So thankful for the chance to speak at the Dallas GLAZIER CLINICS this weekend, and to all the coaches who came out to see me. Here is a copy of my presentation, along with the video that went along with it:
The big process for me during the winter is to collect data from the past season, make any updates where needed, and then to look at cutups (not just myself, but my clients, and the rest of the football world in general). I look at defensive trends across college football, knowing it will be something my clients will need to be ready for. As my clients know, I am constantly sending updates. Ultimately, I look to see if our HIT LISTS need updating, then clean up our playbook and ready lists, and then go about creating our spring wristband so that the things done in the spring lead to execution in the fall.
To illustrate, here is a screen shot for a clinic presentation I am doing for Glazier in Dallas:
In the process of creating Ready Lists, one can also closely examine the nuance in which certain teams will play their coverage variations. In other words, many teams have Cover 4, but the adjustments within the coverage are more multiple than ever before. The ability to create brackets is more complex than ever, and so we must be able to emphasize certain elements in the offense, and include that in our strategic thinking (our wristband flows into our game plan and practice scripts, further saving time. Keith Grabowski has an excellent tool for this).
For example, the "Cover 4" on 3rd Down we get might be different than in the Scoring Zone (my other Glazier clinic topic). Thus, it is SO important to be able to vary the offense, not necessarily from a pattern perspective, but from how the coach uses Navigation Tags to give the QB direction. (By the way, the Navigation Tags and certain structures might have evolved as well, as a system is a living, evolving thing).
As an illustration, one thing that evolved for us last spring was how we employed the TRAIL route. In order to better take advantage of the brackets defenses were trying to build, we sped up the rhythm of the pattern, combining it with a SLANT to get open or clear, followed by the trail:
As noted, these advancements come about as soon as the season is over, and are repped in the spring. This is where I depart from the thinking of many coaches that Spring is the time for "vanilla". If you play this way in the Fall, then this is fine. However, especially when you are trying to build the identity of your squad, it is my opinion that you need to challenge young players to show how they can process information.
We've all heard it before: "Think PLAYERS, not plays." However, many get over-involved in the schematics of attacking scheme that some very rudimentary things get left out. As a result, things become more complicated than they need to be. If you have a complete passing system that features ways to attack (described here), you don't need a ridiculous looking call sheet:
All kidding aside, I'm sure there's a method to the madness; I just know I could not function with that much "stuff" to look at. While every offseason is spent on the "tweaks" in the system, nothing is as time-consuming as the way I'd like my call sheet to be organized.
We all have the basic listing by play type, situation, and field position; one thing that has become very helpful is a more specfic, organized way to think through the problems (and opportunities) the defense is confronting us with. Below is a snippet of one section of our call sheet, featuring some scenarios vs our basic RT/LT (3x1) sets:
In the top left corner of the section, for example, we have some base calls to go to when we anticipate our single receiver can defeat his single defender. The numbers (76 and 61) represent the wristband numbers to call on the left and right hash marks respectively. Here, we anticipate a strong roll vs bunch, combined with the frontside safety (F) cross-keying #3 on his vertical route. Thus, if the Z can cross the corner's face, there is a potential for an explosive play; if he doesn't, the drag route has plenty of room to work the W.
Conversely, we also prepare for when the matchup favors the defense. Under the heading "SHUTDOWN ON SINGLE", we have base plays prepared to counter this. Below, with the corner over X being the shutdown corner, the defense plays a popular matchup concept: the backside safety (B), middle linebacker (M), and strong linebacker (S) play a triangle over Y and A, with the frontside safety (from the QB read perspective) pushing to the 3 receiver side. We can therefore gain an edge with the W manned up on our B-back, with Y coming in behind:
The above represents just a small sample of basic plays in this system that can be categorized in several different strategic or tactical situations. Many of us have come away from a game having left a "must call" from preparation on the call sheet; the important thing is having the informatio organized in such a way that the play caller can access what he needs under the duress of a close ballgame.
A few nights ago, news came out that the head coaching job at Oregon is now open. It got me thinking - look how quickly things have changed!
Five years ago, offenses operating at "warp speed" were all the rage; the success at places like the University of Oregon and Baylor led to a tremendous movement towards a world of one-word play calls and quick snaps. Offensive numbers ballooned, and many were assimilating the same traits in their own offenses. And while I certainly see a need for being able to run plays very, very quickly, I think there needs to be roots in a sound foundation; almost a year ago, I expressed my thoughts here.
Oregon and Baylor, though maintaining the same systems, stuggled this season offensively; in addition, Chip Kelly was the hottest name in coaching back then, and his teams' struggles have been documented. Ultimately, I think the downfall of playing SUPER fast is that these types of offenses is that they lose soundness to a degree. In closely watching a whole season of the Sterlin Gilbert offense (a descendant of the Baylor system), despite the solid gap-oriented runnning game, the passing game lacked the ability to attack multiple levels of the field. Though overall numbers are still impressive, efficiency has decreasd dramatically for these systems, while some more traditional passing offenses (Washington, Washington State, USC) have gotten better as the year has gone on. So, what things are missing from a lot of up-tempo attacks?
ATTACKING ALL THE LEVELS OF A DEFENSE
Some of the formations I see are SO spread out, that the offense can't possibly get the ball to all receivers. I truly see the benefit of the super-wide Baylor system splits, but also see the value in contracting the formation. Something I will never forget is my HS position coach reminding me that NO ONE has 4 guys that can cover (we were a state championship team when I played for him, and he was at the time coaching at a HS rolling out D1 prospects left and right). So, make people pay for playing "man within zone":
MAKE THE DEFENSE PLAY "ON THE MOVE"
I love fast motion; most of the time, however, it is used solely as a means of lateral displacement in many offenses; if added to the core of concepts many teams already use, this can help gain even better leverage on a defense because of the vertical component. Below, we take our basic "stick" combination, and with "bunch" followed by quick motion, stress the defense past its breaking point:
MAKE THE DEFENSE COVER THE WHOLE PATTERN
I have made my opinion on mirrored routes clear; I simply think they allow half the defense to get off the hook because there is no chance they will get the ball. I can attest first hand that getting to the Third Fix in a progression is something that can be taught to ANY AGE. When it does happen, it can break the back of a defense. Just imagine a big drive, and the defense does a great job covering the combination called, only to be thwarted by the design of the whole pattern:
Along the same lines as the above, one can take advantage of unfamiliar looks (yet familiar progressions for the defense). Here is a quick glimpse of the vertical lanes that can be created into the boundary:
Obviously, I have nothing against going fast; it's just that many times when I see teams use this approach, I see nothing different than the probing FB runs of the old Wing-T offense (something to call that really isn't attacking the weakness of the defense). I think this approach goes the OTHER way on the pendulum, as teaching still must occur.
Much is made in the media in regard to "spread" offenses limiting the ability of QBs to learn at a higher level. However, it is this author's opinion (and there are a lot of them on the subject) that:
- Spread is an ideology of formationing, and has no attachment to the read concepts used in the passing game
- There are plenty of "pro style" systems that do just as bad of a job preparing the QB
- Too often, the people complaining about the NFL-readiness of college QBs are always drafting high (i.e. losing), while the very best teams in terms of moving the ball look A LOT like "college spread" offenses (Patriots, Steelers, Falcons, Raiders) with 3-4 receiver sets and no huddle playing a huge part of the offense. It can also be noted that guys like Garoppolo, Prescott, and Carr were "spread" QBs in college, and doing fine. Garropolo was a product of the much maligned "Baylor" offense, Prescott played in the same college system as Tim Tebow, and Carr was a quick screen king at Fresno State. So, I don't buy this type of logic.
What I do know is this: regardless of the level of play, a very high degree of efficiency can be achieved. How? Simply put - give the QB options. Make the defense cover the formation, and be forced to assign help to your best players. Then, provide a sequence for him to follow (a progression), but have the flexibility to, as a coach, spotlight the open guy and simply say "put the ball on this guy."
That's what we've done with ACTS in the dropback game, but we have even created ways to fuse ideas, keeping the offense nimble, and ready to adjust to personnel. In just a short period of time, 2 schools that are using the system for the first time are experiencing marked success. Compare to the same point in the season last year:
Gooding High School, ID
2015 (pre system): QB Wyatt Williams was 101/203 (49.7 %) for 1623 yds, 21 TD, 5 INT, 110 carries 752 yds, 5 TD
2016 (w/ system): QB Tyler VIsser is 97/152 (63.8%) for 1740 yds, 23 TD, 5 INT, 120 carries for 953 yds, 8 TD
Hillcrest HS, AL
2015: QB Cole Frederick through 12 games: 123/232 (57%) 1829 YD, 15 TD, 6 INT
2016: QB Cole Frederick through 7 games: 114/158 (72%) 1688 YD, 15 TD, 0 INT
It's clear that by giving the QB options across the width of the field (rather than limiting his choices), more opportunities are available to complete passes, sustain offense, and score points.
I've heard coaches claim that the passing game, at lower levels, is too complex. What we have done, in our system of reading, is make take this complexity SO SIMPLE A MIDDLE SCHOOLER can do it, and with results that are simply unheard of:
THROUGH 6 GAMES:
84/ 123 (68.3 %)
22 Passing TDs
10 Rushing TDs
Reading is reading - whether it be under center or in shotgun (whether you are a "pro" or "spread" type of offense - there are systems in both categories that are both good or bad in developing the passer's ability to make decisions. The thing is - this isn't rocket science; as Gary Daniels described it, football is more chess than checkers.
This is done by:
- Making the defense cover all eligible receivers
- Creating structural problems for the defense that require "help" (a safety)
- A network of advantage routes and principles that lends itself to getting the ball OUT FAST - even when there is no pressure
- Pressuring the defense by going ultra fast, or using motion and movement to uncover - but the defense must be ready to play through it all
- Having a system of calling and reading pass patterns that allows for simplicity for players, yet appears complex for the defense.
Every play on our wristband has a purpose, and the thought process in the overall scheme of things is never forgotten. For example, our game planning worksheet also serves us on our game day call sheet. Here is an illustration of some applications in a standard 3x1 set, which we simply refer to as RIGHT and LEFT:
Preventing turnovers and creating explosive plays are the two most integral factors in winning. By assuring the QB can throw into the thinnest part of the coverage, we work towards both goals. This can only be done by continually developing threats across the board. At the center of this must be the coach to direct the QB into the most sure lanes of completion.
One thing I think gets missed in many preseason practice settings is the opportunity to put a team in strategic situations, such as the SCORING ZONE. I've spoken to many coaches who are just trying to get plays taught, while it's my honest opinion that a complete system takes care of that. Once the baseline information is set, the players should have cues in the system to take them to the next step.
However, I think that the term "Situation Football" gets overblown. It's just not that complicated for MOST of us. Essentially, it comes down to very simple rules/ tenets for each situation. In a well-organized system, with structures that attack a multitude of defenses and the ability to control functions within a play (such as our use of Navigation/ Read Tags), the process becomes very simple. For instance, after BALL SECURITY and EXPLOSIVE PLAYS, FIRST DOWN EFFICIENCY is the next most important variable. What should the goal be here?
- Stay on schedule
- Create explosives
Obviously, the ZONE READ with attachments has revolutionized football. Another thing that can be done in the passing game is create simple "pass checks" -- very elementary patterns that are really high percentage, and give the offense a very high probability of success. Coupled with formations that limit possible defensive reactions, this can provide really effective answers in several situations - like 3rd and Medium. Take, for instance the "nub" set with 3 receivers, a TE, and 1 RB. Most defenses will give pretty standardized responses here; we have prepared 2 alternatives as a CHECK, based on the alignment of the frontside safety. On our band, it is listed as a "CHK 200/FRISCO". The QB simply gives a quick hand signal at the line. Best of all, we use zone blocking to create the quick play pass, and there is no new learning.
On 3rd down, the obvious goal is to convert the needed yardage; however, there is a difference in simply calling a route that passes the first down marker, and instead using this opportunity to test the structure of the defense. Below, we present the defense with a bunch formation; often, a match-zone team will give a predictable response. But when the back motions to create a four-receiver surface, coupled with multiple quick-breakers to combat pressure, conversion possibilities as well as almost uncovered throws can result:
Because of the NO HUDDLE environment (and subsequent communication the defense must employ), ROCK and LOAD motion has proven to be extremely beneficial, either in creating "uncovered" throws, or simply opening up a base pattern even more than usual. Here, we see how an option route can be augmented:
There are many things to consider as a team gets closer to the end zone. Obviously, the smaller field eliminates certain stretched (such as 3 level thinking)...However, it does mean one can influence more dramatic reactions from the defense. Hence, there was the introduction of a new navigation tag - COWBOY, which stands for "COMBO or ONE on ONE."
Sometimes, creating tendencies can be to one's advantage. I recall Norv Turner replying to a call-in fan on the Cowboys tendencies - "Well, yes, you can bet we will hand the ball to Emmitt Smith." One such example, for instance, could be basing SPRINT protection from EMPTY; this would discourage the use of blitz automatics vs. the formation.
Few patterns in football combine the ability to attack multiple coverage categories with simplicity like the LEVELS combination. Because of our system's unique way of dialing up the thought process for the QB, we are able to apply ideas that not only put the defense in a bind, but feature the pattern we want as well. For us, we call the combination SPOT, which stands for SPEED IN W AN OUTSIDE 2 (referring to our route tree). Here is the teaching slide:
Above, one can see the easy application to a 3x1 set with the single receiver on a quick post/ deep slant. There are 2 things that are evident with this version: 1) the SPEED IN technique by the tagged receiver and 2) the LOCKED IN cut by the number #2, which fits into our backside rule - automatic IN if not tagged or told what to do.
Unlike different versions of the pattern, we lock the #2 receivers route in because it fits our rules, allows for a consistent stretch, and allows us to change up the thought process for the QB based on the read tag we give him.
The SPEED IN runner is told to get an inside release, and that his speed cut must allow him to cross the face of the inside LB.
Last spring we used 2 primary applications of SPOT: one from empty, that gave us a MAN/ZONE idea, and one that gave us a coverage beater.
From EMPTY, we had a typical SMASH pattern to the 2 man surface. If the corner over #1 came up (man read), we could throw the & right away; if he bailed, we had a 3 man combo to scan into:
From 3x1, we gave our QB a 1 on 1 throw vs. a singled up corner (remember, our 9er read will treat some quarters concepts as single high), while giving the same 3 man combo vs. 2 high (with the boundary safety stating outside the hash). Here, we have a streak read (9 route) vs 1 high:
SPOT was great for us last spring; we have a couple of new wrinkles we are adding this fall to increase the effectiveness even more.
Coaches are often surprised at the amount of offense we have been able to install over the years. For us, however, this is a product of "layered" teaching - once a solid foundation is in place, the tweaks that provide multiple presentations to a defense,
We aren't hampered with teaching assignments past installation, because the verbiage and progression makes sense. So, once installed, the coach can concentrate on skills, rather than assignment.
Pass patterns can fill multiple roles, both in strategic situations as well as defenses faced. In these 2 clips, derived from our HIT LISTS, we give some insight, as we explain 1 pattern versus multiple coverages:
One thing I've always been confident of is that the system I use works at ANY level. I can say this because I know what is taught at those levels. I have seen some try to illustrate their points using a random NFL team's film, whether or not those teams are using the coaching points they are trying to illustrate.
What I can say with certainty: this system was developed at the college level; the nomenclature was changed so it could be taught at the youth level. More and more people are finding the usefulness in the principles:
Since getting to know Dan, he has had an incredible impact on the way we structure our offense and passing game. The incorporation of Dan's principles on the way the Quarterback and Coach navigate the defense has not only improved our QB play, but also gives us a systematic and consistent approach to attacking the defense in a wide variety of ways.
More important than Dan's system is the interpersonal involvement Dan has had in consulting with us on a regular basis in an effort to always move the system to a higher level. Dan has been tremendous in his efforts to not just sell a system, but help us use his principles in the most effective manner.
Head Football Coach
Saginaw Valley State University
University Center, MI
NCAA Division II Playoffs: 2013, 2011, 2009, 2005, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000
GLIAC Champions: 2003, 2000, 1984, 1983, 1979
GLIAC North Division Champions: 2013, 2012, 2011
I really enjoy participating in coaching chats on Twitter; a week or two ago I participated in a chat on EMPTY formations with Texas High School FB Chat (link can be found here). The discussion with several coaches spurned some additional thoughts, which I will share here.
HAVE A PURPOSE
What is the goal of installing EMPTY? More importantly, what is the defensive response we want?
- Do we want a blitz?
- Do we not want a blitz?
- Can we dictate man or zone coverage?
- Does a 3-4 team become a 4 down team when they go Nickel?
It's of paramount importance to know the answers one will get regardless of formation; below is an example of the thought process involved in a normal "TRIPS" set:
DON'T REINVENT THE WHEEL
The opportunity for EMPTY to help in the attack either exists or it doesn't. If there, stick with basic ideas that are already in the normal attack, particularly from a QB read standpoint. The last thing a coach needs to do is come up with a special set of rules for reads (or protection for that matter) that don't already exist in the system's normal mode of operation. On the left, there is a standard coverage beater in which the QB will work weak vs. 1 high and strong vs 2 high. In order to assure us the look we want, if we are to provide a variation, we could go to the formation on the left.
Why was "bunch" chosen?
- To protect the split of A, who we want to drag
- To get a zone check - common to prevent the rub-offs man coverage endures vs. Bunch.
PROTECT THE FORMATION
Here, there are 2 main trains of thought. First, we can protect empty principles by MOTIONING to empty (as we did above). As complicated as defenses have become, last minute movement from 1 back to no-back can catch the defense flat-footed. In some instances, quick-rhythm throws can be created for the QB that wouldn't otherwise be there. A terrific illustration of this can be seen here:
Second, the formation must be protected by having a sound set of patterns attached. One must be careful to allow the passer quick throws while still making the defense defend the depth of the field. Too often, coaches can become too horizontal in their thinking; they must also be sure not to let the defense off the hook. In the diagram below, for example, there are both vertical stems, quick breakers, and crossing routes (and a well defined thought process for the QB):
Another aspect of the offense that really lends well to EMPTY is the use of the RAM Advantage Principle. Because of the configuration of the defense, the QB is given an easy key in dissecting the defense. Further, the coach is aided in his practice plan: he only needs to work the pattern on the left vs. 2 deep, and the right side vs. 3 deep zones (the formation will likely only get 1 LB deployed to the left if 2 deep, and 2 LB weak in a 3-deep configuration).
REMEMBER: PLAYERS WIN GAMES
Leave your best players on the field. If your featured set is represented with a TE and a stud RB, then create your empty formation from there. Here, there is an H back, with the RB deployed as a slot - and inviting the ball to go to the best receiver, X.
Living in Allen, TX and using this outlet to not only stay close to the game I love, but to help pass on what I have learned from some of the game's great coaching minds.