Friday, November 6, 2015

R&D ThinkTank: Things to consider when defending against Wing-T teams...

Defensive Coordinators...STOP IT!!!

Running some fancy, unique defense against a Wing-T does not mean success...especially if it really doesn't fit your base scheme!!!

That is something I noticed quite often this past season with Delphos Jefferson. We would get these fancy defenses or modified versions of a base defense. You could see that the kids felt out of position and not comfortable with their reads/responsibilities. They would think too much and make way too many mistakes to be an effective defense. The teams that played us tough were also the ones that stayed in their base defense with minimal adjustments made. Our defense runs our base defense against any Wing-T team on our schedule and did very well against those teams.

So why the hell am I writing about defense and telling them exactly what to do against us as a Wing-T team?

Because deep down, I am just as fanatic about defense as I am about offense. I have been a defensive coach that has helped call and adjust defenses in games for many years. I also am a coach that looks to give people ideas on how to better themselves and their team's success.

With that said, I would like to give a few ideas of what you need to keep in perspective when playing a Wing-T team:

1. Any defense can work against a Wing-T, it just needs to be EXECUTED.

I am not to promote any specific defense, as I have played Wing-T teams with many different defenses and have had success with those defenses. The key to the defense working has always been that the defense was executed to near perfection. Execution is the key to the game of football...scheme doesn't really matter because they all work if they can be executed.

2. Make sure your base defense is flexible and sticks to the KISS method.

A base defense is no good if you have to have a million checks or shifts to adjust to different offenses. You are just shooting yourself in the foot by trying to get kids to learn all that and be able to execute it. I have always found that the simplest answer is usually the best answer when it comes to football. The least amount of checks/shifts/adjustments is going to lead to minimal thinking on the part of your defense. That will lead to execution of the defense if the kids just react and are not frozen by thinking.

The best defense I have ran that fits this description is the 4-3 Cover 4 defense. It is not for everyone because you need to have certain personnel to run it. It is probably the most flexible defense I have ran where we had minimal checks and the defense flows well with changes in the offense. I have run it with 2 different programs, 2 different ways, but had success with both programs. Our kids were able to line up and play ball with minimal thinking about responsibilities or reads.

3. Practice your Wing-T responsibilities/reads during the summer/start of the season.

You cannot expect your guys to just jump into Wing-T week and get it within the week. You need to address what adjustments you would make to a Wing-T team during the summer when 2-a-days are going on. That way when you get to Wing-T week, the kids are familiar with the adjustments and recall them back from previous experience. I do with all kids of different offenses that would require adjustments, like Empty teams, Option teams, and Wing-T teams. Use the time you have in the summer to get the defense install and you can fine tune the adjustments when you get to the week of the game.

4. Realize your defense has weaknesses and find ways to minimize the damage of that weakness.

Every scheme, offensively or defensively, has a weakness. That is the nature of football. Someone will find the chink in the armor and exploit it. Your job is to minimize the effects of that weakness. Make the kids aware of the weakness and coach them up on how the other team will attack you. That will give them confidence in the scheme and they will know what to expect because if the other team is smart, they would attack the weak spot. It minimizes the options of what the other team will run against you and focuses the limited options your guys have to defend.

If you run some fancy defense, the guys are not familiar with the weak spots and now they are running a defense they don't normally run and are not sure how they will be attack or where the weakness is. That will set you up for failure.

5. Realize what the ultimate philosophy of Wing-T is...Conflict and Flexibility.

The Wing-T offense is not just a formation and a set of plays...It is a philosophy. It is about putting the defense in conflict and taking advantage of the conflict. When a team puts in a fancy defense to stop a specific set of plays, all you have done is put yourself in a bad position where the Wing-T team can still attack you somewhere else.

Wing-T teams almost have a set checklist of what they are looking for a defense to do. They always have an answer for some alignment by a defense (talent does not factor into that statement because the Jimmys and Joes discussion trumps that). So when you go into a wacky defense to take away something, you are putting your guys in an unfamiliar defense, unsure of their reads/adjustments, unsure of the weak points, and now can be attacked by some other set of plays that you exploited yourself to.

Just a few things for you DCs to think about when going up against Wing-T.

I also wrote this so that Wing-T guys also think the same way a defensive coach would. I have always felt that to be a great offensive coach, you have to be almost just as good of a defensive coach. If you understand the defense and what they do, then you know where to attack and when.

Just some food for thought....

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

R&D Labwork: Wing-T Offense with Spread Package...Great Example of K.I.S.S and Wing-T philosophy.

Sorry, guys...its been awhile.

School started, football got heavy into the season, and health issues reared their ugly head. Now things are good, I'm in the flow of things with school and now we have parent-teacher conferences (which equal a lot of down time since hardly any parents come to the conferences).

Update on my current team, Delphos Jefferson: We went 9-1 regular season and won the conference championship!!! The only loss was to a good Coldwater team (that will probably win state in their division) and we probably played our worst game in terms of execution (refs didn't help either, but not the biggest issue). We beat our undefeated rivals week 10 soundly and now play them week 11 in the playoffs. It will be tough to beat the same team twice back to back, but our boys are excited and ready for the challenge, especially since the game is being played at our place now. Wish us luck and hopefully we go the distance and get to the Shoe to win the big one!!!!

Now, what is this nonsense about a Wing-T offense running a spread package?!? I know deep down that there are probably plenty of teams that do this, but I also know a lot of people would look at me funny and call me a blasphemer. These two styles of offenses are on the opposite side of the spectrum of football, but both can be tied together to create an effective and dangerous offense.

I also want to clarify that I am not talking about running the Spread Wing-T style of offense. I feel that it can be a good offense, but I feel you lose the deception and speed to the hole that you get with under center and standard Wing-T. I also am not a big fan of the Pistol Wing-T due to the motion required and the mechanics of formations/plays. I have looked at both of these styles of Wing-T, but just do not get the same feelings I have for a standard Wing-T.

I am talking about having a base offense of Wing-T, but having a spread package that is easy to get into and can be run effectively to attack the defense.

At Delphos Jefferson, we run a pretty standard Wing-T offense, with only a few different tweaks to how certain base plays are run. So when someone plays Jefferson, they know they have to prep for Wing-T. The thing that I thought was a great addition and has been difficult for our opponents to adjust to is a simple spread package that can run by our base Wing-T personnel. We can run or pass out of the spread sets and they are true spread formations: 2x2 and 3x1 standard spread formations. We have about 5-7 pass plays and 3-5 run plays, with about 2 pass protections installed for the passing game.

The key to the success of this package is our tempo and our personnel being skilled enough to adjust to spread formations.

We are a up-tempo huddle team, which will break the huddle and snap the ball within 3-4 seconds. It dramatically affects how defenses play us, because they cannot switch personnel and align fast enough to keep up with our pace. With putting the spread package in, we can still break a huddle and get into our spread sets in about 3-5 seconds and get the ball snapped. Now, instead of just aligning to our base Wing-T formations, their defense has to get into spread mode and spread guys out. This leads to a very basic defense being run against us, with coverage being usually man and usually not much blitzing due to the DC not knowing if we would be Wing-T or Spread that specific play. So now teams have to spend all week trying to get use to our Wing-T offense, but must be able to adjust immediately to our spread game, which would require a lot of communication if they wanted to pressure us or get fancy with coverage. A big conflict that is there without us running a play!!! The ultimate goal of the Wing-T philosophy is already present before we even start the game...CONFLICT!!!

Our personnel is also a unique one that lends itself to being able to spread it out...not every team has that talent level or players that fit that scheme. Our QB is a solid player who understands schemes, our TE is a former WR, and our HBs are great athlete who can catch. That is what allows us to use our base Wing-T personnel for our spread personnel. The TE plays like a SE and our HBs are slot WRs. Our FB is our back in the backfield and is part of our protection most plays. The plays are limited and are very basic in design. So when it comes to our playbook, our players are not confused because our Wing-T plays are limited and simple in scheme and the Spread plays are based off of Wing-T run schemes. As far as passing, we run basic route combinations and very basic pass protections that are effective, but not taxing on our OL/FB.

I know some people might ask how we practice all that, but it really isn't "all that". We could not live off of just running our spread package, so that should tell you that it is basic. Our coaching staff has done a great job of balancing the time in practice appropriately to match our philosophy. Most of practice is dedicated to the Wing-T, but we have periods that we work specifically Spread or it gets mixed into periods with Wing-T. We also made sure that we installed everything at the right time during the summer and used things like 7-on-7's to work on our Spread package. As far as a run game, the schemes for Spread are the same as our Wing-T plays, just modified for Spread. I think this is the one area we need to work on making more effective and can rely on heavily as a curveball against better teams.

If you have the personnel to do it, running a Spread package out of your Wing-T offense is something you might want to look at in the off season. We just dabbed in it this year, but the positives are immense versus how much we have actually used it in games. We will probably look to expand it and integrate it more into our base game plan next year.

Good to be back, and expect more once my season ends (which hopefully ends in about 5 weeks with a D6 State Title!!!).

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tools of the Trade: Sprint Out Pass Protection

Hey, Coaches, back again to wrap up my discussion on pass protection.

I could go through screens and other parts of the passing game, but I just wanted to go through the basic pass protections that I used the majority of the time in a game.

To finish things up, I am going to discuss how I coach Sprint Out protection. I will be talking about the reach type of sprint out protection, not turn back. I have never ran or coached turn back protection, but my initial view on it is that it requires a solid RB to seal the end and it leaves up the possibility of a LB flowing over top of the blocking and getting in your QB's face. I know people run it and run it effectively, but I am just not familiar with it enough to talk about it specifically.

The goal with my Sprint Out protections is to seal off the play side and give the QB a lane to run outside and look to either pass or run with it. Yes, there may be a few chasers from behind, but that is why the QB is taught to continue to run as he throws or just tuck it in and run with the ball. I would rather has someone having to work from the backside to get the QB, then a play side LB has a clean shot at him as he is sprinting out.

I usually teach Sprint Out protection similar to how I would teach zone blocking, specially OZ. If you are covered, you are looking to attack the outside shoulder of the defender and work your butt around to reach him. If you are uncovered, work to the next DL, looking for stunts by that DL or a blitz by a LB. If you do not get any work, peel back and look for work. So most time the backside Tackle will be stepping and hinging to get the backside rush, while there is usually 1 or 2 other OL that will be free to help pick up any chasers. The RB will fill the play side edge and take any extra blitzer to that side or help the PST with his block. He needs to clean a path for the QB to get outside and do his work.

I am not going to break things down based on front because it shouldn't matter what front they run. If you are doing a full slide like this, it is not so much what front you are playing, but if you follow the proper rules/protocols to execute the blocking scheme properly.

Here are my rules/protocol for my Sprint-Out protection:

2. ID any blitzer or overhang player
3. Communicate your blocks or scheme.
4. If you do not get work, FIND WORK!!!
5. If you got work, you work it until the whistle blows or you dump him into the bleachers.

I am going to discuss these in reverse order, working from #5 to #1.

#5 - If you take your step and you have a guy in your gap, you must work to get to his outside at all costs! If that means your ride him to the sideline, so be it. We must not allow him to get to the QB, so stay with him until the echo of the whistle. Even if you do not get him hooked, but stay with him, that gives your QB time to throw or an alley to step up and throw/run.

#4 - This is the fun part. If you step and no one comes to your gap, you now look backside to see who can pick off. First, look for any buddies that are struggling to get their man hooked...take your steps, turn back, and light him up!!! If your buddies are good, peel back and light up any chasers of the QB from the backside. Usually it will be a DE from the backside, thinking he can chase the QB from behind...Again, peel back and light him up. Always find someone to hit, never just stand there, looking around.

#2 & #3 - This two rules/protocols go together and could probably just be one step. We must ID any kind of blitz/stunt/overhang the defense is giving us. We must then COMMUNICATE the defense and who each of us will pick up. It shouldn't matter if the defense knows or not, they will be coming no matter you just need to take your steps and man up! We need everyone on the same page with the scheme, so no one chases a defender and we leave up a gap for another defender to shoot through.

#1 - The most critical part of this protection is taking your steps and trusting your steps. If a team is any good, their defense is going to try to stunt/blitz you when they think your are sprinting out to try to get you to mess up your protection and give them an opening. If you take your steps, someone will be coming to your may not be the one that you thought would be there, but if you step with authority and slam into anything that comes your way, you will pick up the stunt/blitz. Over the last couple of years, I have played against one of best small schools in the country, Marion Local. They love to stunt/blitz out of their 3-4 look, especially on passing downs. I have seen some of the most exotic blitzes from them over the years. We have always been able to block up their looks if the OL trusted their steps and stepped with authority (our OL didn't always do that, but when they did, we were success).

Those are some rules and protocols that I lay out to my OL when we block Sprint Out protection, or any protection for that matter. The big thing with any protection is know your job, take your steps, and step with authority. Just because it's pass protection, doesn't mean you can't be aggressive and violent with your movements.

OL must be aggressive and violent in every action they do in the is not a place to be passive or you are going to get hurt. Only the real men get in there and get the job done!!!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Tools of the Trade: "EDGE" drill to get max reps


Just got done with our first week of 2-a-days and things are looking really good for the Jeffcats!!!

It is this time of year when you are looking to see if you can get max reps for your players and get them ready for that first game. You want to see who is ready to play and who still needs more time to develop. Also, you want to see all the stuff you planned for during the off season can be implemented and used effectively, especially drills.

The "EDGE" drill is something I came up on the spur of the moment when we designed our practice schedule.

It was not planned...but it has been so effective and gets all guys reps on offense.

First, before I explain the drill, you have to understand the program I am with. Delphos Jefferson is a Wing-T offense with a High-Tempo Huddle. We break the huddle, align, and snap the ball with 3-5 seconds. It is FAST!!! We run most of what you would call a "traditional" Wing-T offense, but with a few different blocking assignments or wrinkles in the "traditional" plays.

I coach the Tackles and Tight Ends, so we work a lot of down blocks, reach blocks, and double teams. While planning practices, our OC wanted the Halfbacks to work with the Tackles and Tight Ends on blocking assignments, especially to the strong side of the formation with a TE and the HB playing the wing position. So I have 20+ minutes to work both my positions and the Halfbacks at the same time (which is 27 kids, a little less than half our team)...How am I going to do this?

This is where the "EDGE" drill comes in.

I set up 3 cones to represent the Center and 2 Guards, so our Tackles could align properly and have the right spacing. I have one set of cones on one line and I align another set of cones 10 yards away from the 1st set.

We orient most of our backs and line as either being on the left side or right side (so right HB, left tackles, etc...). So I had anyone who was on the left side, align on the left side of the cones, and anyone who was on the right side, align on the right side of the cones. The reason I had two sets of cones is that I had the older guys on one set and the younger guys on another set.

So in reality, I have 4 "edges" of a formation, with 2 left sides and 2 right sides. I have 4 groups who can go at one time.

I took the extra guys and made them defenders, aligning them into 1 of the 5 most common fronts we will see against our offense. I did not have enough guys to make a full defense, so I would only do half of the defense and only included a play side safety from the secondary.

So how can I get all four groups reps, but only half a defense for each set of cones?

I would alternate between the old guys and the young guys, with the defense switching to the other side as running a rep with the opposite group. I would start with the old guys on the right side, then turn around and run the young guys on the left side, then back to the old guys on the left side, and finally end up with the young guys on the right side. As I would move from old to young or young to old, the defense would just switch over to the over side and play the same position, just on the opposite side. So when I went from old guys on the right to the young guys on the left, the old guys defense would flip over to the left side and align.

It gives me such a flexibility to give many people reps and cover a large percentage of our plays with a simple drill that the guys can set up easily and rotate themselves in and out of, so everyone gets reps. I can run Trap, Sweep, Down, WB Counter for the strong side and even work the weak side with Dive, Belly, Toss with some modifications to the drill. I can take each play and isolate what each man is responsible for and rep it against base looks or variations like stunts or blitzes.

I have not timed how long it takes me to go through one rotation of the four groups, but I bet I can get through 2 rotations in a minute if I do not have to coach up anything and everyone is set right away.

So you are talking about getting every group 2 reps in 1 minute!!! That means, theoretically, that if I had no transitional breaks and didn't change the defensive alignment, I could get close to 40 reps for every group in that 20 minute period!!!

Now, in reality, I have to stop and coach up some things and there are some transitional breaks in there, but you are getting the picture on how this gets max reps for all our players and focuses on specific skills of the 3 positions. I can run any of plays out of this drill and show them any defensive front they may come across throughout the year.

The best part...the drill has translated into more effective blocking! Our guys are getting into better position and knowing what they are responsible for. That is the key...can the drill give your guys the tools and knowledge to block any defense or situation.

A very simple drill that works all 3 positions, works tempo, and gives everyone (including young guys) reps. It didn't take much to develop the drill, but just required me to think about how I could MAXIMIZE my players reps.

Next time I use this drill, I plan on timing how long it takes to make a rotation and how many reps I can get in for each player. I may even go as far as taping the drill so you can visually see how it works in action.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tools of the Trade: Six-Man Slide Pass Protection (Half and Full Slide Protections)

I figured I  would stay on the OL kick I am on and talk about the next progression in pass protection, the 6-man protection. This is typically the protection you will see for the majority of pass plays in a game. The nice thing about a 6-man protection is it is good for multiple types of passing and gives you a sound way to protect your QB.

Slide protection works in the same light as zone blocking, where you are responsible for a gap or zone, not a man. The zone/gap responsibility helps pick up stunts or blitzes that the defense will try to throw at your pass protection. The key is to keep the shoulders square, take your steps, and take what comes into your gap.

The technique that you use on Slide protection depends on what position you play. If you are a Tackle to the call side, you will usually kick one step wide and start to vertical set. You do not want to get too wide and leave a lane for a blitzer to run through. The Guard and Center will kick one step to the call side, but will limit their vertical set due to them being right in front of QB. If the back side Guard is uncovered, he will post set and become part of the slide. He wants to post set because if a defender slants/blitzes his way, his backside foot is back and ready to wall off to the backside of the formation. Again, do not want to vertical set too much with that post set because you are right in front of the QB. We are vertical setting on the slide because of all the possible stunts/blitzes that side may have to pick up, so we want space and time to see the defense play out its scheme and react to it.

So what about the back side of a Half Slide protection? It is Man protection with the RB filling the open gaps, inside out. If the backside Guard is covered, he will be man on with whatever defender is covering him. He will either post/vert set a defender head up or inside, or kick and vert set an outside shade. The backside Tackle is always be man on and will block the defender covering him. He will post/vert set an inside shade defender on him, head up defender on him, or if a 2 tech /3 tech defender is on the Guard. He will post/vert on a 2tech /3 tech side because of stunts/blitz pick up and passing off of defenders. If he has an outside shade and no 2 tech / 3 tech, he will just kick set to take the End. The RB will fill in the gaps backside, looking up any LBs looking to blitz. If no blitz, the RB will help the BSG or BST with their blocks.

If you are doing a full slide, the call side does what I discussed above, but now the backside Guard and Tackle are both post setting with minimal vertical setting. The RB will now come off of the BST's butt and take whatever shows on the edge (an End or LB). A full slide is great against heavy stunt/blitzing teams, but you need to trust your RB blocking anyone on the defense and sometimes the blocking can not hold up long as long as Half-Slide (more quick game, then 5-7 step drop back passing).

I am going to follow a similar format like the Empty Pass Protection article, with showing the protection against a 3-man front, 4-man front, then finally a 5-man front.

Also, I am going to explain everything first as a Half-Slide protection (Slide call side, Man backside), but show at the end how the Full-Slide protection fits in against each front.

3-Man Fronts

The first thing that with an odd man front, the BSG will be become part of the slide since he will be uncovered. You will have 4 guys making a wall with the slide. The BSG will help seal the nose with the Center and the Tackle will be making sure the OLB or Safety isn't coming on a blitz off the edge. The RB back is stepping up checking ILB to OLB to any Safety.

With the 3-4, you should be pick up any stunt/blitz to the slide side, but the issue is on the backside. Because you only have a Tackle and a RB versus an End and 2 LBs, they could send 1 extra defender that we cannot block. That is where built in hot routes and game planning comes into play.

With a 3-3, you will be able to block the box defenders no problem. The CST and CSG have the stack to the call side, the C and BSG have the stack in the middle, and the BST and RB has the back side stack. The problem is that there is no one to take the safeties off the edge if they blitz as well. If they blitz, but the OLB doesn't, we are fine. If that happens to the call side, the Guard takes the End and the Tackle takes the Safety. If it happens backside, the Tackle will stay with his man (the End) and the RB will work himself out to get the safety. It is when the interior 6 blitz and they bring a safety as a 7th blitzer. Again, hot routes and game planning is vital for a team that shows that willingness to bring 7 on a play.

If you want a full slide for the quick game passing or you want a "gap" call if the blitzing gets heavy, this is what you will end up with. There is really nothing wrong with running full slide for any pass play, but the key question you have to ask yourself is "Do I trust my RB blocking a DL?" I have had RBs in the past that could do that, so I ran full slide protection a lot because our guys had trouble with Man protection. It really comes down to personnel.

4-Man Fronts

This is where your backside man protection is going to be critical. Most times with a 4 man front, your BSG and BST will have to man protection. You get all kinds of stunts and blitzes to that side to try to confuse the protection. If you have not figured it out, most defenses are going to try to overload the man side of the Half-Slide protection or away from the slide on a Full-Slide protection.

With the 4-3 defense, the OLBs will be wide against a spread formation like a 2x2 set. You get a 5 man box with potentially 2 edge blitzers. Other formations will allow an OLB to come back into the box, so one LB is responsible for A gap and the other is responsible for the B gap on the other side.

The problem area with this defense is if they send the OLB to the 3 tech side and the Mike. It doesn't matter if the slide is sent to that side or not, that OLB will be an overload to that side, so a hot route needs to be built in or other game planning must be done to minimize his ability to blitz.

Another issue to address is the 3/5 tech side of the 4-3 because of their ability to stunt so easily. If the slide is sent to them, then its not as much of an issue because the slide does a good job of picking up stunts. It is a problem when its to the man protection side because the Guard and Tackle have to vert set to get on the same level to work the twist stunts and pass off their guys.

When going against a 4-2/4-4 defense, the same issues the 4-3 presented are present with this style of 4-man front. You will get either a 3/1(2i) tech with the DTs or stacked DTs/LBs in 2 techs. You will have OLBs/Safeties on either edge of the front. We have enough people to block the box defenders, but if either OLB or Safety blitzes, we are outnumbered. Once again, a hot route or game plan must be in place to take care of this situation.

With the T-E stunt, the Guard and Tackle must post/vert set to get in position to take on the stunt. Once the Tackle realizes the End is twisting, he must find the DT and smash into him. That should bump the Guard off of the DT and into the path of twisting DE. I tell my guys who has a looper/twister to find the next DL and smash into him and bump your man into the looper/twister. So that could be any OL that has to smash and bump, like Centers with Guards or Guards with Tackles.

You can also Full-Slide protect vs a 4-man front, but be aware of your RB probably having to block a DE on the edge. If the DE is a stud pass rusher, that is probably not a good choice.

5-Man Fronts

Really? A 5-man front? Yes, I will always cover this because I saw it in a game I coached in and the Ohio State Buckeyes got beat by it when Virginia Tech used it against them. We are looking at a Double Eagle/Bear front designed to take away the run game and pressure you. 

To block this with just 6 guys, you are going to have to Full-Slide the protection and hope you can take up 2 guys with one block because of how jammed in the DL is. If you want to make sure you go everyone covered, you have to bring in a TE or H-back to help block. That is something you could do with any of these defenses if the team is bringing 7 every play. Just have him in the backfield to fill with the RB or have him on the line and become part of a Full-Slide.

There is the basics of a 6-Man Slide Protection. There are definitely ways to beat this protection, but the key is to know what a defense has to do to beat it and game plan to punish them if they try to do that. This is a solid option for the bulk of your passing and gives you plenty of protection to get the passing game done.

Hope you enjoyed the read and the next OL topic will probably be Sprint Out protection.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Tools of the Trade: Empty Pass Protection

Empty Pass Protection...the easiest hard thing an OL will ever have to do (LOL!!!).

It is easy usually because the protection is run from an empty formation and the defense usually adjusts their alignment to cover the receivers versus bringing exotic blitzes. That makes the reads and rules for the OL easy and the execution of the protection usually has a high percentage of success, unless you are playing against a talented pass rusher.

So what is the hard part? It is when the DC decides to be a wise guy and bring a bunch of crazy blitzes where any one defender could be coming from any angle. It can also be difficult if you are playing a really talented team that decides to run man across the board and brings 6 pass rushers every play. So now the QB has to find a quick route that can get open against man and actually throw it in a tight window.

The difficulty can also come from your own team. Your wise guy OC may decide to run a empty pass concept from a normal formation. Just imagine a Pro formation and all 5 eligible receivers release on a you think the defense is necessary anticipating such a play? Probably not, but that is probably when the wise guy DC decides to bring the house and your QB has to drop back and make a read with the entire front 7 blitzing.

Empty pass protection requires a lot of communication and all heads on a swivel. It really is the true test of an OL and their ability to work together, especially when the defense gets fancy with their blitz. The OL and QB need to understand the design of the formation/play so they know where they have advantages or disadvantages. There are going to be times where the OL will have to let someone go and so the OL needs to know who to let go and the QB needs to know who will be the free defender.

When start talking about Empty pass protection, I give my guys a little geometry/physics lesson first. What is the quickest route to a destination? A straight line. As you move outside, away from the football, the distance of the straight line gets longer (triangles) and thus takes more time to travel (time = distance/speed) Also, as you move back, away from the football, the distance of the straight line gets longer and requires more time.

So after that talk, usually the OL gets the idea of where the priorities are: inside out, with the guys on the line being the first priority and the second level defenders being second priority. The more time it takes to get the QB, the more time the QB has to throw the take away the quickest routes to QB.

So here is the steps an OL must take when empty pass protection is called:

1) Widen splits a little

2) Identify 3 WR side

3) Identify Down players

4) Identify MDM (Most Dangerous Men)

5) Draw conclusions and COMMUNICATE!!!

The widening of splits should make sense...the wider I can get the DL to align, the more time I create for QB.

The identification of the 3 WR side is because if you get an extra outside rush from that side, that should lead to an easy completion (so we have a low priority to block that rusher, QB will take care of him).

What is a Down player? Anyone that aligns on or near the LOS. So anyone with their hand in the dirt is a down player, but also a LB walked up on the LOS is a Down player. WE MUST BLOCK DOWN DEFENDERS FIRST!!! The priority with Down players is inside out, so sometimes an end can be left unblocked if there are 6 Down players ( the goal is to leave the end to the 3 WR side free due to our possible advantage to that side).

What if a Down player backs out into coverage? Who ever was in charge of blocking that Down player must now drop and scan inside out for MDM. If you do not have an immediate threat by a Down player, you will take a post step inside and vertical set, scanning inside out for the most dangerous threat to your side. It could be a MLB, OLB. or even a safety blitzing off the edge.

Finally, all the OL must decide who they must block or set to block and then communicate to one another who has who or signal a MDM that may come down to become a Down player. Everyone needs to be on the same page before the ball is snapped.

Obviously, the fundamentals of pass protection are in play with this protection and must be followed as far as Stance, Steps, and Strike. Here is my article on those 3 S's of Pass Protection.

I am going to give you some examples of where the 5 steps are used to identify the OL responsibilities and then are executed:

3-Man Fronts

With any 3-Man front, you are probably looking at BOB blocking by the Center and Tackles and the Guards will be post/vert setting, scanning inside out for any blitzers. If no blitz comes, then the Guards will find work and help one of the BOB blockers.

If a LB walks up to the line to blitz, then a couple of things can be called. If it is an ILB, then the Guard to that side should take him with BOB blocking. If it is an OLB that his outside of the OT, then the OT should call "Overhang". From there, either the T and G can slide protect if they feel no threat from the inside or the G can post/vert set to get the OLB. The post/vert set is overall safer, but if the OLB is fast and athletic, you better get a good set.

If 2 LBs walk up to the line to blitz on the same side, a gap call can be made. That will slide the OL to a side and the backside OT will post/vert set and take first threat. The slide can be called to a specific side or always away from trips side of formation. The slide/gap call can be game planned on where the slide goes.

If they are bringing the house and we are not sure who blitzing or where they are blitzing, we are all going to post/vert set and take the interior 5 defenders that come (a "Safe" call). Some of the line will end up BOB blocking, others will be vertical setting and picking up an outside rush.

4-Man Fronts

With any 4-Man front, you are probably looking at BOB blocking by the entire line, except for whoever is not covered by the Nose. Whoever is not covered, will be post/vert set to help with Nose, then look ILB(s) to OLBs.

If a LB walks up to blitz, then a couple of things can be called, depending on the defensive alignment. If it is a 5 man box, then the uncovered OL will help pick up the LB, either with BOB blocking or sliding to pick it up. If the LB is blitzing from outside, then a gap call can be made to pick it up.

If 2 LBs walk to the line to blitz, a gap call can be made. With the gap call, things are slightly different with a 4-Man front. If the slide is called to the 3 tech side, the BSG will slide and the BST will post/vert set to take 1st inside threat. If the slide is called to the shade/2i, the BSG has to now post/vert set to account for him being covered by a down defender. A general rule for a BSG with slide protection is that if you are covered you are either BOB or post/vert set; if you are uncovered, you become part of the slide. The BST will always be BOB or post/vert set on a slide protection.

Again, if all else fails and they look like they are bringing the house, call "Safe" and take the interior 5 defenders and work out.

5-Man Fronts

Well...not much you or the defense can do there! LOL, I am only putting this in because I have actually seen this is in a game before. We are talking about a double eagle look, sometimes with a single LB stacked over Nose. The only thing is to go BOB across the board or go "Safe" in case you think the LB might blitz with a stunt. Gap can be called but it will put BST in a tough spot.

You have some calls at your disposal, depending on the situation. If you are not sure exactly what the defense is doing, then just call "Safe" and everyone will work inside out.

Bottom have to be able to communicate and work together to get the job done with Empty Pass Protection. The QB has to understand the limitations of the protection and who could possibly be left unblocked.

Next time, I will be looking at 6-Man protections and how they are used. Some basic fundamentals of Empty pass protection carries over to the 6-Man protection.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tools of the Trade: The 3 S's of Pass Protection

Just like any other position on the field, an offensive lineman requires a certain set of skills. I have played the position and coached the position for 15+ years and I think the hardest skill for lineman to pick up is pass protection skills.

It's like when Woody Hayes explained passing the football as "3 things can happen when you pass, and 2 of them are bad"...the same holds true with pass protection. You are talking about being able to go 1 on 1 with a defender and prevent him from getting to a semi-stationary target, who may not be looking at the defender.

A lot can go bad there!!!

Step the wrong way, lunge for the defender, kick too far, or give up too much ground...those all lead to a really bad thing! Your QB getting whacked by the defender or by you being destroyed by the defender.

At least with the run game, if you get off the ball and are aggressive, you can squeak out success a little. Run blocking does have its technique, but it has much more flexibility just for the sheer fact that person you are blocking for is running and trying to look for the defense and get away. There is a lot more room for error in the run blocking department versus pass blocking.

I feel like it takes way more time to teach the techniques of pass protection and how to fine tune them, compared to the techniques of run blocking. The kid has to find the right balance of stance/posture, steps, and striking. You put too much weight on one leg or strike too soon, you may put yourself in a position to get beat and get your QB killed.

So where does this process start? The 3 S's of Pass Protection.


When you are looking at Stance, you have to decide if your OL will be in a 2 point stance or 3 point stance. The factors to determine that are talent level and offensive scheme, mostly. If a kid can run and pass block effectively out of a 2 point stance, then that's fine. My personal experience has shown me that not many HS OL can do that effectively and so I am really not a fan of the 2 point stance. Most HS OL cannot generate enough power out of a 2 point stance and false step a lot more when it comes to run blocking  (big no-no!). Some schemes dictate a 3 point stance due to nature of offense (Wing-T offense) and some coaches just prefer it in certain situations. Alex Gibbs was one that preferred that his guards were always in a 3 point and his tackles were in a 3 point if they had a TE next to them. No TE, they had the choice of 2 point if they could do it.

I am one of those coaches that does not like to mess a kid's stance too much if it is not needed. If the kid cannot get out of his stance properly to execute all the blocks, then I change some things. If he can do all that, then I leave it alone. So I do not get fancy with what hand is down in the stance or things like that. I want the kid to be comfortable and able to move effectively.

Once the player starts to step, his posture throughout his footwork is key. Especially, with drop back passing, you want your OL to "sit back in the chair". Knees bent with hips underneath him, his chest needs to be up and pointed at the defender, shoulders square and facing forward, and his back flat, like its resting against the back of a chair. His weight must be distributed evenly throughout the posture, so he is not knocked down forward (leaning forward too much) or backward (too much weight on heels).


This is where things start to be real critical. These steps are going to be key to your OL being able to get off the ball quick enough and position himself into position to protect the QB.

The most fundamental idea an OL needs to understand about any pass protection is the half-a-man concept. You always want to attack one half of the defender, so  you do not give him a 2 way go around you. Usually, with drop back passing, you want to attack the inside half of the defender and step to stay on the inside half of the defender. This allows only an outside pathway for the defender to  travel on, which means further away from QB. The only time you would be working to the outside half of a defender is if you are blocking a sprint protection. If you are covered by a defender, you want to work to the outside half, while the uncovered OL is working to overtake the inside half if possible.

To get to the inside half of a defender, it may require different steps.

 If you have a wide technique defender on you or an outside shade, you will need to just kick your outside foot back and drag the inside foot. The wider the technique, the wider and more you have to kick back. If the shade is tight, you just have to kick once.

 If the defender is head up to inside shade, then you need to post step with your inside foot and then vertical set once you get inside. Again, the more inside they are, the more you will have to post step to get to them. For example, if the guy is head up on you, you need to post step to get inside, then vertically set to get into position to pass protect. To post step, you need to stomp your side foot hard horizontally while dragging your outside foot, similar to a basketball slide. Once in inside position, you can start kicking back vertically a little to give you time and space to work with.

If you are doing sprint protection, I teach it like outside zone blocking, minus the working to second level physically. I have never been a fan of losing ground like some coaches teach outside zone, so I teach a horizontal step, but instead of keeping your foot point perpendicular to the LOS, I have my guys step with their foot pointing at a 45 degree angle. That will open up the hips a little, which will allow them to get running to catch up with that outside shoulder  and pin it inside of them. The uncovered linemen are working to the next down lineman in case of stunts, with eyes on backs for any blitzing. If there is no work for them, they peel back and look for backside pursuers.

To work all these different steps, there are simple drills that can be run to rep the kick vs the post  and when to use each. I suggest that everyone purchase Steve Greatwood's 40 Drills for OL DVD. He does a great job of giving you great variety of drills and variations off each of those drills. A lot of them focus on pass protection. Some of the drill videos below have those same drills.

Here is some links to some drills by Steve's crew in Oregon and some cone drills for pass protection

Steve Greatwood's Pass Pro: Part 1  and  Part 2

Cone Drills for Pass Pro: Z-Drill and Christmas Tree Sets


This I think is the one that the players have the hardest time with due to the critical factor of timing when it comes to striking a pass rusher. They have a hard time gauging when to hold back and wait for the strike or when to bring it and sink the butt down. It takes time and practicing the reaction to the different techniques of pass rushers.

Depending on what position you play and what kind of pass rush you are getting, you will have different kind of strike techniques.

If you are a guard or center, you are going to have to sit down and stone the DL fast. You are the closest linemen to the QB, so you do not have the room to kick back a lot. You will have to sit your butt down low and be more forceful with your strikes. Guards and Centers are dealing with 3 techs and Noses, so you get a lot of bull rushing...which is stopped by sinking and stoning them. You are looking to get inside on the chest pads and lock on.

If you are a tackle, you will have to be able to sit it down and stone, especially if an end tries to bull rush. If you get an end that tries to speed rush and dip the shoulder, you are mirroring him with your kicks to stay inside half and you are jabbing him. So in this case, you are not sitting it down and stoning, you are kicking and jabbing until he is so up field that he is out of the play or he decides to go through you (then sit it down and stone).

There are 2 things that are a must when you are striking...You must keep your feet moving and you must get ready to hand fight.

Your feet have to keep moving so you can keep your inside leverage on the defender and work them outside. Also, if you have your feet still and they do a rip/swim technique and get their hips through, you are done for and so is your QB. Even if he is executing the rip/swim tech, if your feet move to never let his hips get by you, you will be okay.

Very rarely are you going to be able to get your hands inside and keep them there the entire time. The DL is trained to hand fight with you and try to get inside leverage on you, so you must fight back and work your hands back inside, no matter if you are stoning them or jabbing them. This is where the balance issue comes in because if you are not balanced posture wise, you are going to fall flat on your face when a DL swats your arms down. Keep a balance posture and work the hands inside and try to lock their shoulder pads, near the armpits.

Well, that is my two cents on pass protection. The 3 S's are vital fundamentals all pass protectors must have, including RBs and TEs. Next time, I'm going to talk about the 4th S with pass protection and that is SCHEMES. I am going to start breaking down different pass protection schemes and how they work.

Hope you enjoy and always appreciate the feedback!