May 272015
 

Earl Browning’s coaching manuals have long been one of the greatest sources for coaching ideas and innovations. The manuals always feature articles by some of the best and biggest names in the coaching world. I currently live and coach abroad, and the cost of ordering and shipping these manuals has been prohibitive. Now, finally, several of the manuals are available as eBooks.

Whether you are a coach looking for new ideas or any form of football junky looking to understand the nuts and bolts of the game, these books are for you.

I am linking to the 2011 edition, because it is the one that I have bought and am currently reading. The coaches and articles are stellar, from current “it” coaches on both sides of the ball (Chip Kelly, Pat Narduzzi) to innovators (Chris Ault, Gary Patterson) to program builders (Jerry Kill, Todd Graham) and many more successful and well respected names, the 2011 edition is as good and informative as advertised.

Aug 062014
 

Play calling is not only one of the most difficult tasks in coaching, but also what coaches are most often criticized for. While it may seem easy to those watching at home, the multiple stresses present when calling a game in the heat of the moment make it easy for a coach to make decisions that he will question in hindsight.

The best way to increase the likelihood of calling a good game is – obviously – to have a plan.

The most publicized methods for play calling come from the college and pro ranks. Television cameras usually show a head coach or offensive coordinator with a large, laminated printout, with hundreds of plays on front and back, highlighted and sorted for every situation that the coach can foresee. There is often a script, which is a set list of plays to start the game. And then there are lists of plays for first and 10, second and 10, third and ten, second and medium, second and short, third and medium, third and short, third and long, goal line, two minute, trick plays, etc etc etc.

This is a sound approach. It allows a coach to quickly access plays that he has pre-selected for certain situations. By pre-selecting the plays, he has already thought through what he thinks will work. He will not be frazzled when he faces a 4th and 15 with the game on the line – he has selected the best plays for that situation when he had a clear head, before the game.

But there are other methods that can be just as – if not more – successful. One such method is “if/then playcalling.” In short, if/then playcalling says: “if the defense does this, then we will do this.” This is a great way for a coach to organize his thoughts, as it gives him a set response to whatever adjustments the defense makes.

This is most effective when running a true “system” offense. One of the best articles on the subject details flexbone master Paul Johnson’s if/then methodology: http://footballislifeblog.blogspot.dk/2011/07/paul-johnsons-if-then-methodology-to.html

When running a “system” such as the flexbone, it is often hard to prepare to face a particular defense, because opponents will often create a special defense specifically to face that system, unrelated to their base defense. Determining your if/then methodology makes sure that you will have an answer for whatever the defense throws at you.

This is also beneficial in playbook creation. If, for example, you are a triple option team, but you have no response for heavy blitzing and stunting in the middle of your line that disrupts your timing and mesh points, the defense will seize on that weakness. By creating an if/then methodology for yourself, you force yourself to think like a defensive coach to come up with every possible scheme to stop your offense. Then you must make sure that you have a response for all scenarios. Doing so – much like studying for an exam by taking practice tests – creates an active learning environment, which will lead to greater understanding and mastery of one’s own offensive system.

The if/then methodology and similar methods of planning work in a variety of offensive systems. The if/then methodology is closely related to the “Wing T order of football,” (The Delaware Wing-T: An Order of Football
) in which a Wing T master knows exactly how to place various defenders in conflict, and how to take advantage of whatever actions the defense takes. Likewise, Mike Leach of Air Raid fame is known for keeping his plays on a small sheet of paper, and using a pen to mark what plays work and what plays don’t work. His goal is to take what the defense gives him – and make note of it – which is another variation of an if/then methodology.

System football – and offensive football in general – is all about taking advantage of the structural weaknesses in a defense. Incorporating an if/then methodology into your play calling will force you to consider how you believe you can best dissect a defense, which is the core of any “system” offense. Even if you find that if/then play calling is not for you during the game, thinking in terms of how to respond (and making sure you have a response) to any defense will help any offense.

Jul 042014
 

The counter sweep is not a common play, but for decades the Nebraska Cornhuskers used it as a primary weapon to power their prolific run game.

The counter sweep is closely related to the counter trey, which became – and remains – a staple in the run game. The blocking schemes look identical at the start of the play, but differ at one key point.

In the counter trey, the pulling guard attempts to kick out the defensive end. The tackle (or sometimes a back) cuts inside of this block to lead the play.

In the counter sweep, the pulling guard “log” blocks the defensive end. This means that – rather than kick the end out – the guard attempts to pin him to the inside. The tackle’s path is deeper in the backfield than on the counter trey, and he goes outside of the guard’s block, looking to lead the play wide and down the field.

The counter trey is a power, off tackle run. The counter action by the backfield seeks to draw the defense in the wrong direction for a split second, which is then exploited by power and numbers at the point of attack.

The counter sweep also attempts to influence the defense to the wrong side of the field, but the play seeks to get the ball carrier as far as possible from the interior of the line.

This resulted in consistent big plays for Nebraska. Of course, Nebraska was also one of the most physical teams in the country, often employing the best offensive lines and the most talented backs. The defense needed to react hard to the play side, and Nebraska exploited that fact by caving in the other side of the line with power, and leading the play with swift, disciplined pulling linemen who were followed by backs who could outrun everyone to the sideline.

While most teams won’t enjoy such advantages, it is surprising that the counter sweep is not employed more often, if nothing more than as a compliment to the counter trey. The two plays go hand in hand. Not surprisingly, Nebraska used a play they called “counter trap” to compliment the counter sweep. Their counter trap featured the guard kicking out the end, and the guard cutting inside of his block – just like the counter trey.

The counter sweep adjustment – at the least – should be installed, to account for a block down step down defensive end. Such an end can be almost impossible to uproot with a kick out block, but is very easy to log block. The tackle and ball carrier should be able to read this block and run to the outside, thus – in effect – executing the famous Nebraska counter sweep.

For video of the Nebraska counter sweep:

http://www.viddler.com/v/91f596f5

For more analysis and video (including the Nebraska counter trap), visit trojanfootballanalysis.com:

http://trojanfootballanalysis.com/?p=55

Jun 192014
 

The trend towards pass first offensive football has generally led to a decrease in run game intricacy. Spread and pass first teams have found that they can put up high point totals with only a few simple run blocking schemes. This approach is sound – with focus on the passing game, the simplified run game means that high levels of execution can be attained on the few blocking schemes that are in the playbook.

This does mean that some concepts of the past have been largely lost. The following play exemplifies the lost art of the complex run game, a tackle trap on a top nose guard (Tony Casillas), intended to make that nose guard’s life difficult while opening a sizeable hole and utilizing angles across the line of scrimmage.

The blocking scheme: Right tackle blocks down on star MLB Brian Bosworth.  Right guard pulls and looks for work. Center posts on star nose guard Tony Casillas, then walls off the defensive tackle.  Left guard goes for the other MLB.  The left tackle pulls and traps Casillas, while the fullback walls the other defensive tackle to the outside.

The blocking scheme: TE walls off the outside.  Right tackle blocks down on star MLB Brian Bosworth. Right guard pulls and looks for work downfield. Center posts on star nose guard Tony Casillas, then walls off the defensive tackle. Left guard goes for the other MLB. The left tackle pulls and traps Casillas, while the fullback walls the other defensive tackle to the outside.

The blocks take advantage of angles, including the smashing trap on Casillas.

The blocks take advantage of angles, including the smashing trap on Casillas.

Casillas is sent to the turf as running back Jacque Robinson (father of NBA star Nate) exploits a wide running lane.

Casillas is sent to the turf as running back Jacque Robinson (father of NBA star Nate) exploits a wide running lane.

Robinson is untouched into the defensive backfield.

Robinson is untouched into the defensive backfield.

Robinson finally faces impact at the goalline.

Robinson finally faces impact at the goalline.

Often, the best offensive system is the one that goes against contemporary trends. Increasingly, teams are finding that the spread offense is not a magic bullet. While the many variations of the spread ARE sound football, defenses are now built to stop them, and those offenses lack the novelty that once made them so difficult to defend.

Perhaps those defenses – built to stop the spread passing game and various zone running schemes – are now susceptible to a return to power running. The Stanford Cardinal under Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw, as well as the San Francisco 49ers under Harbaugh, have capitalized by building swift, powerful lines and incorporating complex run schemes and jumbo personnel packages. Once a staple, those schemes are now the novelty while the spread offense thrives. While mastering the execution of a run game complete with powers and counters and traps and whams and isolations can be difficult, it is more than possible with proper commitment.

The play:

Jun 082014
 

It is always important for an offense to put the defense in conflict.  The throwback screen (note that this is not the only name for this play, but it is what I will use) is a classic – and underutilized – way to do so, particularly for a team that often uses sprint action with its quarterback.

The 1992 Houston Cougars were one such team. A record breaking run and shoot offense, Houston was known for lighting up the scoreboard with an offense that almost always had the quarterback sprinting to one side or the other. Not surprisingly, this forced Houston’s opponents to flow and devote more defenders to that side.  This is where the throwback screen comes into play.

The assignments on the play. The quarterback sprints to the right (as on a typical Houston pass play) while the linemen touch their defensive linemen and go.

The assignments on the play. The quarterback sprints to the right (as on a typical Houston pass play) while the linemen touch their defensive linemen and go.  After making his sprint, the quarterback turns and fires to the wide receiver on the left, who bends inside of the block by the left tackle on the cornerback.

The first step is the sprint itself. The defense must respect this movement and act accordingly to account for the possibility of a quarterback run or receivers flooding in the direction of the sprint.

Texas takes the bait, with the defensive line rushing hard and the linebackers blitzing to pressure the quarterback. Everyone moves in the direction of the quarterback sprint.

Texas takes the bait, with the defensive line rushing hard and the linebackers blitzing to pressure the quarterback. Everyone moves in the direction of the quarterback sprint.

We can see Texas doing just that, with linebackers blitzing and the coverage sliding in the direction of the roll.

All 6 Texas box players are now behind the Houston line, while the Houston offensive linemen move down field to make their blocks.

All 6 Texas box players are now behind the Houston line (wasted on the play), while the Houston offensive linemen move downfield to make their blocks.

This leaves the backside vulnerable.

The left tackle gets just enough of the corner back on a cut block to give the wide receiver a clear lane to the inside

The left tackle gets just enough of the cornerback on a cut block to give the wide receiver a clear lane to the inside.

Next, we see the ball being caught. The left tackle cuts the cornerback, giving the receiver a clear running lane. Four more offensive linemen head downfield to block – on only one defensive back.

More blockers than defenders = something good is going to happen

More blockers than defenders = something good is going to happen.

From there, there is nothing but open space ahead.

Highway to the end zone

Highway to the end zone.

The true value of the play goes beyond the 6 points that go up on the board. The defense must always be wary of the throwback (coach John Jenkins was known to run it repeatedly in the same game, using it as a staple play). This opens up the field for the basic offense to the sprint side – which is what Houston wanted to be running, anyways.  It also slows down the rush, by penalizing a defense who pressures the quarterback with too much abandon.  This, in turn, gave the Houston quarterbacks more time to throw.

The throwback screen is difficult to execute and requires extensive practice commitment.  The offensive line must be athletic and have great timing, the quarterback must be accurate enough and with a strong enough arm to spin under pressure and hit the receiver in the chest with the ball, the receiver must be fearless enough to take a hit if the defense isn’t fooled and fast enough to exploit them if they are, and the coach must be dedicated enough to install the play with patience.  If those elements are present, the throwback screen is a valuable investment for any team who uses sprint action extensively or who faces over-aggressive opponents.

The link to the play (at 9:00) as well as great end zone footage of the Houston run and shoot against Texas:

Below, Tony Franklin and Sonny Dykes show us a modern version of the play with the 2013 California Golden Bears:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=zyXjI48A0-w#t=89

May 272014
 

Perhaps the most explosive running play in the modern era of football is the veer triple option. From the time that Bill Yeoman’s Houston Cougars broke records with the play in the 1960s until the present day – peaking with the 49ers scoring 3 touchdowns in the 2012 NFC championship while using a variation of the scheme – it continues to rack up yards.

But related concepts appeared even before Yeoman’s day. Don Faurot may, in fact, have been the originator of the triple option, using it to power his Split-T Missouri backfield to great success in the 1940s. The video below displays the basic concepts that would power all future veer schemes: not blocking certain defenders in order to gain more blocking downfield and to give the offense a 3 on 2 or 2 on 1 advantage, similar to the fast breaks in basketball that influenced Faurot’s innovation. The footage – slowed due to the cameras of the time – shows the unblocked defenders steaming into the backfield while the dive back rushes ahead or the quarterback pitches behind (and notice the underhanded “pitch”).

Faurot coached the Iowa Pre-Flight Seahawks during the World War II years, where he had an assistant coach named Bud Wilkinson. Wilkinson took the Split-T (and it’s signature option) with him to Oklahoma. There, the offense powered the Sooners to a 47-game winning streak from 1953 to 1957, an NCAA Division I record that still stands today.

The following video shows the 1955 Oklahoma Sooners season highlights:

Bill Yeoman invented the veer offense at Houston in 1964. His offense went on to lead the nation in offense for three straight years, and led the country in scoring in 1968. For anyone looking to implement the veer, the 1968 playbook remains a masterpiece. There is no better source for understanding the offense:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/2939669/1968-Houston-Veer

The veer scheme eventually powered the wishbone offense. The final wishbone powerhouse were the Oklahoma Sooners and Barry Switzer, who used it to win 3 national championships and 12 Big Eight titles. They also set the all time single game rushing record of 768 yards, as seen here:

The flexbone later grew out of the wishbone. The most notable current flexbone coach is Paul Johnson. This blog post details Johnson’s “If then” play calling methodology. This methodology is not only valuable to coaches looking to run veer based option offenses, but to any coaches who are looking for a methodology to systematically call their plays in order to exploit weaknesses in a defense.

http://footballislifeblog.blogspot.dk/2011/07/paul-johnsons-if-then-methodology-to.html

Perhaps the most famous current split back veer team is the De La Salle Spartans, known for their record 151 game winning streak. The highlights below show the birth of that win streak and display the speed and downfield blocking that continue to exemplify the Spartans.

In the following link, the architect of that team – Bob Ladouceur – details the ideals that formed the Spartans juggernaut. The article is not veer specific (though it does discuss the offense in some detail), but is essential team building material.

http://fastandfuriousfootball.com/wp-content/uploads/coachingmaterial2/De%20La%20Salle%20High%20Motivation.pdf

Finally, the most modern variation may only be a distant relative of the split back veer, but still incorporates the dive back, and the unblocked defender as the first man on or outside the tackle. Here, Colin Kaepernick uses the veer scheme several times during his record 181 yard rushing game against the Green Bay Packers.