Monday, December 28, 2009

Leadership- Principals that apply to Football and other endeavors

I read coach Mac's leadership quotes and it got me thinking about leadership views. The view that has become a staple for my personal philosophy and the approach I take for leading others is "leadership is a choice" . For 11 years starting when I was 17, I began coaching debate. Debate is much like football when you break the strategies down and the formulas for success. The major difference is the emphasis football puts on the physical body. Talent, attitude, strategy, and coaching have similar impacts. Like a good football coach would, I trained debaters to exemplify an attitude and communicate it to the people judging them.

This is just like football. When your players play with an attitude, it radiates to every other person on the field. The attitude we look for in people can be summed up as leadership. There are diverse views about the definition of leadership, but, in my view, you can have a defense or offense on the field with 11 leaders. Leadership is not a position, but rather a choice. "No matter when, no matter where, no matter what, any one can lead. Leadership is a choice not a position." This is a phrase I personally communicate to others and live by. I impressed this upon my debaters and now the athletes that I coach. I have had debaters use this exact quote in debate rounds, to the extent that they become leaders to the people judging them and in the audience. Stephen Covey in his book the "8th Habit" provides a great definition for leadership that has inspired the way that I view leadership.

"Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves (p.98)"

Isn't that what we are in the business of doing? Also, isn't this what we would like our players to inspire within one another. Leadership is not about a position that a team captain, coach, or boss holds as a means to have power and control. Conversely, leadership is a choice to influence others and ultimately inspire them to be the best they can be. Every action in every moment that we coach our players, is an opportunity to communicate something to them. The important consideration is: what are we communicating to them? Do we communicate to them their short comings and liabilities? OR Do we communicate their potential and abilities?

People are motivated much more by things to move towards as opposed to things to avoid. This is the basis of positive coaching. The positive coach constantly communicates what he/she envisions an athlete can be. He/She constantly communicates this vision to them, and speaks as if he/she is evaluating an athletes current progress on a daily basis (in respect to their potential). Negative coaching does the opposite. Instead of being a guiding light for an athlete, negative coaches act as judges, destroying a players motivation and self esteem.

This paradigm involves some discipline, but can prove invaluable. The next time you communicate with an athlete consider what you are communicating to them. I have heard coaches tell players (with good intentions in mind) that they are selfish, not committed to winning, gutless, and not good enough. These messages are not empowering and do little to improve an athlete's performance. What good do these messages do?

Some believe that these comments will motivate a player to do more and work harder. I am not an extremist and believe some (albeit rare) players respond to this type of coaching. However, for the majority, this is just something that will regress a players performance.

Main point: Treat players as human beings. All players no matter what we might believe, want to be great. The task for us coaches is to assist players in tapping into the resources that enable them to be as great as they can be. This task can be accomplished easier if we not only provide leadership for our players, but also coach and inspire our players to be leaders for themselves. Players need to understand that team leadership is not limited to the head coach, coordinators, assistant coaches, team captains, and/or seniors. On the other hand, leadership is the right and responsibility of each and every one of them. Rookies, freshman, and even water-boys have the potential to lead a football team. Any time a person makes an effort to guide another closer to reaching their potential, they have acted as a leader. Imagine a team with every member dedicated towards moving each other closer to being the best they can be. I would be afraid of that team.

I once witnessed a debate team of high school students behave this way towards one another. It was truly a thing of beauty. They completely demolished the competition and eventually lost to one another in single elimination. At the end of the day, one of them stood as champion. However, all of them knew that their accomplishment happened because they were a team of leaders. No matter what sport or competitive endeavor you coach, getting your athletes (debaters, players, ect.) to buy into the "Leadership is a choice" philosophy will do nothing but make your team much more successful.

Anyone involved in the coaching profession would be wise to read Stephen Covey's insights on leadership in The 8th Habit and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. These are great resources not only on the technique of leadership, but also the mindset of great leadership. Remember Leadership is a choice not a position.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tackling Technique

I don't care what level you coach tackling is more than a technique, but an attitude. I coached an 8th grader early in my career that could just hit people, and I did not teach him this. He was about 130 lbs and could smash people 50 pounds heavier. Conversely, I saw 200 lbs+ people get run over by similar players. Whats the difference? Is it technique or just sheer attitude. Both play a role. Tackling is a matter of the physics of leveraging your body in a position to deliver maximum force into the ball carrier.

You play the game in football position, which is 3 joints bent: hips, knees, and ankles; on contact you uncoil your joints upwards and deliver a hit at maximum impact. If done correctly, the ball carrier should fall backwards unless they make contact with a lower pad level or slide step and force the defender to make contact on half their body. Both methods can weaken a defenders hit impact. As coaches we don't plan for such gifted runners (with the aid of pursuit). We plan to just form up and deliver good hits that put the ball carrier into the ground. The video I have linked is an example of the SS from TCU Tyler Luttrell a converted wide receiver delivers during the kickoff. This is an example of how a coach can teach proper technique to player even during their first year of defense of major division I football. (The commentary is a little off the wall, but the hit is none the less impressive.)

Look at the technique and force shown in this hit.

4-2-5 Away Side Run Support

4-2-5 Run Support

One of the biggest questions coaches unfamiliar with the 4-2-5 defense is playing the run. The idea of stopping the run with one less linebacker is scary to some. This is an easy misconception to dispel. The 4-2-5 can be as effective as any other scheme at stopping the run out of standard sets.(Double tight three back sets can call for different personnel if size/strength is an issue.)

First, it is important to note that the 4-2-5 vs 2 back 1 TE sets (21 personnel) acts as a 9 in the box defense versus the run. See Diagram below.

Versus the standard pro-I run strong, the run fits are similar to traditional split-6 cover-3 run fits. There is a major difference, in the 4-2-5 the safeties remain flat footed and do not move until they have a run pass read. It is not unusual to see the safeties making tackles right up on the LOS. The aggressive play from the safeties allows the linebackers to play the run fast because there is a safety covering the cutback.

The aggressive play of the safeties also affects the way you can use your front. In this scheme you can (and should) have your linemen wrong-arm blocks and spill the ball outside. This is advantageous because you have fast-flow linebackers and safeties that can quickly get to run plays that spill outside. Look at the diagram below and see how the outside support can get there quickly.

The linebackers and FS are pursuing the ball inside-out while the WS is forcing the ball back to them. If the ball carrier happens to cutback, the SS is folding to the cutback. However, it is important for the pursuit and alley players not to over-run the ball. It is not sound to put the SS on cutback without any help.


One of the things that makes the 4-2-5 unique is the run support games and run techniques it utilizes to the away side. The first thing to understand is the positioning of the away side linebacker in respect to the away side coverage and formations it faces.

In this example the away side is in cover blue. The WS is aligned 8-10 yards deep and the C is 4-6 yards deep. It is difficult for players at this depth to play the run quickly while maintain good pass responsibility on the WR's. (If you put either the WS or corner on force/pitch in Cover Blue vs a twins set, you will be short handed.) The away-side linebacker, the Mike (M) in this example, stacks behind the DE to assist here. There are two advantages with his alignment. #1 he is in better pass alignment for pass coverage whether or not he needs to slice under #1, man the back, or drop and cover the middle hole. #2 On weak-side runs that attack outside, he can take the pitch on option and funnel runs back to the other linebacker and FS.

If the away side is in man, he needs to align here as well to cover the back and force the ball inside. Away side man looks like this

On weak-side runs, it is hard to count on the WS or corner to help out on the run, when there are locked up in man. The one thing you can do is teach your WS to read the WR for run/pass. The coaching point here is teaching the WS to read the WR's eyes. If the WR looks at you, it is probably a run, take a step inside to check. If the WR follows your step, get around him and play the run. On the other hand, if the WR is not looking at you, he is most likely running a pass route, because he is looking for his aiming point to catch or break off from his route. Teaching this takes times, and good teams will run your WS off on run plays so, on runs weak the linebacker is needed to force the ball.


The linebackers alignment can change depending on the zone coverage you use on the away-side. For example, if the call puts the Safety on pass-first and the corner playing the flat/force (squat-halves coverage) the backer may need to play closer to the slot receiver. This allows the backer to wall the slot easier and prevent the slot from catching quick throws. (This is not a necessity but can be a great scheme that throws off the offense.)

This alignment at first glance looks like 5 in the box. For the standard spread team, this appears as an ideal run situation. However, on run plays, the box quickly turns into 7 people. The flat-footed FS and away-side linebacker can quickly fall in. The important thing for the linebacker is that he fall into the B-gap. In this front the nose is to the away-side, so the linebacker is assigned the B-Gap. But, what happens when the Tackle (3-tech) in the B-gap is aligned to the away-side? This can be a problem, but the scheme can answer this. Will Muschamp at the University of Texas (a 4-3 base team) handles this situation by stunting the tackle into the A-Gap, allowing the linebacker less ground to cover on run plays.

Muschamp calls this a "SPIKE" technique (TCU calls this a TAG). The idea here versus the spread is to push the ball to the B-gaps. In split safety coverage this allows the secondary to play the run easier. In MOF (Middle of the Field) coverage, you do not need to do this.

Strong run support and weak run support look as follows with the TAG (Spike) technique. (The Read side is Cover 2 (Robber).)

In weak-side runs it is important for the FS to check the B-gap before pursuing play side. This gives the SS time to pursue to the cutback.


In 3x1 sets the WS usually has force. For example, if the trips call is SOLO, the WS aligns 1x6 off the offensive tackle and is responsible for force/pitch. on run read plays his job is to turn the ball back to pursuit. Also, the linebacker can move back into the box over the B-gap, because of the WS alignment.

In this scheme it is important to have good communication between the safeties and linebackers. Even more important on the away-side. The WS needs to let the backer know what the coverage is so he (linebacker) knows where to align and play on the run. Versus spread teams it helps to put the linebacker in similar positions.

I am planning to cover box run play in the 4-2-5, linebacker reads, and squat/halves and blue coverage more in depth in future posts.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Simple OL/Dynamic Backfield- Add Some Funk to your Spread Runs

Today the spread is all the craze, people want to see 4 WR's with lots of passing and explosive running. The staple plays for spread teams has been the zone read and the counter. Many teams that I have seen have tried to make living running these two plays. Installing the pair is not overly difficult, with enough reps, an O-line can become proficient at blocking multiple fronts for these two plays. We are going to look at how these two blocking schemes can allow you to run multiple plays that will give defenses fits. (Most teams run more than the zone and counter, I want to show how you can get more out of these two schemes.)

The goal for offensive coaches is to appear complex to the defense, but be simple enough to be good at what you do. The challenge for the run game is coordinating the O-Line blocking. The O-line blocking is not the focus of this post, you should be fine if you understand the basic rules of the zone and the counter. The focus here will be how you can get the most out of these plays. Since I will not be discussing the O-Line, the flexibility and innovation of these plays will come from the backfield.


The basic zone read:

Here the line is zoning left and the QB is reading the DE. If he comes down the line the QB pulls the ball and runs outside. If the DE runs up field the running back gets the hand off and finds a hole in the zone. This is a staple play and in 2x2/3x1 formations puts 5 blockers against 5 defenders with a 6th occupied by the QB. On paper this is a TD if the back can beat the FS one on one. The challenge with this play today is teams have geared up and practiced stopping it.


By keeping the zone blocking the same, what can be done to put pressure on the defense? As said earlier, make changes in the backfield. The easiest change is to flip the responsibilities of the running back and QB. By flipping the responsibilities, you have the back getting a hand off running outside if the DE decides to squeeze down the line and the QB finding a hole behind the zone if the DE runs up-field.

This can create problems for the defense especially if they are keying the back. Many teams that key the back put their DE on the QB. If the backers flow with the back and the DE runs up-field, the QB will be able to find a big hole behind the zone. The linebackers will have to adjust to this play by playing slower. When a backer has to slowdown and think more the Offense is at an advantage. This is difficult for the backers read even if they slow down. What options do they have, really? One, they can watch the mesh and attack once they see who has the ball. This is slow reaction and leaves them vulnerable to being blocked. Two they can key the line, this will flow them opposite the sweep of the back, so on any give they will be out of position. Even if the backers are prepared it will be hard for them to quickly identify whether or not the play is a regular zone read or a flip.

To make it even more difficult you can run the zone flip from fly sweep (pop sweep) Motion.

This creates the same situation but now with WR motion to get the defense flowing with the motion. Also, the WR has a back lead blocking for him. To go even further you can take this concept out of a 3x1 trips set and put pressure on the defense's trips adjustments.

From the diagram you can see it is difficult for the defense to overplay the trips side. This helps in two ways. #1 You can attack the trips side in the passing game more effectively, and #2 you can run the zone or zone-flip back toward the trips side from the same formation. Look at the diagram below and see how the zone flip toward the trips side is sound when the defense is conscious of runs away from the trips.

The defense is in a tough situation, where they have to pick their poison and play a guessing game. That is the situation an offense wants to put the defense in. Most defenses don't like to see empty formations, especially with running quarterbacks. The zone flip can be run out of empty formations to any of the 3 WR's behind the LOS.

Accounting for the formations and the potential ball carriers (and the passing game) makes these wrinkles to the zone read a problem for defensive coaches.


The other staple run play in the spread is the counter. In this post I will look exclusively at the Counter GT. The GT is similar to the zone concept other than it is designed to predicate the area the ball will go and uses more angle blocking as oppossed to double teams. The basic GT play is as follows:

Like the zone the DE is the read. If the QB gets a give read the running back takes the ball and runs inside the kick-block and behind the seal block. The QB keep is intended to keep the DE honest and allow the RB to run behind the pulls.


The counter flip works exactly like the zone flip with same back field movements and reads. The only change is the O-Line.

The QB and running back have flipped responsibilities. Now on plays where the DE runs up-field, the QB keeps the ball and runs between the kick-out and seal. To make this play even more difficult for the defense throw in the same WR fly sweep motions

Again this is tough for the linebackers. Regardless if they are reading the back or the linemen, they are going to get conflicting keys. The Fly sweep action is one way and the line pulls are in the opposite direction. Again the backers have to guess or wait until they know who has the ball. Again, advantage offense. It is great out of trips too.


Some people might argue that it is hard to time-up and teach the QB to read on the fly sweep motion. This could be the case for some schools. However, even if you could not teach the reading part, you can still dictate who gets the ball by the play call, and the defense will still not know who is getting the ball.

4-2-5 Split Field Coverage

I have read enough of these post and found them helpful and enjoyable. I thought I would try to contribute to the cause. Here is my first post.

You can find the TCU 1999 playbook here. There is not a whole lot of detail on the coverages but you can get a good idea for what they are trying to do. I have never visited with the coaches at TCU, only talked with others who run similar 4-2-5 defenses, so the terminology and alignments will not be exact, but within the general idea. I am going to discuss how to utilize a split safety coverage system versus spread offenses (2x2 and 3x1). These will be called out of 4-2-5 personnel. These will be different for a 4-3, because the COS is difficult.

In defense it helps to begin with the ordering of a coverage call. In this scheme the front call is irrelevant to the coverage the secondary is given. The call I will be discussing is 2-BLUE SOLO & 2-BLUE SPECIAL

The "2" Refers to the read side coverage. The read side is the side of the passing strength, and is the side that the SS and FS go to. The read side safeties will relay the coverage to the read corner and linebacker. The "BLUE" call is the away side coverage. This is the side away from the passing strength. The WS will let the away corner and linebacker know what the coverage is. The Diagram below shows it.


Cover 2 in this scheme is not the typical squat/halves (cloud) coverage that is quite common. Cover 2 is a robber scheme. There is a post about Virgina Tech's Robber coverage here. TCU's and Virgina Tech's are very similar.

To summarize robber. The FS will align o/s shade of the OT and 10 yards deep reading the linemen. On the snap of the ball the FS will remain flat footed until he get his read, on a run read he pursues the ball inside out. If he reads pass, his eyes flash to the #2 WR to the read side.

If #2 releases vertical past 8 yards the FS will yell "Push, "Push" and takes the WR man to man. If #2 releases out or in within 8 yards the FS will rob under #1 looking curl, post, dig.

The SS is responsible for the out cuts by #2 and if he gets a "push" call from the FS he will move to get under #1. The read corner aligns at 7-8 yards off LOS and bails playing a 1/2's technique over # 1.


On the away side the WS and away corner are playing cover "BLUE". This is a type of combo man between the two of them. Both are reading the # 2 WR.

If the # 2 WR pushes vertical past 8 yards the WS takes him man to man and the corner locks up on #1.

If #2 releases outside within 8 yards the WS will make a "wheel" call to the corner. On a wheel call the corner Comes off and takes #2 man to man, and the WS locks up on #1 with over the top leverage.

If #2 releases inside the WS will yell "IN" "IN" to the linebacker and then double #1 with the corner.

The read and away sides respond differently to outside cuts by the #2 WR's. The picture below shows how each side will respond to the curl/flat combination.


The final word of the call is SOLO. This is the trips coverage. This alerts the secondary that on any 3x1 formation the away side will check into SOLO.

SOLO is a trips check aimed at defending the trips side at the expense of putting the Corner on the single receiver side on an island man to man. The Read side continues to play Cover 2 on #1 and #2. The handeling of the #3 WR is done by the read side backer and WS. The WS has force/ pitch to his side. On pass, the WS sprints toward the middle of the field hunting for the # 3 WR. He has him Man to man. The read side linebacker's job is to wall #3, re-routing him and preventing a quick throw.

Versus a split play the coverage looks like this.

On the read side the FS makes a "Push" call and takes #2. The SS gets under #1, and the WS sprints across the field and takes #3. Below is another example.

This is an example where running 2-Solo is perfect. The play is designed to attack the trips side. The FS sees #2 release o/s and then robs the curl of #1. The SS drops to the flat and picks up #3, and the corner is deep to handle the wheel route by #2. If the QB is reading the corner and SS he will throw to the curl not realizing the FS is getting underneath it.


COS deals with motions that change the read side. This is one of the most troublesome things to deal with in this system. However, the presence of a third safety makes adjustments easier. Thats why this system is more difficult to run out of a 4-3 or 3-4. If the read side changes the FS moves to the other side, and the SS and WS swap responsibilities.

The read side flips to the right. The FS and WS play cover 2 and the SS checks his side into SOLO. After the motion the secondary is aligned like this.

The beauty of this is the adjustments were made by the secondary. The linebackers don't really have to move, only change responsibilities.


SOLO is designed to Load up on the trips side. You can run multiple coverages to the trips side with SOLO on the away side. You can put your read side into squat/halves, man, and BLUE. SOLO allows for flexibility in coverages to the trips side.

However, you might not always want to lock up on the single receiver side. You need a coverage call that allows for flexibility to that side too. That is where "Special" comes in. If the coverage is 2-BLUE- SPECIAL, your secondary checks into special with any 3x1 set.

Special puts the read side corner man to man on # 1. The SS and FS play #2 and #3 with BLUE coverage (Treating them like #1 and #2). The SS acts like the corner does in Blue and the FS acts like the WS. The other players disregard the #1 WR the corner has man to man. (This is an X-out concept. You could use a similar adjustment VS TE trips (trey) You can lock the SS on the TE and have the FS and corner play blue on #1 and #2.) This locks down that side and allows you to play games with your WS and away corner on the single receiver side. You have many options here. You can run different brackets, play squat/halves, Spy the QB with WS, or even send him on a blitz off the edge.

You can add a 4th tag to the call to let the WS and Corner know what to do vs trips, or have the WS look to the play caller for a call when he gets trips. It helps to have a base call for the away side in special. A simple bracket call works best for starters.

Special is also the call of choice versus an empty (3x2) set. Versus empty the FS checks Special to the trips side and the WS gets the away side into blue. This is a good coverage it provides great run support for draws and get all the WR's covered.

With 2, blue, solo, and special you can present a number of looks to the offense,have a plan to deal with the trips side and open side in 3x1 sets, and even cover empty (3x2) sets. The ability to play with 5 players in the secondary makes adjustments and communication simple.


I have written another post that goes into alignment details of split-field coverage versus 2x2, 3x1, empty backfields.