in this one-sided Super Bowl, the Bronco's positive plays came on deep crossing routes and ins/ and outs. Below, on the same play as above, look at the comeback route at the top of the screen. The ball being gone is irrelevant; the corner covering has no idea the ball has been thrown.
Make no mistake - the game was, as they say in my hometown of Paris, TX -- "a whoopin''". The Seahawks were a more physical team, and the nature of the Denver running game didn't help, as it was too dependent on box counts rather than calling and running plays, regardless of the defensive look. Protection was a major issue, but the defense had as many pressures when in zone as they did in man; the coverage does not add time on a given play, just as adding a check-releaser (from 6-man to 7-man, for example) has no effect. Protection time can be gained with carefully programmed scan and help calls. The paradox was the plan of quick completions vs. what actually disturbs man coverage.
The premise remains: in attacking man coverage, explosive plays are a must, and are not always available when solely releasing the ball in quick rhythm.
I have a few projects in the works, so my time has been divided. I have, however, received a lot of questions in regard to how the traditional QUICK game fits into the verbiage described in Recoded and Reloaded. So, here is a short write-up.
First, in regard to how we CALL these pattern sides, they are NAMED routes that fit into the backside of the numbered frontside pattern. For those who are unfamiliar with our play calling system.....go buy the book. Just kidding. Below, you can see a diagram giving a brief explanation:
The patterns are described just as in many systems: HITCH, OUT, or FIST (Flat Inside a SlanT):
We tag these patterns with the NUMBERS (9ER) Advantage Principle, in which we have a pattern to attack single high or soft corners, and a default Cover 2 pattern to the frontside. We will plan our quick side to defeat single high, while the 220 pattern offers a solid choice vs. Two Deep. One benefit to the high school or college hash marks is the ease with which true two deep can be surmised: with the ball on the hash, as in the diagram above, the BACKSIDE safety (B) must play on or outside the hash in in order to be a half field player. Regardless of where F (front side safety) aligns, if B plays inside the hash, we will treat the alignment as single high.
As a result, the QB's decision is simple and decisive: if the safety is inside the hash, he can count on single high principles to the tagged quick route; if he is on or outside the hash, he works the "220" pattern. The accountability falls to the coach to carefully plan boundary and field formational looks, but the work for the QB is clearly defined with an Advantage Principle that not only facilitates the quick game, but this offense's version of the Run N Shoot "Choice" route as well.
This represents the most basic presentation for quick routes. Hope this helps!
For those of you who don't know me, let me say there was a time when I was certain I would make it to the "big time" as a coach. When I say this, I am not blindly throwing a statement out there without background knowledge -- it's NOT like George Costanza running the New York Yankees (or maybe it is). My college Head Coach coached in the NFL, as did my position coach, and they ran an NFL system which I understood inside and out. And because I was such a bad player, I got to sit and watch others perform and be coached. My playing days were like a 4 year internship. As a young coach, I was given special access to NFL training camps where I got to see the best minds in football at work. I'm not talking about simply watching practice; I was allowed inside meeting rooms as they coached their players and saw them TEACH. One such team had perhaps the greatest offense of all time with 2 MVPs (one is in the Hall of Fame now, with the other perhaps to follow?); another was based in a system with a coordinator who would go on to win 2 Super Bowls. I saw how these people taught, and knew I was as good. For whatever reason, I didn't get the chance to coach at that level (though I know my name was brought up as recently as a couple of seasons ago), but it wasn't because I wasn't good enough. I knew, as I know now, that I can teach -- I have been successful teaching players at much lower skill levels concepts that work at the highest levels of competition. If I were to sit in a room (or more importantly, be on a practice field) with coaches today, I wouldn't be out of place. Because of this fact, I am at peace with what I am doing now.
But with the NFL combine coverage being at the forefront of my mind, I am reminded of my personal experience with the scouting process. Several years ago, I was lucky enough to coach one QB who I thought was good enough to physically play in the NFL. I knew this when he was 17 years old. He had a terrific arm and even quicker release. Even better, he could process a lot of information, despite average "book smarts". He turned down some big time offers (including sadly, one to my Alma Mater) to go to a school that had put a string of QBs into the league. Long story short - my connection with him got him to come to the school I was just hired at, and he had a great career - throwing for over 12,000 yards in the process. Though roughly 10 teams were at his Pro Day (small college), I was disappointed that there were no QB coaches, and one team's running backs coach ran the workout. His group had prospects at the position, so this wasn't surprising. What was surprising was the response I got from a personnel executive friend of mine when I inquired about him - the book they had said he wasn't a good enough athlete at the position. I was dumbfounded. This was a kid who his high school's district in rebounding despite being a shade over 6'2. He was also recruited by Nebraska as an option guy, and other schools liked him as a safety coming out of high school. If I were a personnel guy, there were other concerns - perhaps enough to pass on this player, but physical ability was not one of them.
The choices were then a) the personnel guy wasn't being truthful or b) they did not do their homework, or c) their evaluation didn't measure the correct information. As I look at all the criteria that evaluators use, I often think they leave out some very important considerations.
While there are definitely tangible qualities that need to be evaluated and disclosed, I think that in evaluating the QB, he should be set apart from the combine drills; things like the broad jump seem to be a waste of time. Further, do they really need to see if AJ McCarron (above) can throw a slant? They don't already know this? To me, this time to evaluate would be precious, and other things would be more important.
I think that arm strength IS important in the NFL, but throwing the first half of the route tree is a waste of time in that regard. Physically, I'd be more concerned with how a QB can re-set and throw, or the velocity on throws when he can't get his body into a turn. I would have drills that take into account his vision, making him put the ball in one place or another. There are obvious reasons why there aren't "1 on 1" drills because of liability concerns; however, such drills can be set up with dummies or people holding up bags (and thus no injury concerns). Resources aren't an issue. I'd think football people would be much more concerned in how a QB anticipates adjustments on a "streak read" (below) vs. "middle open- or -closed" coverages, rather than how fast he is in the 3-cone drill.
I remember back when Tim Couch was being scouted, and the Browns were meeting with him. Then coach Chris Palmer asked him to diagram and his favorite play. Now, I certainly hope this wasn't the whole conversation, but I would ask him to diagram his favorite 20 plays, or at least his favorite 2 or 3 by situation. The playbook Palmer would use is over 500 pages (as are pretty much all NFL playbooks); a QB interview should be like an old-school coaching interview in which the interviewee is given a dry erase marker and put on the board for a couple of hours.
Is this unfair? I don't think so. He's got to be able to digest a ton of information, and doing so under duress. The job is mentally draining, and I just think sometimes there is so much emphasis on this...
...that we forget about this:
Countless people have gone over every throw each of these prospects have made, but I cringe a little bit when I hear an analyst say "he missed the open guy here." Does the analyst know what the QB was told on that play? Probably not. Even though there are pretty standard route and read concept in football, there are exceptions by game plan or by down and distance. EVERYONE makes adjustments, so while film doesn't lie, it doesn't necessarily tell the whole truth. I'd be curious to find out how much video is watched with the prospect. The casual fan conjures visions of Gruden's QB Camp, but I'm thinking of a predetermined 30-50 play session with the coaching staff, featuring an in depth question and answer format. Carefully orchestrated, insight can be gained on several levels:
What does he know?
How does he conceptualize?
How does he deal with success or failure?
How does he accept coaching?
How well does he articulate?
How does he handle criticism?
There is an emotional component to playing the position that I think teams are doing a better job of addressing. I remember Matthew Stafford being a little put off with the extent of questions he was asked by the 49ers, but I personally don't have a problem with this, and there are plenty of evaluation tools in this arena.
Football people also make use of the use of personal character references, often referred to as "sources we trust". The upper echelon organizations do a pretty decent job in this field, going as far back as elementary school in some instances. However, some organizations only query former coaches, who might see athletes in a different light than say, the cafeteria lady or guidance counselor. I think back to the days I spent recruiting, and I can't remember many times when I didn't hear "Coach, he's a great kid" from a high school coach. I've heard it said that some people want athletes to care only about their sport as a testament to their commitment; truth is (especially with this position), that you'd really prefer someone who will compete to the best of their ability in EVERY situation, not just when they have an advantage.
In order to be successful at anything, an individual (or organization) needs to:
- Be highly organized
- Be willing to take calculated risks
- Know that working smart is just as important as working hard
- Be able to spot a winner when they see one
I don't doubt that many teams are consistent with the first two points, but I have serious reservations about the last two. Jamarcus Russell? I remember telling a whole slew of people he'd never make it (Mike, Ryan, and Derek - remember?). How did I know? Because I saw tape of him as a high school senior and he waited for receivers to be out of their breaks before throwing, and that had not changed at LSU. Nobody knows for sure - just as Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) pointed out in "Moneyball" - there is no crystal ball. There is no way of assuring how a player will project from college to the NFL, but I think some things can be done more efficiently, especially from the workout and scouting standpoint.
To me, the way a player's talent will translate has to do more with his surrounding players relative to the opposition rather than if he took all his snaps from shotgun. Shotgun as opposed to under center doesn't matter as much other things, yet people seem to waste a lot of breath on the subject. Why? Every team has a QB coach that's a millionaire - he can teach drops. It's about processing large volumes of information and having enough of a skill set athletically to get the ball to someone open ( who should be graded on speed and explosiveness) -- all while have the courage to ignore the pass rush and the mental toughness to ignore talk radio.
While some things read here might seem "out there"-- this process should be a job interview, and so it should be taxing and stressful, given the stakes. It's widely acknowledged that there is much to be quantified. It just seems that many times, the powers that be are quantifying the wrong things.
For many coaches, there is no "OFF SEASON" -- conditioning and strength programs are in full swing, and many programs will implement QB School before team-wide football activities will take place. Along those lines, I thought I would list a few bullet points:
Feeding a great player - having a specialized section in the game plan is nothing new; one thing I feel is important is that these methods should blend with the regular flow of the offense. In other words, re structuring an entire system just to feature a single player is not the most efficient way to teach for the program's sake. Obviously, if one were lucky enough to have a once-in-a-lifetime talent, one would want to take advantage of that. However, a player can be GREAT for your level without being an NFL prospect. Below, a simple variation to free up a great run after the catch RB is shown with a complete pattern that is a staple of the offense.
Taking the same example of passing game match-ups with the back, we can augment the backside of STICK, taking advantage of W on an island:
Formationing to create stress on the defense - this is potentially the least expensive way to maximize your offensive attack. Two things that need to be addressed are:
- The method for calling plays. If the method for play calling calls for players to know their place in the formation relative to the ball (ex. inside, middle, outside), and there is NOT a descriptive way to call them, this can create chaos. If the plan to take advantage of a great player is to move him around within the formation, the coach must consider the learning burden not only to the star player, but to the players that will be displaced as a result. The ability to move people within a given formation with minimal learning burden is yet another example of the benefits of our terminology structure.
The above example isn't the only way to skin a cat; a client approached me this year of incorporating A.C.T.S. into their passing game. We were able to do so without changing ANY existing terminology for them. Whether using word or numbers -- how the core pieces of the passing game are taught remain the same, and kids are able to execute a multi-dimensional attack.
- Creating new terminology to build new formations. I have always felt that streamlining the terms used can be of a great benefit. We have a terrific system of calling formations, that minimizes the memorization required at the same time. Keith Grabowsky has also shared some great ideas here. For now, here are the very simple alignment rules we use:
The chart above carries across all personnel groupings, and really cuts down the verbiage used in calling formations, allowing for more description in other parts of the call, and allowing for the next bullet point...
The use of TEMPO - much has been said on this topic, but I feel the need to clarify a few things. We're all aware of the flashy, video game number-producing, throw it all over the park offense that gets all the media attention. But the reality is that upper level college football is pretty much the only place where teams can play full throttle the entire game and NOT hurt the rest of the team. Either that, or a program like the one I see every Friday night (Allen High School has an enrollment of 6,000+). Even Chip Kelly adjusted last season as his numbers dictated that he do so. That being said, I think analysts often miss the purest advantages of being up tempo from a coach's perspective:
- Accelerated player development. Being "up tempo" means devoting a practice philosophy to it (or at least - it should). Working at a faster pace in practice means developing younger players at a faster pace, as backups would get as many repetitions as the starter. In a high school setting, the ability to give the backup QB as many reps as the starter will pay dividends in both the immediate and long term future.
- Allows for balance. Contrary to popular belief, I really am a proponent of balance. Even more important - I think an offense has to be able to dictate to the defense. The box count theory of running the ball is great, but the thing I have noticed is this: there is NO answer when you can run the ball right at a defense. The one problem with running it 30-40 times a game? It shortens the game too much, and can potentially let a team that is inferior STAY IN THE GAME. Being up tempo and wide open does not have to be synonymous with soft; below, we see that of the top 25 offenses in Division 1 last year, only 2 huddled on a regular basis. Furthermore, only 3 averaged less than 150 yards rushing per game. The ability to speed up and slow down the game help strike the critical balance between attacking mismatches and physically deconstructing a defense.
- Allows for "Navigation Tags." Being able to guide the QB with specialized instruction is made possible when tempo is used as a weapon. I wrote a post about these tags here.
- Shifting and Motion. Having played in a college offense that shifted and moved on every snap, I saw very early on in my career the potential for stressing a defense. If there was ever an opportunity to take advantage of shifting and motioning, a no huddle offense that varied its pace could take advantage.
Being multiple, in addition to having the capacity to being up tempo, is invaluable in terms of creating stressors for the defense. In business terms, these methods can be thought of as the "delivery" side of the offense. Just as important is the production aspect -- the overall design.
Prioritizing your passing game - not only is this pass offense built on its "bedrock" concepts, but it is based on universal individual routes as well. By teaching the primary components of the passing game to all position groups, there is an enormous amount of flexibility. One such route is a DRAG, with the drill illustration below:
With every skill group able to execute these fundamental building blocks, we are able to use the DRAG in an array of presentations, giving the defense different problems to consider:
Practicing what you preach - too often, we get away from developing a kid's strength, instead focusing on his weaknesses. At most levels of football, coaches cannot afford to do this. The best coaches I've known have maximized the potential of their players. For example, much is made of the pass-catching TE at the NFL level; while a kid may not be a Jimmy Graham, he could be and effective possession receiver, or even a solid seam threat vs. 3 deep. It becomes incumbent on the coach to dial up these match-ups, not as a means of appeasing the player, but as a means of accountability to the program -- the coach must be committed to what is best for the team. Sadly, I often see coaches who are not willing to be unselfish, yet ask players to do the very same.
Taking this a step further, from a team perspective, it is imperative to commit to the development of players. Development involves strategic planning on all levels of program and player development. My last two posts, here and here, address these processes.
There is no doubt -- stability is the key to long term success; it is for this reason that a "system" needs to have all the answers, with as few "add-ons" as possible. The ability to adjust, while minimizing learning burden, can only be achieved with a methodical, well-planned apparatus for teaching.