If you do not think playing QB is difficult, I challenge you. Stand behind your QB in 7 on 7 and actively make decisions with him. Not only is it difficult to make good decisions, but you then have to do all of the little things right to make an accurate throw. Do yourself a favor and do that with your QB. That’s not to mention the role an active rush takes in speeding up those decisions. Do it with your QB in 11 on 11 and I know you will have a different appreciation for the position. Now lots of you gurus out there played QB and understand. I didn’t. I was a high school linebacker-defensive end-baseball-playin rascal. However, you give me a marker and a white board and I can draw any and every route combination known to man. Drawing on a board and labeling progressions is something my wife can do (not really but you get the point).
I have worked for three head coaches at one high school in Texas. For each head coach our emphasis on offense has been to run the football, and we have done it very effectively. I did say run the football didn’t I? In my 14 years at Denison High School we have never ever ever ever been close to balanced (50/50). Most years we have been 75/25 run and even more drastic situationally. One year we were 97% run on 1st down, with the only 1st down passes coming in our initial game script. Now the definition of balanced can be many different things. My definition of being balanced is being able to throw the football when we want to, not just on 3rd and 8. There is nothing better than being able to run the ball down your opponent’s throat knowing they have no answer. If we can, we will. Balanced in my mind is being able to throw the ball on 1st down, 2nd and 7, 3rd and 1 to help you win games. To be able to do that, you need options. Screens, play actions, quick game, drop back are all things that offenses need to be balanced but implementing them efficiently and effectively are often times difficult for a ground-and-pound offense, particularly in training a QB. In Denison, for all 3 regimes, we have majored in play action and screens. Of course in clinic talk lingo we have dabbled in quick games and drop back concepts, but the practice time we used developing those skills did not match up to what we were doing on Friday nights. And of course the limited amount of time delegated for protections (where passing game should start)…..don’t get me started.
The meat-and-potatoes of this article is about developing a consistent base passing game for the benefit of the QB in a run-first offense, particularly a common drop back route concept that ties in progressionally with the majority of your passing game. As I said before the base of our run-dominant offense passing game has been play actions and screens. Screens are screens, 95% of the time the lone target is designated pre-snap, with an occasional double-screen mixed in. There isn’t much for your QB to have to decide here. He knows where the ball is going. The more screens the better. Get the ball to your playmakers in space and let them eat up yards on these 0 yard throws and no progression decisions for your QB.
So back to playing QB…if you are a ground-and-pound offense and your game preparation time (practice/meeting/game plan/video) is focused on the run game, then philosophically make the decision to make your passing game progressions as similar as possible for the QB. We already talked about the screens and its lack of progression reads, and that leads to the other large chunk of your passing game which should be play actions. Most play actions are some type of flood/levels concept with eligible receivers in short, medium, and deep passing zones. From year to year we have changed how we have taught the QB how to read these, and largely those decisions were based on protections. For instance on a bootleg, if you are true naked protection then your QB has to be prepared to dump the ball quick so his progression on the High-Low box should be short to deep. If you pull a guard or leave somebody else in to help on the boot protection, this would give your QB a little more time so you could have the option of reading deep to short on the High-Low box. The majority of the time we have read short to deep, with the ability to change the progression to take a shot with a tagged route if we felt we had it. The same goes for any type of front side play action. We will have QB read short to deep, and always have the ability to tag the backside post/shake/go. Here is a link to a short vid about boot and the backside shot with the same play action.
Like I said before, we can draw a million route concepts but how can you effectively and efficiently teach it to your kids with limited game prep time. We are going to talk about the shallow cross route combination that so many people have ran it gets called the NCAA or All American route. We have tweaked it to fit our kids to make it as easy to learn as possible and to be able to use from various formations and personnel groups. The NCAA concept is ran/taught many different ways but to make it easier for our QB we teach the short to deep progression. Just as in our play action routes, if the flat route (shallow crosser) is open we are going to take it 100% of the time. We are not trying to fool the defense with our eyes or front shoulder or any other guru talk. We have less time to teach so the less clutter we can put in the QB’s mind the better. We teach the crosser to look at the QB if you want the ball. If you see a cover 2 corner squatting in the flat, it’s best to not look at the QB. We tell the crosser his decision should be made by the time he gets to the area vacated by the center. The crossing route is taught as being ran through the feet of the defensive linemen, underneath all linebackers. It is the first read, but at the same time we want to create a window behind the route to open up the dig route so the “feet of the DL” rule always applies. We teach the NCAA concept initially from any and all 2 x 2 sets.
We have extremely simple rules. The tagged receiver is the shallow crosser. The most inside receiver on the opposite side of the ball has the dig. On the digs, we teach 12 yards depth but except 10. We talk about pressing the outside shoulder of the slot-area-defender to create a larger window inside. If you are open at depth, sit. If you are covered at depth, keep working flat across the field until you are open. Simply put, do not get covered. The other receivers are getting to landmarks on the field. This is where we differ from most others running the NCAA concept. Most run a post on the same side as the dig, with a go to the tagged shallow crosser side on the outside. We are going to have 2 receivers get to what we call the “DIVIDE” on their side of the field which is a landmark apexed or splitting the numbers and hash on a NCAA regulation field. On a federation rules field, you may want to use the hash or a certain number of yards outside the hash as your landmark. It does not matter the formation or personnel grouping, we will always have a crosser, a dig, and two divides. In the picture, the 2 outside guys are running glance posts to get to the divide. If we had tagged an outside guy as the crosser, then the inside guy aligned on his side would run a seam/over to get to the divide. You do not have to think about whether or not you are running the post or go, just get to the divide. We want the divide runners to draw deep players and keep them from getting involved with the digs. The back is involved in protection. He is going to work linebackers, inside to outside opposite the shallow crossing route, if his LBs do not come, then he releases to the flat on a shoot route.
The QB from the gun is going to take a BIG 3 drop. He knows who the tagged route is and his eyes, feet, front shoulder will follow that guy. If the tagged route gives the QB his eyes, then give him the ball. If he doesn’t then feet, eyes, shoulders progress to the dig. If the QB does not like the dig then feet, eyes, shoulders progress to the back. CROSS, DIG, SHOOT. CROSS, DIG, SHOOT. The CROSS-DIG is the High-Low box just like the play action routes. So the progression is the same for your QB. It’s a great route versus multiple coverages and as mentioned before you can run it out of any formation. If you get a safety creeping down on the dig, then tag it someway to give your QB the option of making a DIVIDE his first “glance.” Teaching it this way has also helped our summer passing league offense which gives a ton of active progression reading reps to your QB. If you have any questions about how we teach it for 7 on 7 with empty formations or any other questions shoot me an email or look me u on twitter..