Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dub Maddox: Throwing Mechanics

The following was submitted by quarterback impresario, Dub Maddox, from the Quarterback Academy. Coach Maddox is one of the most infectiously passionate leaders of men in football and his body of work at Jenks High School (OK) is a standard to which we should all strive for. If you've spent any time on this blog, you know that QBA and Darin Slack are highly regarded here and their products come highly recommended from personal use.

With all of the coverage of quarterbacks and the NFL draft everyone seems to be talking about throwing mechanics. After Tim Tebow’s 1st round selection the talk still continues. So the question still remains to be answered….”Is it possible to change a quarterback’s throwing motion?”

While reading the article, The Pursuit of the Perfect Throwing Motion by David Flemming
I was intrigued by some of the things he learned from his study. In particular, he discovered throwing the football is the most complex motor skill in all of sports. With most exercise scientists and kinesiologists agreeing, more people are finding out what most coaches have known for quite some time. Changing a quarterbacks throwing motion is challenging and can be flat out intimidating.

Once most people come to this conclusion there tends to be two schools of thought as it relates to changing quarterback throwing mechanics.

  1. It’s all about the footwork (the feet are what throw the ball)
  2. You can’t change a quarterbacks mechanics (he can either throw or he can’t)
This is the dilemma I found myself in as a coach five years ago after getting upset in the first round of the playoffs. Having to watch a very talented sophomore quarterback struggle with his mechanics that season pushed me to a path of pursuit on how to teach the perfect throwing motion. As I began my research through clinics, DVD’s, books, college visits, and local guru’s, I had compiled a list of coaching points like, “Stand tall, step small”; “Flick the booger of the finger”; “Pick the dollar out of the left pocket”; “Turn the key”; “Answer the phone with ball”; “Crush pebbles with your feet” ; “Slap the wall”; “ watch how Brady, Montana, or Elway throw” and the list goes on and on. At the end of it all I was left with a myriad of different philosophies and techniques and the same conclusions that Flemming had in his article. As a result, I had almost submitted my belief on throwing mechanics to one of the two prevailing schools of thought. It wasn’t until I came across a 3 DVD set on Passing Mechanics by Darin Slack that I knew that I had finally found someone who had cracked the code on how to teach and train the most complex motor skill in all of sports. He was explaining the “Why” behind every motion and drill. He was backing every movement up with science and biomechanics. I felt like I had just discovered gold. I no longer had to submit to the two schools of thought on mechanics and what I didn’t believe to be true. After 5 years of coaching quarterbacks at Jenks High School and working for the Darin Slack Quarterback Academy here is what I have learned as it relates to the two prevailing schools of thought:

1. It’s all about the footwork (the feet are what throw the ball)
It seemed when I first started my pursuit of learning how to throw the football that everywhere I turned most coaches only focused on the feet. Most of the material I came into contact with stated that the feet are what throw the ball. My struggle with this concept stemmed from two pictures in my mind…a picture of a man with no arms and another picture of a man with no legs. If the feet are what throw the ball then how does a man without legs throw? At the NFL combine, Tim Tebow clocked a 4.7 forty time, 4.17 pro agility time, and a 38.5 inch vertical. If I submit to the school of thought that footwork is the key to consistent power, accuracy, and velocity then Tebow should be the best pure passer coming out of the draft. Yet he is the most scrutinized, Why? In Flemming’s article he states, “Throwing the football well is not about doing one or two big things great. Instead, it's about perfecting a thousand different parts of an intricate, complicated kinetic chain that starts in the toes and ends at the finger tips.” Through Flemmings article I am finding that people are starting to discover what I found through a set of 3 DVD’s 5 years ago. Throwing a football is more than mastering footwork; it’s about mastering the sequential movements in the kinetic chain through the entire throw. If I only focus on footwork I am only focusing on half of the kinetic chain. What about the other half? I go back to the picture with the man with no legs. What does he use to throw the football? It is his arm. If the arm is the mechanism that throws the ball then wouldn’t it be important to understand how this mechanism controls proper ball flight? To overcome the arm issue a quarterback must understand the 4 key positions of the arm motion in the kinetic chain.
(To demonstrate we will use Peyton Manning on the left and Jenks QB Sawyer Kollmorgen on the right)

Pre Pass Triangle-the kinetic chain in the arm starts in the Pre Pass Triangle position. With the elbows level at the base and a loaded wrist in the “cocked” position off the back shoulder, the triangle shape provides for a powerful position to launch the football. If the body was going to throw a punch it would load the arm instinctually in the same position. The Pre Pass Triangle position reduces tendency to internally rotate (wind up) on the throw, aligns arm in a power position, and reduces wasted motion for faster a faster release.

“L” Transistion-is the next position in the kinetic chain during the throw. The move to this position is done by using the 4 rotator cuff muscles that surround the scapula. The infrasprinatus and teres minor externally rotate the arm back into the “L” position. When the arm is in the “L” position it elongates the suprasprinatus and subscapularis which allow the muscles to accelerate the elbow to the lead position.

Elevate to “Zero”-is the lead position the elbow has to be in to support the wrist. You may have heard coaches say “get the elbow up”. The elbow only needs to go high enough to get over and ahead of the shoulder on the throw. The smoothness and efficiency of this move is the key to consistent power and accuracy on a throw. With the loading of the suprasprinatus and subscapularis muscles in the “L” position the elbow can now elevate and move ahead of the shoulder aided by the deltoid to get to “Zero”. “Zero” is orthopedic term given to the elbow in the lead position because the rotator cuff muscles are neutral with no strain on them. The “Zero” position places the elbow 6 inches ahead of the shoulder 45 degrees up and out and loads the tricep in a position to fire the ball down the target hallway.

Extension- is the kinetic chain of power that occurs as the tricep fires energy up through arm and out through the wrist/fingers into the ball. If the wrist fires early before the tricep the kinetic chain is out of order and the ball will sail or wobble. A quarterback that pulls down on the football does not extend and therefore is not getting the full benefit of the tricep. When trying to understand the power of extension on a throw, think of the difference between a pistol and a sniper rifle. Which one is more accurate and can shoot the bullet further? The sniper rifle. Why? It has a longer barrel that allows the force and spin to act longer on the bullet which in turn puts more accuracy and velocity in the bullet as it comes out of the barrel.

When a coach and a quarterback get on the same page and understand the (How’s and Why’s) behind the most complex motion in all of sports it provides for a drastic advantage on the playing field. However, getting your quarterback to understand the concepts of throwing mechanics will not support a change on its own, which leads us to the second school of thought.
2. You can’t change a quarterbacks mechanics (he can either throw or he can’t)
There are many coaches who know way more than I do about football that have said you can’t change or quarterbacks throwing motion. I have even heard some say to stay away from the quarterbacks arm entirely. I have always struggled with this. If I am in the weight room and I see a kid with 315 pounds on the squat rack and he has he is leaning over at the waist with his chest down and a curved lower back am I going to not try to fix him? The argument could be made that teaching a proper squat is easier than teaching the most complex motion in all of sports. But just because teaching a proper throw is more difficult does it mean that I am pardoned of having to teach it at all? Maybe it just means that I need to put more effort into knowing my craft. The key to changing any motion (especially the most difficult) is knowing how a quarterback learns to throw. Most quarterbacks learn to throw by picking up a football at a young age and just chunking it. This is called implicit learning. Implicit learning is learning in the absence of proper instruction. While learning to throw implicitly allows for a fluid motion it tends to produce bad mechanics. The other type of learning is called explicit learning. This is learning with proper instruction. This type of learning focuses on the non-negotiables or rules of the task. While learning to throw explicitly allows a quarterback to know all the( how’s and why’s) of throwing a football it tends to produce a mechanical and choppy motion. This is the point where a coach becomes frustrated and gives up submitting to the second school of thought… you can’t change mechanics. The secret to changing mechanics is in the power of a process and the formula is the hinge pin of The Quarterback Academy by Darin Slack.
In order to produce lasting change you have to take a quarterback and teach him the non-negotiable (how’s and why’s). Next, you build a battery of drills that isolate each mechanic and then build each drill sequentially on the previous mechanics (process). Then you rep the movements over and over until you are feeling the move instead of thinking about it. Instead of muscle memory we call it the power of informed feel. When a quarterback learns the (how’s and why’s) combined with the feel he now has the ability to Self-Correct, not Self-Destruct….advantage Offense. To learn more about throwing mechanics and quarterback play come to a camp or visit www.

Pick up the newly released book here;

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Defensive Forecast

I just wanted to drop a line and document a trend within football, though I don’t have a particular conclusion in mind, but one you should be able to witness as it takes place during your favorite game. This is no profound Michael Lewis “Lawrence Taylor skill set arcing to the deliverance of a Michael Oher”, merely just a broad capture of a recent trend that could possibly lend itself to a forecast of things to come.

In back-and-forths I’ve been having with football guys I esteem greatly (some are contributors here) for the past year, and touched on a little in comments at, my assertion is that the growing trend in football will see a defensive adaption featuring more off-man match from 1-high (or zero ) coverage [with a majority of this played out of untraditional nickel/dime packages].

As detailed previously in the Charlie Strong Orange/Tan package, Nick Saban Cover 1/9 Rat, Bo Pelini’s Spinner/Nickel Bomb – the off-man coverage (from primarily a 2-high shell) allows for efficient disguise, protecting against 4-verticals, while accommodating superior numbers against the run and maximum pressure on the passer. If I can ever get around to articulating my thoughts (with sexy powerpoints), we would also have these trends noted from Gregg Williams, Dom Capers, and Rex Ryan.

It all essentially boils down to the pattern-match concept and how it has/is being used as an adaptation method. “Pattern match” really is just man-match (by the time you get 1.5 seconds after the snap it all ends up being the same thing). As detailed in the Saban series last year, man coverage married to zone coverage with ‘pattern match’ is not all that much different; the response will be nearly identical. The growing trend in playing “pro-style” catch man coverage technique is what accommodates the “untraditional” personnel matchups and the deep 1-high safety with pressure. This is a look that will become increasingly more familiar as you watch football this season.

The thing is, in the 80s and before, the game primarily was founded on exclusive man-to-man, 1-high defenses (because the traditional offense didn't align for a vertical/horizontal stretch). These defenses were WYSIWYG and ‘primitive’, usually with bump-and-run and 8-man fronts to match the standard 2-back offenses. As the trend shifted from 1-high MOFC to 2-high MOFO zone defenses, offenses counteracted with multi-faceted 1-back run games (with running quarterbacks). We arrive to where we are now, where the old ‘bump-and-run’ coverage is considered a barbaric dinosaur and press-man is welcomed by pass-first offenses.
Doing my best Ron Jaworski impersonation here, lets go to the tape….

A few of the elements I believe that are contributing to this paradigm are as follows:

Rule Changes – With continued rule enforcement (for player safety) at the higher levels of the game, defenses become hamstrung in their ability to be physical. Whether it is limiting receiver reroutes/leverage, horse-collaring, helmet-to-helmet hits, hitting near the sideline, or touching a quarterback’s head, defenses are being painted into a corner where they have little recourse against offensive plays. You can sit back and let offenses run their routes and try to respond to it after the fact (ala Tampa 2), or you can choose to play the percentages and 1) neutralize the running game with a numbers advantage and 2) force a quarterback out of his hitch with +1 pressure and/or 3) leverage receivers out of throws down the field. The trend we are seeing favors the latter choice and time will tell just how the offense will counteract this approach as it catches on.

Professional Control Group – The pro game isn’t the end-all of game development. The borrowing/learning of concepts between BCS college programs and the NFL resembles more of symbiotic relationship rather than that of the linear trickle-down that is widely believed. As with all elements of evolution, the strong (concepts) survive and those that don’t adapt become part of a dying breed. The method of the higher levels of the game boils down to surviving as many downs/snaps as possible. The more downs you win; the more games you’re likely going to win – the greater likelihood you still have a job in the morning. This cut-throat (survival) approach is what necessitates the 60 minute game be reduced to isolated situations. EVERY snap is its own war, its own unique opportunity to swing the tide of the game. Dial up the perfect play and you have the potential to break the game wide open.

This concept should be quite foreign to most people because we’re all accustomed to seeing the same 11 starters on the field throughout a game, so nothing really is changing. Especially in high school, where your best LB is also your best Safety and he may also be your best defensive end. Substituting this player would only make your chances worse on a down, not better; you don’t have an endless supply of specialists and are lucky to have 11 full-time starters. Consequently, you can sit in one personnel grouping (or two) all game and just play the odds because, quite frankly, it beats the alternative.
Example of special personnel grouping
What we’re talking about now is specialization. You have players who can specialize in certain functions (down and distance, play types, etc) and excel in those personnel packages. It used to be where the defense just matched offenses based on personnel. If the offense had 21/12 personnel in the huddle, your based defense was on the field. If the offense had 11/10 personnel, your nickel package came in the game. Anymore, we’re seeing defenses using personnel not so much to match the offensive players, but the specific situation within a game (though offensive personnel will mirror the situation). This was touched on previously when introducing the study of ‘untraditional use’ of nickel/dime uses in the NFL. Even though dime personnel is not warranted to match an offensive formation, it is used anyway (despite possible physical liability in matchups) for coverage/pressure. The trend was noted with Pelini’s Spinner package, but is also gaining popularity with Dom Caper’s “Psycho” groupings. As a side note, “Psycho” was introduced with the justification to the media that Capers simply didn’t have defensive linemen because of injuries late in the season. Even after the injury bug subsided, he continues to use it heavily between the 30’s primarily for 1-high, off-man pressure.

Roster Limitations – The trend outlined above, of maximizing the use of the entire roster with multiple personnel groupings dove-tails into the equalizer more distinct in the NFL (but affects the NCAA by way of recruiting classes); roster limitations. Since there is a finite level of talent on both teams in a game, you have to figure out how you can do MORE with less (than your opponent). The team that can win a war of personnel attrition either through prolonged exertion (wearing the opponent out) or by utilizing a deeper portion of the roster (is your #4 receiver better than our dime/money defensive back?). If your team simply cannot match the personnel groupings they are faced with, you will likely get the short end of the stick on that snap (which could prove to be a turning point in the game).

It, again, reduces the individual situation down to one-on-one personnel matchups and improving the likelihood of winning those battles. This is where the “Wildcat” trend comes in. Especially in the NFL, where the 53-man roster is stretched so thin, your roster has to be able to (counter) match the roster of all your opponents. If you are equal on 47 of 48 roster spots, but your opponent has a “quarterback/receiver/running back/punt returner” as their 48th man, how are you going to account for that? This is where a stockpiling of safety/corner hybrids comes into play and then leads to their gratuitous use on downs not warranted previously. You no longer end up with full-time offensive / defensive players. The result is you have a situational offense/defense that tactically specializes in specific scenarios.

Attacking protection – Because defenses will be compelled to use these multi-position athletes, you can now begin opening the door to a myriad of pressures and coverage-matching. You not only have a defender able to cover receivers man-to-man, but also have a better matchup against backs (than a linebacker would). This also blurs the front identification needed for protection (as well as bringing considerably more speed to the pressure than most offensive linemen are able to match) – is that #33 nickel on the edge now considered the “Mike” do you adjust protection to the bandit(s)? What happens when any one of a handful of guys near the box can be considered a potential rusher? This goes beyond the basic premise of nickel/dime packages – because the offensive personnel in the protection will not be accustomed to seeing these types of looks (7 man protections typically employ a TE. If there is a TE, you usually have at least 2 or 3 linebackers. If those 2 linebackers aren’t there now, how exactly are we going to handle this front and WHO should the offense expect to match the receivers?).

This is just a thought that has been keeping me up at nights and something I’ve been seeing a lot of for the past 18 months. It used to be that defenses were crazy to try man-coverage on pass happy spread teams, especially with a runner at quarterback. However, more and more, I’m seeing this old look adjusted to fit the current game. I’m not even a “man” guy, but I have seen the benefits from doing things differently and now even prefer the ‘catch-man’ technique and how it opens up a world of defensive possibilities.
Now, I'm not suggesting that defenses will be playing a ton of man-coverage exclusively, just that you can expect to see more untraditional personnel groupings on the field and the way more and more teams will go to acheive pressure will be from off-man coverage (moving away from fire zones).
Feel free to rip me a new one in the comments section…..

Friday, September 24, 2010

Match Zone or Match Man: An Alternative Perspective

Hopefully, this will jumpstart me a bit so that I can start fulfilling my obligations to this blog again.

Recently, on this site, as well as on others, the term “match zone” has gained a great deal of currency. There is good reason for this: without question, match zone is the defensive technique in pass coverage that is currently most in vogue throughout all levels of advanced football. No doubt because of the pioneering advances made by Nick Saban, Gary Patterson, and a few others in diagnosing the pattern combinations and route distributions that are the hallmark of every sophisticated passing game, match zone techniques and coverage concepts serve as the foundation of virtually every defensive structure. In a sense, match zone has breathed new life into the 1-Hi looks that for a while looked incapable of handling the vertical threats posed by today’s spread offenses. However, in another sense, and I will be the first to admit that I may be completely wrong here, match zone may simply be today’s Tampa 2, another knot in the tactical and strategic evolution of defensive football.

This will be short piece, and much to my chagrin, one bereft of the ever useful power-point diagrams of my colleagues on this site. My goal in writing is to play a little bit of devil’s advocate, to point out what I view as some structural deficiencies that undergird match zone concepts, and in so doing, suggest that perhaps the old way of defending space is not as antiquated and insufficient as the prevailing defensive orthodoxy of today seems to suggest.

Let’s begin by boiling away the fat of match zone. In layman’s terms, what is match zone? At its core, match zone is a man/quarters concept predicated on upon a 3 on 3 triangle with a linebacker. Now, if we pause to think about it for a second it is not difficult to see from what match zone as both a concept and technique and concept evolved, and here, I’m not simply repeating Brophy’s citation of Saban’s remarks on its historical evolution dating from his days with the Cleveland Browns. Match zone evolved out of the Banjo bracket concepts that dominated college football throughout most of the 1990s. I coached in the then Big 8 when Kansas State was making its rise in football and very well remember the aggressive Banjo concepts they used in the their under-coverage as a way of bracketing and walling off the shallow routes that were then gaining in popularity amongst college offenses. And I think we all know that Banjo is essentially a man technique played within a defined zone: defender plays his man until said man leaves his zone and is then passed off to the adjacent defender.

Match zone builds on banjo by adding a number of additional elements into the mix, the most important two being a hyper-developed concept of pattern reading, or pattern matching to be precise, and the RAT, about whom I will write in a future post. For now, I will focus primarily on pattern matching. I use the term “matching” and not “reading” here not simply to reinforce Saban’s language, but because pattern matching and pattern reading are not interchangeable concepts. To match a pattern, it is necessary to first read the pattern. A defender matches an offensive players route when he diagnoses his intention; he’s then matched on him in what amounts to man-to-man coverage. This here is what I see as the rub about the very term “match zone,” for it’s really a misleading coinage, because what it is in reality is not match zone, but really match-man. What distinguishes match-zone from pure man is the way in which “matching” as a technique is integrated within the schematic structure of the defense as a whole. This is where the pattern reading aspect of match zone comes into play, the aspect that enables it to diagnose threats and cover them not simply with a lone defender, as in pure man, but in coordinated collaboration with another defender whose action’s are predicated upon his ability to read, diagnose, and match the pattern in question.

Now, I think it should be pretty clear where I’m going with this. Because defenders are taught to match the route of the receiver they by default become chasers. In other words, when defenders match a route they are in effect chasing it; defenders thus are not covering space, but rather receivers. This is why I prefer the term match man to that of match zone. The term zone implies space and area; match zone teams do not cover space, but people.

Why am I making a big deal about this? I’m harping on this because I believe that there are some profound structural issues with this concept as a whole, especially versus spread offenses. The first problem should be self evident. Since everybody is chasing in match zone the concept is suspect versus any team that has a QB that can run. A good friend of mine who coached for a long time in the Big 12, a predominantly match zone conference, told me that if Vince Young played today he’d run for over 2,000 yards. I have no reason to doubt him. With the exception of Robert Griffin at Baylor the Big 12 today is quarterbacked by kids who can chuck the ball, but who are not much of a threat with their legs. Today, if I were still coaching, I’d be tempted versus a heavy match zone team to line up in Empty a lot and run a great deal of QB draw, as well as motion a back into the backfield from Empty in order to run zone read, and later Jet.

Another problem with Match Zone is its lack of physicality. How is it possible to blast a receiver if you’re always chasing him?

Now, I’m aware that the RAT, to a degree, functions as the punisher in most match concepts, but RAT is only one player and thus one that can be identified and schemed around. I know this sounds counterintuitive, man teams are rarely ones that punish receivers on a routine basis. Here, I’m drawing on my friends insights regarding the 2006 Colorado defense. CU was a 2 shell team that played a lot of quarters, 2, and Tampa 2. They did nothing fancy except squeeze down zones and tackle extremely well. All one needs to do is to watch their tape against Texas Tech and Kansas. Versus both teams, CU aligned in some type of a two shell or four across look and pretty spot dropped the entire game. What made their spot dropping effective, as opposed to, let’s say, what VaTech did versus Boise State earlier this year, was that CU’s people were dropping and reading at the same time; in a word, they a had a keen sense of what was developing behind them.

I will conclude my remarks with some words as to how I, as Run-N-Shoot guy, would treat match zone. To be totally honest with you, I would rather face a match zone team as a Run-N-Shoot coach than a pattern reading – spot drop team (more on this formulation in my next post). Why? Pure and simple: match zone teams, especially those that are heavy fire zone ones, by and large, always end up, regardless of shell, in a 1 Hi look. I can thus tell my people to disregard the other 6 generic shells we use to categorize coverage and instruct them to focus their attention on attacking the technique of the defender charged with matching them. So, for all intent purposes, match zone takes the thinking out of things for my receivers because for as far as they’re concerned all they’re facing is man.

What is interesting about this, historically speaking, is the fact that match zone as a both a technique and concept reinforces something that John Jenkins spoke about frequently during his days with the USFL Gamblers and later with the Houston Cougars: all zone coverage eventually becomes man at some point or another. Jenkins remark was particularly on point for his own offense, because the Run-N-Shoot is a vertical stem offense, especially his variation of it. Even back in the 1990s Jenkins was teaching his receivers, regardless of coverage, to attack the individual technique of the man against whom they were stemming their route; he was less concerned with the overall scheme of a coverage than with the individual technique of a defender. The explicit goal of every receiver, even versus soft looks was to collapse the cushion and the force the defender to play man. In a way, match zone does this, but in a more economically effective way; for, the receiver does not even have to collapse the technique in order to get the match man technique he desires.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

TCU "2 Read": Adaptation To The Spread (3x1)

The robber rules of “2 Read” are rather simple and the biggest part understanding TCU defensive scheme is just coming to grips and accepting the split-formation concept they utilize.
Using the same “2 Read” technique rules we already covered, we plainly go over adding another receiver (3) to the read side.
To the trips side, the free safety and corner will be playing straight drop back and essentially end up in a split field ¼ match. The primary adjustment becomes the strong safety. He will be outside of the #2 receiver. He is going to play standard “blue” coverage rules, staying on #2 to prevent three verticals. He will still “Swing deep to 3” but he is not looking to jump the flats as he was versus 2 receivers.

In the worst case scenario, “all verticals”, the corner will zone turn to bail and split the difference of #1 and #2 receivers. The free safety will backpedal weave leverage of the vertical #3 receiver. This is the ‘jailbreak’ option versus this coverage, if three verticals aren’t run to the trips side, the pattern distribution can easily be accounted for in the rules.

So if #2 receiver or #3 receiver is not vertical, now we're back to the manageable 2 receiver threat. If #3 runs a shallow out (for example) the free safety is no longer threatened in the middle of the field, so he will settle and look to rob any route by #2. The corner will have the post by #1 all day, so the free safety is free to look of #1.
Versus a standard trips flood (#3 shallow out, #2 sail, #1 is in), the corner would stick with his communication rules, call the “IN” by #1 and gain depth over the receivers. With the “IN” call, the strong safety will hang (on the curl) and break late on the out of #2.

This was just an overview of the split-formation coverage of TCU out of their robber package. Feel free to check out the RUNCODHIT articles on their usual 2x2 coverage (Blue/ Cover 5) that we’ll see a lot of in their push for National prominence this season.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

TCU "2 Read": Adaptation To The Spread (2x2)

While exploring the defensive adaptations to offensive trends towards "the spread" (Va Tech in the 90s / Saban Cover 3 adjustments ), and not intending to repeat any of the fantastic coverage of TCU defensive tenets done at Run COD Hit, it would behoove us to at least go over how TCU would confront 2x2 / 3x1 formations out of their base split-field coverage, '2 read'.

TCU's 42 defense is based out of Cover 2 "Read", which is really just a robber + quarters read out of a MOFC look. TCU will typically not play ‘2 Read’ against any 1-back look (preferring Blue or Cover 5), so what we are presenting is just a ‘worse-case’ scenario against this coverage.

Since they are splitting the formation in half, they are just reducing the concept down to the 1, 2, or 3 receiver matching. Just like the Rip/Liz adjustment covered before, when facing a balanced 2x2 formation, the secondary would have to declare which side they are going to play as the 'read side' (where the FS will be robbing). If '2 Read' is called, versus a 2x1 formation, the FS would naturally rob the receiving strength (2 receiver side). With 2x2, you would have to declare "reading left" to communicate the 'read side' and the 'away side', alerting the away safety on how he will handle #2. To the 'read side', this is how zone distribution would essentially play out in a nutshell.

"2 Read" is the base coverage TCU bases out of (it really is just robber). They may not even run this coverage much after installation, but it remains the elementary foundation for all subsequent variations regularly employed.

To get down to brass tacks, the rules are relatively simple and outlined below:

Since they are splitting the formation in half, they are just reducing the concept down to the 1, 2, or 3 receiver matching. Just like the Rip/Liz adjustment covered before, when facing a balanced 2x2 formation, the secondary would have to declare which side they are going to play as the 'read side' (where the FS will be robbing). If '2 Read' is called, versus a 2x1 formation, the FS would naturally rob the receiving strength (2 receiver side). With 2x2, you would have to declare "reading left" to communicate the 'read side' and the 'away side', alerting the away safety on how he will handle #2. To the 'read side', this is how zone distribution would essentially play out in a nutshell.

"2 Read" is the base coverage TCU bases out of (it really is just robber). They may not even run this coverage much after installation, but it remains the elementary foundation for all subsequent variations regularly employed.

To get down to brass tacks, the rules are relatively simple and outlined below:

Read Left

  • Read side Corner- 1x7 match deep vertical threat
  • Strong (read) Safety - 5x1 force on run / pass read: open to flat "swing deep to 3"
  • Free Safety- alley fit on run / pass use 'Robber rule' - vertical by #2 / no vertical by 2, rob curl-to-post of #1
  • Strong Backer -match #2 - #3
  • Weak Backer - match #2 weak vertical
  • Weak (away) Safety -run force / pass curl-flat "swing deep to 2"
  • Away side Corner-deep 1/2 (over post of #1)

Read Side Communication

Corner is 1x7 in press bail shuffle with a man-clue of the #1 receiver. Corners always 1x7 unless #1 receiver is outside of numbers (they never cross the numbers in robber). Corners always play inside leverage, always protecting the post (because you don’t know if you’re going to get help from the FS). The post-snap cushion is not enforced, and in fact, Patterson wants receivers to break the defender’s cushion so he’ll only have to play one side now. If there is only one receiver split, the corner will man-turn into the route. If there is more than one receiver split, he will zone-turn into the route. Because this is a robber concept, the corners are taught to make the post a priority and, if necessary, align as much as 4 yards inside the receiver to protect the middle of the defense. With these rules, Patterson essentially invites offenses to run the post-corner because he feels he can take everything else away and force this difficult throw. To get the most out of this coverage, a pattern-match communication system is utilized to hasten how the 3 key defenders respond. The corner will communicate pattern response to his area players (FS & read side safety). Of the read side calls he will make (and responses) are:


If #1 is short/hitch the corner makes a “China” call. This flags man responsibility for the Strong (read) Safety. The read side safety will run under (to) #1 because the corner is sinking (on corner route) to match the first outside short threat (flat). A short #1 with a detached #2 receiver typically is going to give you a “smash” (or China) concept, with #2 continuing to press vertical. With #1 shallow, the corner will declare “China” and immediately look to match #2 over the top (and outside). The “China” call also help identifies that there is no post threat from #1 and that #2 is the only other possible threat vertical, so the Free Safety will look to aggressively jump the route of #2.


If #1 receiver breaks out (he’s no longer vertical) the corner will continue to sink and look to match #2. The ‘out’ call alerts the Strong (read) Safety to look to rob #1 underneath at 10 yards out. Since this overhang safety is always aggressively expanding to the flat, he won’t be giving up much separation on #1, so the throw (to #1) would have to be shallow and near the sideline for a completion.


If the #1 receiver is not shallow (‘china’) but breaks inside at a depth greater than 8 yards (‘dig’ / ‘curl’) , the corner will communicate an “IN” call . This alerts the read safety that there is a threat coming inside over the top (of his drop). The safety should look to become an outside-in player (he’s going to the flat right now, because he’s got a curl player dropping - the FS).

Strong (Read) Safety

The (overhang) Safety aligns 5 yards deep on #2 (removed). Versus a standard tight end or pro look, he would align 3 yards deep and 7 yards widen (discouraging being reached on perimeter action). On EMOL high-hat pass read the target depth for his drop will be 8-10 yards. He is going to remain shallow on his drop with the intent to expand to the flat as quickly because the FS will be dropping inside of him in the curl (if that is what is threatened).

Don't get hung up on semantics - the 'read' safety "swing(ing) deep to 3" is essentially the standard 'curl-to-flat' responsibility, but an emphasis on staying shallow and man-conscious. This methodology helps the defender be less dogmatic and be an aggressive matcher in coverage ( if a man runs through his zone – he's got him vertical ). The rationale behind teaching it this way is to encourage the safety to open up and get to the flat (with no landmarks).

Free Safety

The alignment of the free safety will be 8-10 yards deep over the read side guard. This allows him to gain a clear read on an uncovered linemen and an quick response path to the inside vertical threat of #2.

Once the offense breaks the huddle, the free safety will identify the backs, determine the read side and communicate to the other defensive backs, “check 2 – read right” (coverage and what side is being matched). The response of the free safety is just like robber, with the #2 receiver as his pass key:

  • #2 goes vertical, he matches all of #2 inside leverage.
  • #2 does anything but vertical, he robs the curl/post of #1.

This vertical-clue will handle all routes deeper than 8 yards. If #2 is out (and under 8 yards), the free safety is communicating “WHEEL” to the corner (see the curl-flat combo illustrated above). This is essentially telling the corner, “you have an outside route by #2 - so you have curl-post help (from FS)”. This works even if #2 isn’t going to wheel that out route, but it lets the corner know he can now back off of #1 because of the help available.

When #2 is no longer vertical (out / out-up), the free safety then reads the hips of the #1 receiver. If #1 sinks his hips (for a break) the free safety will drive at the receiver’s break and step in front of him (interception point).

If the #1 receiver doesn’t sink his hips, the free safety immediately turns into the middle of the field (away from the receiver) to rob the post.

Inside linebackers
TCU's rules split-coverage rules mean they never have to displace the 6 in the box. The stacked (inside) backers would always match 2-to-3 regardless of formation with the other (away from final 3) being the rat in the hole. So if you’re a 4-2, its all relative if you play this with a 3-3; the numbers are the same. These players doesn't have to be anywhere fast, in fact, the slower they are at reacting the better, because they should be thinking draw or screen (off pass-action) initially.

For read side linebacker, once pass shows he is to middle drop vertical to find/match the final 3 receiver. This player is looking to defend his run gap first, then take away the hot (throw). By slow-playing pass action, he always tries to make #3 go over the top of him, and from there it just becomes a "man-to-man" zone as in basketball (boxing out #3 deep).

For the away side linebacker, it is essentially the same as the read side linebacker, with the exception of matching #2 (away) vertically. Typically, this player is the (wider) bubble backer and against any 1-back look, TCU will be slanting the defensive line. This linebacker must replace the former middle-of-the-field safety in the hole. Rather than a ‘robot’ reaction away from the ‘final 3’ player, he would gain depth vertically on #2. If #2 pressed vertically after 8 yards, the away side linebacker would have to carry him man-to-man regardless if he makes a break deep in his route. It isn’t pretty, but that is the answer for 1 back routes.

Weak (Away) Safety
On pass read, this player will play like a standard curl-to-flat player in cover 3. He has no immediate curl help and will work in tandem with the corner. He does not carry #2 deeper than 8 yards and does not reroute. He should never cross the hash when responding to an inside route, as the away side linebacker will be working to that area.

This is actually a great addition to standard robber coverage and the adjustment (with split-field) principle helps prepare your players for the ‘breakable’ scenarios. In the next (soon) installment, we will go over the very basic trips (3x1) adaptation using this same coverage.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

30 Dime Package: Part I

My name is Chris Vasseur and I coach Safeties at a Junior College in Northern California. I have befriended Brophy on the infamous Coach Huey website (I go by “VassDiddy” over there). I truly consider him the best defensive coach in all of High School football and I have learned so much from him. He invited me to write for this blog and I am extremely excited and honored to do so. I have contributed to the blog before (Virginia Tech Robber and Nick Saban’s Rip/Liz Match articles) but never have written an article.

My first topic is the “30 Dime” blitz package. The 30 Dime package is commonly referred to a 3 DL, 2 LB, and 6 DB defense used in long yardage situations (3rd & Long, 2 Minute). Since I base out of a 4-2-5, I already have 5 Defensive Backs so I would only make one change. I would take out the lesser of the two interior pass rushers, and bring a 6th DB (could be a Safety or a Corner) on the field. For 3-4 or true 4-3 teams, you might have to make 2 substitutions. The change of personnel is all based on your team and what you are facing. Against certain opponents, I would bring my best Corner in the Slot and bring in a 3rd Corner to play outside.

I believe this is the future of the NFL and will eventually permeate college football. I know… you are probably thinking: “Vass, this has been going on for years. What are you talking about?” True, but the implementation and thought process is changing. Teams are no longer just using this as a prevent defense, but as their primary method of pressure. Unless you have two dominant interior pass rushers, this package is perfect. In the first installment of my Dime package manifesto, I will examine why I began utilizing this format and the various coverage combinations that you can utilize. The second part will delve into the blitz and coverage possibilities, and how you can make combination calls to gameplan offensive formations and protections. The third part will examine how I use a “menu” effect to gameplan 3rd Down to create endless possibilities, showing you how you can easily customize this package to fit your system.

Let me start by saying that I am, and have always been a “40 Front” coach. I know there are many ways to skin a cat, and for me, I prefer the 4-Man line. I love the versatility and adjustments versus most offensive formations. I also like the ability to stop the run and play pass without a call or change of personnel, unlike the 3-4. I also think the fronts require less specialization than a traditional 3-4 defense – I believe you only need one true defensive lineman (3 technique) and one true linebacker (Mike). Plus, I went to school and worked briefly for, the University of Miami where the 4-3 was altered and turned into what it is today. I also worked for one of the Godfathers of the 4-4 to 4-2-5 movement. Needless to say, I am a little biased towards the 4-Man line.

My philosophy led me to discover this package. I love to pressure. However, I don’t like to just rush 1 extra defender, because I don’t feel the pressure is really getting home. Conversely, I am not one to roll the dice all the time and just leave people uncovered and/or play with no deep coverage. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll bring 6 or an 8-Man check blitz, but not as the primary method of pressure. This is why I love Fire Zones. They provide a middle ground. You have the ability to overload the offense’s blocking scheme and truly put pressure on them, while having sound, deep coverage. Plus, the creativity and possibilities are endless.

So, I researched everything I could get my hands on. I looked at playbooks, broke down games, talked to coaches, attended clinics, etc., all hoping to learn cutting edge Fire Zones. Over the years, I came to this conclusion: the Over front is great at overloading the weakside, but overloading to the strong side opens up major holes to the weakside (mainly having the slowest and least athletic lineman, the 1 technique, looping to contain, two gaps over). In the Under front, you can overload the strong side, but the weakside overloads aren’t as easy to run (Mike is too far to the strongside to bring). You can bring the Weak Safety down to blitz, but if they have 2 WRs to that side, now what? You have no one to cover! My solution was to blitz from the weakside from the Over front, and stem to an Under front pre-snap, to bring strong side pressures. The problem was solved… or so I thought.

I began coaching with my semi-pro team the spring and had all these face-melting (one of Brophy’s favorite adjectives) blitzes I had collected and installed. The league was a predominantly passing league, which was a departure from the high school league I coached in; our Defensive Ends had to be true pass rushers. We got into the first game and we needed to start bringing pressure to make things happen. The problem was this: in the Over Front, to overload the strong side or up the middle, I had to drop my Weakside Defensive End who is arguably the best pass rusher in the entire league. For the weakside overloads, I had to spike him into the A or B gap. I tried bringing 5 and playing Man-Free and nothing got home. Bring 6? It was almost like an automatic Touchdown. I eventually said, “screw it” and went back to a 4-man rush and the Quarterback had about 7 Mississippi’s to throw it. Needless to say we didn’t do well…

I began looking for answers. I busted out the playbooks and notes I had collected, and watched replays of NFL games. I watched the best defenses in the league at pressuring the Quarterback (i.e. – Jets, Saints) and saw that they were using these 3-Man lines. With this package, we could take out the Nose (my worst pass rusher who had to contain with strongside overloads) and bring in an additional Defensive Back, and bring the same pressures. The best part? I could bring my beast Weakside Defensive End, 100 miles an hour.

I had seen this package before, but they were doing something different. They were running what has become the “traditional” fire zones, the same blitzes with Man-Free coverage, and a Man-Free Peel coverage. They brought 6, played coverage with 6, and had their Defensive Ends still rushing the passer.
The key was that they assigned each edge rusher to “rush to cover the Running Back.” This is especially effective in the NFL because most protections are 6-Man, so he’s going to stay into block anyway.

The 30 Dime Front, allows the defense to run the same blitz paths with different coverage combinations, easier than a 40 front. You could feasibly run the “NCAA” blitz with Fire Zone Cover 3, 2 Trap (2 Deep/4 Under), Roll Cover 2, Man-Free, and Man-Free with an additional rusher and peeling Defensive Ends. When I ran the Over and Under front zone blitzes, I had to try to find one blitz to cover what I wanted to defend – I had to try to find one blitz to beat the protection AND defend the types of routes. If I wanted to bring the “NCAA blitz” for example, I had to play 3 Deep/3 Under, or a poor version of a Roll Cover 2. However, with the 3-Man line, I could create a “menu” because the blitz “paths” were separate from the coverages and were not tied together like the 4-Man line. Now all I had to do was teach the basic coverage concepts (3, 2 Trap, Roll 2, and Man-Free, Man-Free with Peel) and could bring whatever paths I wanted and slap them on a wristband.

To illustrate this point, let’s examine a problem I ran into before I decided to use this package. We faced a Sprint-Out passing team and tried running the infamous “NCAA” blitz to overload the strong/sprint-out side. It beat the protection, but there was a huge problem. We were short to the strongside of our coverage. This is because our Hook 3 player is lined up all the way to weakside and the QB could quickly and easily dump the ball to the 3rd WR. With the Dime package, the DE now rushes and I can simply bring the Dime back over to cover #3. Or, if we wanted to play zone, we could roll the coverage and play a Roll Cover 2 to the Trips side. I began to tinker with the idea and I realized that I could gameplan to beat the protections by choosing the blitz path I wanted. After I decided how to defeat the protections, I could gameplan the coverages I wanted based on the formations they ran, type of passing game, and routes.

An additional bonus of this package is that the Guards have one more thing to worry about. In our 40 Front, one had the 3 technique and the other combo’d the 1 with the Center. In the Bear (which we run a lot of), they were both man-to-man. In the 30 Front, the Guards have to Dual Read, a completely different read and technique.

Also, the Dime package allows us to keep the zone coverage responsibilities consistent. Out of a 4-man line is that you have to exchange coverage responsibilities with your DE and ILB. If only 1 WR, the DE drops Wall to Flat and the ILB has to drop Hook 3. If there are 2 or more, the ILB has to drop out to Wall/Flat and the DE drops inside for Hook 3. This is because you don’t want a Defensive End carrying a Slot WR vertically.

This may seem like a lot of stuff. It can be if you look at each blitz as its own separate entity. However, if you teach the coverage concepts, mixing and matching blitz paths with them is simple. In fact, I used this with a semi-pro team that practiced once a week, and only 50% of the team showed up. With the cunning use of wristbands and simplicity in teaching coverages, you can mix and match all of these concepts to create your own menu.

In the next installment, I will detail the various paths and coverages you can use in detail. Also, I will touch on how you can make “combo calls” to designate the coverages you want to play versus 2x2 sets, vs. 3x1 and Empty sets.

I look forward to contributing more and please feel free to ask questions, comment, or heckle me in the comments section.

Good luck this season and I’ll “see” you soon!

P.S. Thanks Korey Gray for helping me discover this package by telling me you didn’t want to drop anymore. I was blinded by all the fancy X’s and O’s and I didn’t let my best player do his thing.