Non-Pressure Side Run Fits in a Multiple Fire Zone System

By Steve Erxleben
Head Coach
South River High School (MD)
Twitter: @CoachErxleben



In today’s modern challenge of defending offenses that feature multiple formations made up of multiple personnel groupings with multiple forms of tempo, Defensive schemes have to be sophisticated enough to challenge the run, pass, and protection schemes while also be simple enough to allow players to play fast. As a defensive staff here at South River High School, we decided years ago to transition from more of a base front and coverage team to a scheme rooted in zone pressure and match-carry-deliver principles on the backend.

Within our culture defensively and as a staff we believe with the personnel we have and the style of offenses within our league, hanging our hat on zone pressure allows our scheme to be balanced, have specific force and alley rules, has a reduced amount of checks, is highly adjustable, and allows us to prevent explosive plays, all allowing our players to play fast. Furthermore, we fee that being a high pressure team on early downs allows our front and second level defenders to successfully funnel the ball to an unblocked defender if we do not get a clean run through.

This past season in 2021, out of 631 plays in 11 games, we zone pressured 71% of the time in multiple down and distance, personnel, and +/- situations out of multiple fronts, pre snap movements, and coverages. Specifically, in what we refer to as heavy run down and distances, we were an 83% blitz team but these percentages could vary based upon the personnel on the field. “Run Heavy” can also be very comparatively speaking based upon the opponent but for the sake of argument we refer to heavy run downs as 1st and 10, 2nd and 3-1, and 3rd and 3-1.

In these “Run heavy” down and distance situations, we feel confident our litany of Fronts, Pressures, and pre-snap movements match up well versus 10 and 11 personnel runs (zone, power, duo, etc.).

However, when teams utilize 20 or 21 personnel, our mentality does not change but how we handle force, especially to the weakside of the formation, is critical to getting stops and forcing a longer 2nd or 3rd down situation. Looking at forcing the run in a more “worst case scenario” mentality, we expect runs to be cut back away from the side of the pressure, which creates the need for varying ways to set the edge, force the ball, and create B gap integrity. Having multiple ways to attack an unbalanced grouping like 20 and 21 has created multiple ways to force the ball and successfully rely in alley fits and pursuit to “cage the run”.



Since this report is about effecting runs and corresponding Force elements, it is warranted to first touch on our Base verbiage and what the Blitz and non-pressure sides are doing (DIAGRAM #1). In our base defense, we will set our front either to the field or the boundary, to or away from the multiple receiver side, to or away from the TE, or to or away from the Back in the shot gun. Where we are setting the front is a weekly game plan decision. Every snap we make either a “Roger” or “Louie” call which dictates where the 4th rusher is coming from and, if we are in a 3 deep situation, where safety support is spinning. Our Interior linemen always slant away from the front call (Roger/Louie) as the 4th rusher (our call side OLB) becomes the C gap player/5 technique call side. The reduction side call correlates with a coverage call to establish who the force player is to the reduction side as well as who the seam player will be. All of our same-side ILB/OLB or “edge” blitzes correlate with a Roger or Louie call, which we feel makes it easier for our players to identify and gives them a chance to focus more on disguise and triggering the blitz from a proper depth and angle.


In our terminology, any front that begins with the letter “S” determines the pressure side is to our “SAM” backer. Our SAM backer is our hybrid OLB/DB kind of player and is the adjustor to the field and formation. If our front call is an “S” front  the SAM now is the 4th rusher and the reduction is to that side as well (DIAGRAM 2).


Conversely, if the front begins with an “A” we are setting the pressure and reduction AWAY from the SAM, so now our WILL OLB is the 4th Rusher and the pressure side is set away from the SAM. (DIAGRAM #3)



In diagrams 4, 5, 6 and 7 our Force and Leverage rules are explained from our initial install each Spring. For this report, we will be applying pressure to either the “SAM” side or “WILL” side of the formation, but forcing the ball in space weak will be through the eyes of the WILL backer primarily.

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Creating Perimeter Conflict with the Sail RPO

By Pete DeWeese with Will Compton
Offensive Coordinator
Buda Johnson High School (TX)



Buda Johnson HS (TX) opened its doors in 2019 with half of a Sophomore class and a full freshman class.  That first season, the Jaguars played a sub-varsity schedule and finished 8-2 on the season. They moved to a full varsity season in 2020 and just missed the playoffs with a 6-4 record.  In 2021, with a full Senior class, the Jaguars made the playoffs in just their 2nd full varsity season with a 9-2 record.  Coach Compton and the Buda Johnson offense averaged 43.5 points per game during this historic season.  Offensive success is nothing new to Coach Compton.  The Sail RPO concept detailed in this report has been a part of this powerful offense since that first sub-varsity season in 2019, but Coach Compton has had the concept in his offense since 2015 when he was the head coach at Rudder HS (TX).  Since then, this RPO concept has been an efficient and effective weapon for Coach Compton.  So how did he get there? Coach Compton says, “We were looking for a way to combine our Sprint-out game with our RPO game.  Sail and Quick Out were our top 2 rollout schemes.”  The combination of the sprint-out passing concept and a core run concept has proven to be effective for Coach Compton’s offenses over the past six seasons.


The Set-Up and the Versatility

The run game element of this concept is essential to its success.  And like any well-devised RPO, the passing game element works to adequately protect the run scheme.  For the Sail RPO, the effectiveness lies in its ability to place 2 defenders in conflict.

Coach Compton feels that any offense that will utilize a back-side read on a DE ( or C Gap defender) can employ this RPO. Coach Compton notes, “The first part of the scheme is being able to run the football with either Inside Zone, Outside/ Wide Zone, or GT (Counter). We always read the Backside DE. If we are playing a team that teaches their DE to play RB this scheme will be even more effective. Next, we are putting the OSLB in conflict. He has his base alignment. He is getting a run read so his initial thought is to add to the box. If he does this, we are able to have a 3/2 matchup in the flats. If he plays the pass, then we gain the advantage because now they are missing their extra QB player.”


Reading the backside end and determining how the defense intends to play your read-game is important.  Coach Compton notes, “We do read the DE. Our QB is going to take 2 small steps towards the DE and point the ball back for the mesh with the RB. If the DE squats, then it is a give. If the DE is the dive player then we will pull the ball and go into our rollout steps. If the DE stays square and squeezes, we are able to pull the ball when he gets even with the mesh. If the DE is even with the mesh on the square squeeze, we feel that we are able to get outside.”  Compton goes on to recognize that the scheme has been most effective when they have had a mobile quarterback, saying “If we are able to run the ball effectively, it puts the DE and the OSLB in a bind when playing their assignments.”  It is also important to note the role of the Running Back, even when he does not get the ball.  Coach Compton coaches the RB to carry out the fake and “push his fake to the front-side so that the DE isn’t able to retrace back to the QB.”  As for the QB, his footwork is also important.  Once he gets a pull read, Coach Compton notes that “it is very important that he uses his first couple of steps to get depth on the rollout.”  This small retreat allows the QB to “close his shoulders” when making his 2nd level read and preparing to throw.

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The QB Run Package from Heavy Personnel

By Jason Eckert
Offensive Coordinator/QBs Coach
New Richmond High School (WI)
Twitter: @NRFootball11



We have been a spread team for several years with inside zone and power being our main runs.  While we are primarily a run focused team, we still need a quarterback to lead us and make the offense go.  Last season, we had a situation where our backup QB was not ready for varsity football.  So, we needed to come up with a plan in case our starter came out of the game.  We discussed several options, including a single wing package, which we’ve run in the past.  We just needed something that could get us through a series or game, depending on why our QB was out.


After evaluating our personnel, we decided that our RBs were our two best offensive players.  So, we built a package around them.  With Covid, our practice time was also limited, so I wanted to keep it simple.  We did not need to revamp our offense but build a small package we could run at any point in the game.  Inside Zone, Power, and Jet Sweep were the main focus.  These are plays we already run.

Then, after our first scrimmage, our QB got hurt and was out for 6 weeks.  This forced us to put this package to the test.

We found that this package created a numbers advantage for us, put the ball in our best player’s hands, added a look that teams in our league had not seen, and allowed us to compete against more talented teams.  This is not our entire offense, but a package within it.  So, it also forced teams to spend practice time defending it.  We started small last year and have since expanded this package.  It has proven to be a great compliment to what we do.

Here’s how we started:


While this isn’t an unbalanced set, we used 3 TE’s in this formation.  This is Inside Zone.  The twist is that the half back is running a wide inside zone path, but the call told the QB to keep it.  We kick out the normal read key.


This is the next play in the game.  Same formation.  This is Inside Zone with the QB reading the backside DE.  Because our best player is at QB and he just had a good gain the previous play, you can see how they react to him.  He takes the DE and backside LB with him.


This was the game winning play.  Power read with counter blocking.  The QB is reading the DE on our left.  He takes away the sweep, so he pulls it and runs counter.  Not pretty, but effective.

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Part to Whole Special Teams Installation

By Justin Jehn and Dieter Antoni
Head Coach and Special Teams Coordinator
West Salem High School (WI)
Twitter: @WestSalemFB



We experienced struggles and became frustrated because of our play on special teams. We were inefficient in practice and ineffective in game execution. When Coach Antoni took over as Special Teams Coordinator, we addressed the concerns in several ways. Our main goal was to organize our special teams practice and structure like we did offense and defense, which included installing schemes from part to whole.

First, we assign position coaches for each special team position. We leverage prior special teams coaching experience and align fundamentals a coach teaches to his position group on offense or defense with the skills that are taught to a special team’s position group. For instance, our coaches with experience coaching punters and long snappers were assigned to the punters and long snappers, respectively. Additionally, we assign an offensive line coach to coach the punt team front 6 because the punt protection technique we use parallels the zone blocking technique we employ. Coaching assignments and responsibilities appear daily on the practice plan as shown below.












Left Side 2-3-5



Wave #1






Right  Side 2-3-5


Are we onside?




GOB – Front


Scout Card










Field It



Front Wall

1 – 2 – 3



Front Wall

3 – 4 – 5



2nd Wall

6 & 8



2nd Wall

7 & 9




Scout Card


Secondly, we divide our special team units into groups. We group LBs and DBs for 7 on 7 work and OL and RBs for run games reps. We duplicate that strategy for each special team unit as follows:

  • Shield Punt Team: Left Side (LE, LT, LG), Right Side (RG, RT, RE), Shield, P/LS
  • Punt Return Team: Rushers, Cover guys, Returners
  • Kickoff Team: K, Busters, Wave 2, Contain
  • Kick Return: Front Wall, Second Wall, Returners
  • Extra Point/Field Goal: Left Side (LW, LE, LT), Interior (LG, LS, RG), Right Side (RT, RE, RW), K/H


For our punt protect and cover team, we combine the left and right side to work protection and coverage, while the shield works their technique and the snappers and punters get reps together.

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Teaching Clock Landmarks in Jailbreak Screens

By Sam Baker
Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator
Rolling Meadows High School (IL)
Twitter: @CoachBakerRMHS



At Rolling Meadows High School, we are a 10 & 11 Personnel no-huddle spread offense.  One of our top plays has been the jailbreak or tunnel screen.  This play for us has been the play that every team focuses on stopping and because of this, we also need to have multiple names for this play as teams that have been starting are trying to steal the signal of this play.  We feel that it is easy to install and can be run from a variety of formations and personnel groupings.  This concept also allows us to get the ball into one of our playmaker’s hands quickly and get them into open space.  The jailbreak screen has allowed us to be explosive against any type of defense and has been a great equalizer for us.  When we call this concept our players get very excited because they have so much confidence in it.  Typically teams call screens on 3rd and long.  We will call this concept on any down and distance and everywhere on the field.  Having the ability to call this concept anywhere on the field at any given time has made this concept very difficult to defend for our opponents.


Base Rules:

Our base way of running this concept is out of 2×2 or 3×1 formations.  The base rules for the concept are our OL will block on their clock, the RB will swing away from the screen and the WRs will block one man back.  We have found that this base rule has allowed our players to play fast and have a general rule of thumb to fall back on.


Clock Rules:

This is where we feel that we have an advantage when we run screens is how we teach our OL.  Back in 2013, we used to teach the sidewalk, and alley landmarks that many teams still teach today.  What we found is that there was less flexibility depending on formation and our players would get confused when there was no one to block.  When we switched to the clock system, we found that it was more flexible mainly for our tackles regardless of formation and it allowed for our players to find defenders in their area.

In our screens, we release either 3, 4, or 5 linemen.  Our base way is to release all five linemen.  If DEs start trying to play the screen, then we will leave the tackles in.  When we make that specific adjustment it will either be done on the sidelines or during game planning. It does not matter if you release 3, 4, or 5 linemen, all the rules stay the same.  It also depends on our personnel who is the best in space. Our linemen will pass set for a two-count and then go into their clock rules. If we see on film or in the game the DL is not rushing hard and starting to wait for our screen then our answer is for our offensive line to fire out aggressively like a run play, block for a 2 count and then release.  We found this helped because it didn’t change the rules on the offensive line release.

The first two linemen that release are looking on a clock for defenders.  The caveat for this is that we do have to teach the players how to read a clock.  When the first two linemen release, they are looking to see if a defender is in their clock area.  When the first lineman releases to the left he is looking to see if there’s a defender at his 9 o’clock.  If there is he will block him.  If not, he will then look to his 10 o’clock and so on.  This allows us to apply this concept to a one, two, or three WR side without having to change the play.  Once the players get more experienced in running this concept than during game week we will give them an idea of how the defender will play this concept and then how to adjust their path based upon the skill set of the defender.

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Part/Whole Teaching Drills to Improve your Defense

By Joey Ginn
Head Coach
Bethel High School (OK)
Twitter: @CoachGinn



We believe in Part-Whole teaching when training our Defensive Front 7 Players.  Therefore, we have picked up a few drills that we emphasize every week to ensure our Athletes are learning our system and how to fit the run.  Defensively we focus #1 every week on stopping our opponent’s run game, and we stand firm that the #1 way to stop the run is to play physical and #2 is to ensure our players are in the proper position.  We dedicate at least 20 minutes each week in our emphasis to our part to whole teaching when it comes to establishing proper run fits.  We are very consistent in our practice schedule and feel like the routine that we utilize with these group drills leading into Inside Run period, has helped our players understand our defense and their role in the run fit.  Every Monday we are going to spend 10 minutes inside on what we call Pods.  Every Tuesday we are going to focus 10 minutes on what we call run fits.



You can see in Diagram 1 how we set up our Pods.


Diagrams 2-6 demonstrate how we work different plays in our Pods setup.


As I mentioned earlier, we are going to spend 10 Minutes every Monday in a period with pods.  How we organize this is we have one Coach who each week works with our Rush (Weak) End and a Will LB.  We have another Coach that will work with our Nose (Shade), Tackle(3-Tech), and a Mike LB.  Lastly, we have a 2nd DL Coach that will take our Dog (Strong) End and Sam LB.  We will meet each weekend and come up with what we call our Opponents’ “Big 4” these are our opponent’s top four Run plays, we may extend it to five run plays, but we are going to work to stop these “Big 4” each week, so these are the blocking schemes we’re going to see in our Pods Period.  This drill is very simple in terms of setup and use.  We simply split the groups up and everyone gets work during this period.  We have a rotation set up where kids go from Offense to Defense & everyone gets to get reps in this drill so even our JV or Scout Team guys are getting Defensive reps here during our Defensive Period. This is a very fast pace drill in terms of reps, but it’s focused primarily on teaching, if we have to sacrifice reps for teaching in this period we will!  As far as execution each pod works independently of the other pods.  So, the Coach on the Weakside is in charge of that side, the coach in the middle is in charge of the Middle Pod, and the coach in charge of the Strong Side is in charge of his side.  Each coach stands behind their Defensive players and uses their fingers like a piece of chalk and gives instruction to the offense on how to execute the specific blocking scheme of the play.  Again, this is a teaching period for us, so we are careful in watching the defensive execution and quick to correct during this period.  Our hope is we can teach in this period and perfect during our inside period that will follow.  I have attached a video of our Pods Drill, so hopefully, it helps.  We have done Pods as an Odd Front also, the only change in an Odd Front is we use one Nose Guard and two ILBs in our Middle Pod, the Strong and Weak End still work with their OLB.

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Henderson State’s Flat Control Variations in the Mesh Concept

By Mike Kuchar with Hayden Hawk
Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach
Henderson State University (AR)
Twitter: @H_Hawk



We all know the Mesh to be a universal concept that can occupy space vs. zone coverages and out-run bodies in man coverages. Oftentimes, this results in having the back be a viable option in the quarterback’s progression. And if that back isn’t suited to handle the job, you’re going to have to find answers to keep the Mesh as a mainstay in your offensive system. Such was the case at Henderson State University last season where offensive coordinator Hayden Hawk built in several variations for more capable receivers, other than the running back, to be the flat control element.


The Locked Open Tag:

Before addressing the mesh concept, one of the most successful tags that Coach Hawk built into his Mesh progression is the field out concept by the number one receiver, who happened to be a two-time All-American for the Reddies. Rather than number two running the out (or sail) as most offenses do, number one would run a 10-yard out (six steps) from a choke split (+2 from the hash) alignment to the field. This is contrary to a number two receiver running the route, which would be a 12-yard cut.

With the choke split essentially number one is lined up where number two would be. According to Coach Hawk, the alignment helps by limiting any press technique from corners that may potentially curtail routes into verticals, curls, etc. When getting press, most teams convert to a fade. Locking the route provides a better alternative. “If I’m reducing our guys split enough a defense will still press but we don’t want that corner to feel comfortable,” he said. “Most times he’s thinking vertical on an outside release, but we wind up snapping it off at ten yards to the out.” We realize that not many quarterbacks have the hose to efficiently target 12-yard field outs from the boundary but it was a strength of Henderson State’s signal-caller. So, it made sense to play to that strength. “Our quarterback this season was the best vertical comeback thrower I’ve ever been around,” he said. “So, we played to that strength by creating throws he was comfortable with.”


Mesh Sail (Mail) Variation:

When the sail route is coupled with Mesh, Coach Hawk will term it “Mail.” This puts the number three receiver now on the locked open sail route, while the number one receiver runs the vertical takeoff. The number two receiver to the field runs the over mesh, while the single receiver opposite is on the under mesh.


It became a big man under, two deep beater, and putting the number three receiver on the sail produces a lot of grass for the quarterback to throw. The quarterback will look to throw the sail from number three until it gets taken away, then he reads from under mesh, to over mesh, to running back.


These locked open routes are combined with all the shallows, meshes, and drives in Henderson State’s system.


Mesh Route Specifics:

Henderson State breaks down the actual Mesh component to teaching an over mesh with an under mesh. The default is whoever is on the ball executes the over portion of the mesh. He must work to a landmark of five yards in-depth but will run his route to affect the defender covering the under mesh. “Over mesh always sits down at the opposite side tackle,” said Coach Hawk. He is always on the backside of the quarterback’s read. So, by telling him to sit down and pick that defender covering the under mesh, he’s executing his role. He’s not necessarily getting the ball. As far as the under mesh goes, Coach Hawk talks about being close enough to slap hands with the over mesh, a common maxim in the teaching of the mesh concept.

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Man Coverage Techniques for Man Pressures

By Adam Robertson
Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line
Crestview High School (FL)
Twitter: @OLcoachrob



Our teaching progression at Crestview always starts with AASK. This is our foundation for our defense. When players are not sure what to do they just need to AASK.



A – Assignment

A – Alignment

S – Stance

K – Key


This report is all about man coverages so our assignment is man. The players need to know if they have help and if so where is that help. The call will help identify what type of help if any. Whether there is a Rat in the hole, 1, 2 or 0. Their assignment will help with their next step, their alignment.


“Rat Help” or “No Rat Help”

Alignment is determined by the defender having help or not. We teach if the defender has inside help, whether that’s a safety or Rat, to have outside leverage and vice versa as long as the WR is inside the divider. Leverage to us is taught by the offensive player’s eye. So inside leverage would be the DB outside eye on the WR inside eye. Leverage is also determined by position maintenance. We utilize the 5-1-Bottom rule for our 1 high maintenance. The dividers allow our players to know if they can expect help from the safety.


The next step will be the stance. We give our players guidelines they must meet but allow the players to find what “works” best for them in-regards to their stances. We want our guys comfortable so they play fast.



  • Feet slightly greater then shoulder width apart
  • Toes in line with one another with an on ball WR and toe to instep with an off ball WR
  • Mental weight on inside of the balls of their feet
  • Bend in knees with ankle flexion
  • Hips down allowing shoulders over knees and knees over toes
  • Hands will be in-front and relaxed ready to jam


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Adjustable Bracket Coverage Variations

By Mike Kuchar with James McCleary
Defensive Coordinator
Notre Dame High School (LA)



For the last couple of seasons, it’s been a foregone conclusion that the Notre Dame High School (LA) defensive unit will align in some sort of bracket coverage against any 2×2 open or 2×1 open formations. It’s been a mainstay in defensive coordinator James McCleary’s game plan that over 80% of the time he will defend those formations by playing some sort of bracket. The reason is simple: it helps in getting to a 9-man fit in run support as quickly as possible based on their run/pass read. For Coach McCleary, it’s a safer bet than man coverage provided you can train the eyes of the apex and high safety defenders. It’s a skill set that can only be mastered if you major in the scheme as Coach McCleary does. “Our safeties have become quasi-linebacker type defenders, so it allowed us to become very aggressive in the run game.”


Philosophy of Coverage:

It’s important to note that in Coach McCleary’s system these bracket coverages are usually built-in as split field concepts. He’ll usually merge them with some form of cover two based on the split of the receivers. In typical 2×2 open alignments- we will get into adjustments later in the report- the corner will play all of number one while the safeties and outside linebackers (Will and Hank in Coach McCleary’s scheme) will play off the stem of number two. To start, the safety will play number two vertical while the outside linebackers will work to wall- Coach McCleary calls this angling to the butt cheek- number two.

“It’s not a true double team,” he said. “It’s more of an inside/outside hole technique like a triangle two or box and one situation in basketball. It’s safer than a man-to-man technique. We used to play a banjo technique after five yards but at the high school players have a hard time understanding depth.” It’s important to note that this coverage is purely an adjustment to 2×2 open and 2×1 open formations. He’ll use a different check for 3×1 formations.


Corner Leverage and Divider Rules:

In base bracket coverage, the corners are responsible for the number one receiver but receiver spacing will dictate whether or not the safety and outside linebacker are bracketing number two. If the corner is playing all of number one he’ll use the numbers as split rules to determine his alignment. If the receiver is inside the numbers, he’ll align outside. If the receiver is outside the numbers, he’ll align inside. “We can play off technique, deep technique, or catch technique based on down and distance,” he said. Quite simply if the corner is playing bracket he’ll align inside number one. If he’s playing a form of cover two, he’ll play outside. In either case, he’ll always have inside and underneath help.

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Quick Game/Dash: The Most Efficient Pass Concept You’ve Never Heard Of

By Eric Davis
Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator
Mankato East High School (MN)
Twitter: @davismn6



Why the Quick Game Dash?

The purpose of offense is to score points and efficiently move the ball. Over the years, teams have used the Quick Game as a low-risk way to achieve these objectives. Moving the QB launch point is also a proven offensive tactic that has stood the test of time. In our version of the Pistol Option Offense, the Quick Game Dash is a primary weapon we use to attack defenses.

The Quick Game Dash involves running a Quick Game concept to one side of the field as the QB’s 1st look. If he doesn’t like what he sees, he will escape (Dash) to the other side of the field where there will be some sort of traditional Boot/Naked combination.


For many years we ran a traditional Quick Game with mirrored routes. One of our issues was that our QBs often threw to the “wrong” side. Whether they had a preference of throwing to their right or left, throwing to a particular receiver, or throwing to the side that was open in practice that week, we often left games believing we left yards on the table.

Packaged routes are great and used at the highest levels of football. Many of them require a level of understanding of coverages and route concepts by the QB that is difficult to attain until their 2nd or 3rd year in our system. The Quick Game Dash puts the mental pressure on the play-caller and lets the QB play fast.

The Quick Game Dash is part of our offense for the following reasons:

Natural Extension of our System: We believe in running a system as opposed to a collection of plays. Our starting point is the Triple Option. We need to execute the Triple well enough to force the defense to involve their secondary in run support. Next comes our Play-Action Pass game, which is mostly a vertical attack designed to exploit that secondary support. The Quick Game Dash provides balance and forces teams to honor our formations. Our experience has been that the threat of the Option keeps pass coverages relatively simple, and the threat of a competent Passing Game makes exotic option-specific defenses difficult to execute.

Multiple Attack Points in One Play: The Triple Option and the Quick Game Dash both adapt to the defense after the snap. Coach Tony DeMeo calls this “strategic flexibility”. We began studying some of Coach DeMeo’s work in the early 2000s, especially concerning how the passing game can complement option football. We continue to use several of his concepts and coaching points, such as his “UNLESS” rules, some of which will be detailed later.

Program Friendly: Our QBs get the same coaching points from 6th Grade through 12th Grade. They will hear things like, “Catch, load, and throw the Hitch UNLESS it is covered; then Dash away” for up to 7 years. The Quick Game is not dependent on an offensive line that can overpower the opposition, which means it can be a staple of our offense every year. We are not a two-platoon football program, so we need schemes that are easy to implement and practice.


Some of the position labels in the following diagrams may be confusing.  We don’t use traditional X and Z designations.  Instead, we have Field (F) and Boundary (B) WRs.  Our slots (H and Y) can be running backs, wide receivers, or tight ends, depending on what we are trying to do. Our starting point is the traditional Flexbone double slot alignment.

Advantages include:

  1. No Sacks: between Full Slide Protection and our QBs getting the ball out on time (2.4 seconds or less), we rarely, if ever take a Sack on this play.
  2. QB doesn’t throw to the “wrong” side of a mirrored or packaged Quick Game/
  3. No need for conversions; if we call the Hitch and they come out with a Press CB, we simply Boot away from it. It’s also great against teams that both Press and Press Bail. If the CB bails, throw the Quick Game.
  4. By looking at the Quick Game side 1st, we actually get to the Edge much cleaner than when we used to Sprint Out. We also limit/eliminate scraping second contain LBs, since the ones that are disciplined enough to do that are also disciplined enough to get to their drops when they see the initial 1 to 1.5 seconds of the play.
  5. Pairs nicely with our Triple Option / RPO offense. Our QB is used to Yes/No decisions both pre- and post-snap. It also allows him to be a Point Guard of sorts once he gets to the Edge.

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“A Flop” Build-Ins to the Boot and Naked Game

By Mike Kuchar with Caleb Haynes
Wide Receivers Coach
Stony Brook University (NY)
Twitter: @Biggame_24



With a tall, athletic quarterback and a recent Division 1 transfer at slot, building upon their boot game was a no-brainer last off-season at Stony Brook University (NY). A perennial CAA power, the Seawolves relied on its boot game for at least 4-5 reps per game for a 70% efficiency rating. Like most productive boot concepts, this one was effective both in the air- with a 72% completion percentage and on the ground where eight scrambles averaged 5.12 yards per carry. But it’s how head coach Chuck Priore and offensive coordinator Chris Bache build in some of what they call “A Flop” tags to the boundary that made the concept productive.


Base Structure:

At Stony Brook, the boot game is part of the control pass menu which includes RPOs and Play-Action passes. But a lack of efficiency in the RPO game forced the offensive staff to rely on more of these boot principles this past season. While there are play-side and backside rules in the concepts, it’s the various tags that the offensive staff devised that helped in its productivity. In all, the staff will build in 3-4 boot variants to the field and 1-2 variants to the boundary. Clearly, this is all built off how defenses are playing formations and personnel.


QB Footwork:

Stony Brook will utilize these boot concepts from Under, Pistol, and sidecar alignments. Clearly, in under alignments, the play fake is a bit more effective because the quarterback can stretch the ball. In Pistol alignments, he’s asked to generate a quick flash fake before working his depth opposite. In gun alignments, the mesh is the same as mid-zone footwork. The quarterback opens at a 45-degree angle, sells the mesh fake, disengages, and then gets his eyes right on the unblocked, C gap defender.


The offensive line is executing off its base mid-zone rules intending to get second-level defenders to move horizontally. According to wide receiver coach Caleb Haynes, Stony Brook puts a premium on that play fake because so much of its boot game is built off jet motion. “We have to sell it as a run play,” Coach Haynes said. “Many teams don’t run a ton of boot with jet motion because inside linebackers can work over the top with that motion.”


Backside Tags:

Before delving into the boot side route concepts, it’s important to note how Stony Brook formats the backside of the concept- or where the run action occurs. Below are the following tags for backside receivers:

“Base”/Default- Closest wide receiver to the ball runs a drag route. The next wide receiver runs a bleed post route.

“E Tag”- Closest wide receiver to the ball runs a clear/bleed route. The next wide receiver runs a drag route.

“S Tag”- Closest wide receiver to the ball runs a crosser route. The next wide receiver runs the drag.

“Cruise Tag”- Closest wide receiver to the ball runs a gut route. The next wide receiver runs the drag. The final wide receiver runs the clear bleed route.


Front Side Concepts:


Single Receiver Tags:

Ground zero for Stony Brook’s naked game lies in the single receiver menu, both to the field and to the boundary. While the comeback is the most efficient route in the Seawolves naked menu, they have transitioned into other concepts such as the ones below:

Reduction Smash– number one wide receiver on out route, number two receiver on a flag route.

Pivot– number one receiver runs whip route, number two receiver runs flag route.

Screw– number one receiver on mandatory outside release, number two receiver on whip route.

Twist– Post/Wheel variant


The one-on-one coverage beater against quarters structures seems to be the comeback by number one. But to get the correct spacing needed an emphasis is placed on the X stemming inside against the corner.


The quarterback executes a high/low read from the comeback down to the flat. “We talk about if the comeback is hairy, let’s dump it in the flat right now,” said Coach Haynes. “For us, it needs to be a 10 out of 10 completion throw to take the comeback.”

The field comeback is also a staple in the Seawolves naked package menu, providing the quarterback can throw it. It’s a 14-16 yard comeback but the X needs to work on splitting the hash and sideline to get the necessary leverage to run it.


Most recently, they’ve gone to using more whip variants for the single receiver to the field. It was extremely effective to generate one on one’s against field pressure tendencies. The X is asked to sell a hard inside release for five yards and then pivot back out off the overhang.


Finally, the high angle corner route can be another option in the Naked concept. Here the receiver cuts his split down to run the corner route. He gets to where he would be on a mandatory release, but now he’s a live option. The quarterback still executes a high low read from the corner route to the flat element to the drag. If neither is open, he needs to run.

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Cross Training Multi-Positional Linebackers

By Jason Thier
Defensive Coordinator
Dickinson State University (ND)
Twitter: @JasonThier



As I like to jokingly say, “It is an offensive world, defenses are just living in it”. In order to exist in the current offensive world, defenses have to adapt what they were doing both structurally and personnel wise. As a player back in the mid 2000’s, I played in a tradition 3-4 style defense where the positional players were cookie cutters of one another and only the Outside Linebackers created reduction fronts. Both Outside Linebackers were the same body types and had the same skill sets. Both Inside Linebackers were the same body types and had the same skill set. In the mid 2000’s, the game wasn’t played in the open field like it is today and defenses were able to get away with this type of personnel and still have success. However, the game today is played in space, with up tempo, and pass options on every run play. Your defensive structure and personnel must be designed to handle today’s offensive schemes.

Here at Dickinson State University we adapted our defensive structure to a 3-4 / 4-2-5 hybrid defense to combat the modern-day offense. We went to this hybrid structure four years ago and have seen solid results since. As a defense over the past four season, 44 games, we have averaged giving up 16.6 points per game, which is the best in our conference spanning that time. We average 307 total yards a game, 115 rushing yards and 192 passing yards. We also have averaged 29 takeaways per season, along with a 3rd down defense yielding 31.2% success; leading our conference in both categories.


We refer to ourselves as a hybrid for two main reasons. First, our linebackers are no longer cookie cutters of one another, they are multi-positional players. Our field OLB, Rover, is more of a strong safety type player that gives use great flexibility in our coverage variations. Most of the players on our team who play this position currently, were safeties in high school. Our boundary OLB, Zeke, is more of a rush end who spends his time equally playing on the line of scrimmage and off the ball. This player becomes a fourth rusher for us more than any other linebacker. Our field ILB, Mike, has to be able to play in space and in the box. He is usually one of the best athletes on the team who is still very physical. Finally, our boundary ILB, Will, is the old school tackle to tackle linebacker who primarily lives in the box and is usually our biggest linebacker. The second reason we call ourselves a hybrid defense is because when creating our different fronts, we have the ability to construct them with any of our linebackers, not just an OLB like a traditional 3-4.  Even though we base out of 3-4 personnel we spend equally as much time in even spaced front structures as we do in odd spacing. This flexibility allows us to best match up with the offenses personnel on the field and put our players in position to utilize their greatest skills.

Having multi-positional linebackers and cross training them all together has opened up our playbook from both a front and coverage stand point. It allows us to be very multiple and complex to an offense, while being simple for our players. It allows our players to do what they do best instead of being asked to perform skills they struggle with. This article will focus on why we cross train all four linebackers, how we determine which skills need to be cross trained, some of the biggest challenges in cross training and detail how we create our fronts using the different linebackers.

First, let me explain why we cross train. What we noticed through self-scout was that throughout the season at some point all of our linebacker positions had played outside the box, inside the box, on the line of scrimmage, rushed the passer, and dropped into coverage. This could have been because of defensive design or the way the offense aligned to attack us. Due to the way we personnel each position, some do each skill more than others, but none the less each position ends up performing all of the skills. Yet we were not training all of the linebackers at a high enough level to be successful at all of the techniques. Which revealed a weakness in our scheme. If an opposing offense is able to make a player who is not comfortable playing in the box, be in the box, they are dictating terms. This is where the idea of cross training started. We wanted to make all of our players comfortable in every situation, whether it is something they do often or only every now and again.

Cross training means that all linebacker positions will learn the same skills and techniques. Everyone will learn how to play on the line of scrimmage as stand up linebacker and know our different rush techniques. Everyone will know how to read the triangle when aligned off the ball in the box and how to read the end man on the line of scrimmage when aligned outside the box. All of the positions will be able to execute all underneath coverage drops as well. Everyone will learn how to beat a block in space and at the point of attack.  This allows for more scheme versatility, maximizes our ability to use sub packages, prepares all of the linebackers to align anywhere within our defense, and makes it easier for one person to coach all four positions.

As a small college program, we are limited with the amount of coaches we have at our disposal. Cross training allows one coach to work with the whole group more often and limits the amount of player lead drill work when the group has to be split up. Cross training also yields to smoother position transitions with in our roster. As a player grows and develops he may be better suited to play a different position. By cross training the entire group, a move from Rover to Mike doesn’t feel like starting at square one for the player. This allows us to make roster changes with confidence and keep our best players on the field.

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North Dakota University’s Gap Scheme/Tunnel Screen Merger

By Mike Kuchar with Danny Freund and Joe Pawlak
Offensive Coordinator/QBs and Offensive Line Coach
University of North Dakota
Twitter: @dfreund7 @PawlakJoe



As a valued member of the Missouri Valley Conference, the University of North Dakota is built on running the football. But they also have a 6-1, 180-pound slot receiver with an uncanny ability to find and exploit space in the screen game. It’s led him to produce over 75 catches in two seasons for the Fighting Hawks. So, it made sense to merge their most efficient run concept (Power) with their most efficient screen concept (Tunnel). It’s simply termed “24/25 Pilot.” The number system denotes the run game while the concept name is Tunnel. The merger has produced over ten yards per play the last two seasons and has become a favorite in offensive coordinator Danny Freund’s menu. “It’s such a safe play,” reiterates. “Even if you get tackled on the line of scrimmage it’s second and ten. We don’t worry about lost yardage.”

The concept is called “Pilot” and can be thrown to the outside receiver or the slot. In triple width formations, it is typically thrown to the slot while in double width formations, it’s thrown to number one. The entire offensive line (except for the call side Guard) will release to block the second and third levels.


Best Practices: When to Call

Because of the run action, these calls are traditionally non-consequential down calls (first or second down) but Coach Freund will sprinkle them in on third and long scenarios particularly if he finds a potential voided or tight alley player to the screen side of 2×2 formations or a numbers advantage on the perimeter in 3×1 formations.


“Creating Stretch Away from The Screen”

Tunnel screens are built off creating space in the middle of the field. And space stems from misdirection So, it becomes essential to create forms of misdirection that generate horizontal flow from defenders. In this concept that misdirection is generated in two ways: the false pull of the screen side Guard and the outside zone path of the running back. The screen side guard is simply taught to block his normal power rules. But instead of skip pulling, he will open pull opposite the screen to get second-level defenders moving.


The ball carrier will create the second form of misdirection by working an outside zone path away from the screen side. He will automatically line up to the screen side when “Pilot” is tagged. As explained below in this report, there may or may not be a ball fake by the quarterback.


In 12 personnel Pilot, Coach Freund will have both tight ends arc opposite the screen side as a means to provide misdirection and create more space, for the tunnel concept.


Intended Receiver Technique: “Step on Three Ants”

In “Pilot,” the intended receiver’s job is to find his way inside the screen side Tackle’s kick-out block and then work his way back out. As Coach Freund will tell you it’s a “feel” thing which is why many of the Fighting Hawk’s Pilot throws went to one particular receiver. Post-snap, the receiver is taught to generate three foot-fires (Coach Freund talks about stepping on three ants) then come flat down the line of scrimmage. At that point, the ball should be in the air.


Screen Side Receiver: “Screen Protector”

North Dakota will run Pilot to both double width and triple width formations. Essentially, whoever is not the Tunnel receiver will be asked to block the most dangerous defender on the screen side. He is known as the screen starter. If his block is ineffective, so is the concept. His technique is to kick that defender out so that the receiver can come underneath.

In double-width formations, number one is typically catching the screen, so the slot will handle the corner or most dangerous.


In triple width formations, either the number two or number three receiver is the target based on the tag. So, number one will traditionally block the corner with the non-screen receiver blocking most dangerous.


There are instances where the number one receiver to the trips side will be the screen receiver. In these circumstances, number two and number three will block the most dangerous. According to Coach Freund, this may not need to be the corner, particularly if he’s loose. The ball is not going out to the perimeter anyway.

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Adjustable 3×1 Pressure Checks in the Fire Zone System

By Mike Kuchar with Brandon Noble
Defensive Coordinator
Downingtown East High School (PA)



One of the benefits of operating in an odd outfit is the ability to check pressures based on formation and backfield location. At Downingtown East High School (PA), 3-deep, 3-under fire zones make up nearly 70% of calls for defensive coordinator Brandon Noble. Coach Noble formats his defense into “left” and “right” or field and boundary alignments. As a 3-4 structure, he operates from the following personnel:

  • Field End
  • Nose
  • Boundary End
  • Sam- aligns to field or defensive left
  • Mike- aligns to field or defensive left
  • Will- aligns to boundary or defensive right
  • Ram- aligns to boundary or defensive right
  • Strong Safety- aligns to field or defensive left
  • Field Safety- aligns to boundary or defensive right
  • Left Corner
  • Right Corner


Coach Noble, a former NFL defensive lineman, believes in continually putting pressure on a high quarterback and an often inexperienced offensive line, forcing them to make decisions in real-time. “More often than not the defense will win,” he told me. “All we are trying to do is get a one-on-one battle.” In this report, Coach Noble details his fire zone package and how he had to evolve it into pressure checks to be adjustable in handling the various formations that can stress a field defense.

In this report, we will explain Coach Noble’s middle, field, and boundary pressure patterns and how each is adjusted to handle overloaded formations to the field.


Interior Pressure Pattern:

The interior pressure patterns in the Downingtown East system are designed to attack three-man surfaces in the run game. Coach Noble will term it “Mow” or “Wham” alerting his two inside backers to activate the pressure.


The Mike and Will are the penetrators here who will work off the A and B gaps respectively. The Nose will work into the A gap opposite the pressure. In “Wham,” the Will is the A gap penetrator while in “Mow” the Mike has that role. The A gap penetrator works the hip of the Center as an aiming point and the B gap defender works the outside hip of the Guard as the aiming point. The boundary safety (FS) is the inserter to relate to number three. The Ram and Sam are the two relators or hook seam defenders.

Raw cutups of the interior pressure can be found below:



Boundary Pressure Pattern:

The boundary pressure pattern in Coach Noble’s system is termed “Raw/Wolf,” where the Will and Ram are activated into the pressure.  “Raw” tells the Ram he is the outside edge pressure defender while in “Wolf” that assignment is given to the Will linebacker.


The Free Safety inserts to be the hook/seam defender with the Sam to the field. The Strong Safety handles the thirds with both cornerbacks. In any of these pressures, Coach Noble teaches a “jugs” or “knife” technique. With any run action away from them they read the next adjacent offensive lineman. If lineman come at them, they work underneath it. If the lineman is away from them, they chase the hip.


Raw cutups of the boundary pressure can be found below:



Field Pressure Pattern:

Field pressures are termed “Mass,” with the Mike and Strong Safety activating. The Nose works in the A gap away from the pressure, the Mike works off the B gap while the Strong Safety is the B gap rusher. The Will now becomes the low-hole defender and the Free Safety and corners round out the thirds coverage.


Often it’s the safety that becomes unaccounted for in the pressure. “I’m a firm believer in bringing the safeties, particularly if they are linebackers,” he said. “At the high school level, nobody accounts for them in protections.”


Raw cutups of the field pressure can be found below:




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Bucket Teaching Drives and Shallows

By Mike Kuchar with Hayden Hawk
Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
Henderson State University (AR)
Twitter: @H_Hawk



Most coaches understand that the passing game is built off progressions. Quarterbacks have first looks, progress to second looks then maybe a third look, and the ball is either thrown or he’s off and running. But many coaches make the mistake of producing separate progressions for each concept which can become confusing for the quarterback, ultimately delaying his release and putting him on the ground quickly. At Henderson State University (AR), under the direction of offensive coordinator Hayden Hawk, the offensive staff has formatted the entire pass game into six distinct “buckets” which aid in speeding up the quarterback’s progression and timing:

  • Vertical Buckets
  • Y Cross Buckets
  • Shallow Buckets
  • Mesh Buckets
  • Curl Buckets
  • High/Low Buckets (smash)


“The defense can do whatever it wants, but essentially it’s 1, 2, 3 for the quarterback,” he told me. “The details on these read progression is addressed below but the benefit of this teaching progressions provides for simple tweaks, or tags, each week in-season to manipulate defensive scheme or personnel.”

In this report, we will focus purely on how Coach Hawk and the staff at Henderson State format its Drive and shallow concepts into talking points for the quarterback to help speed up his progression and efficiency.


Tag Build-Ins:

Henderson State formats its concepts by using concept name. In the shallow and drive series, the first word is the actual concept while the second word is the tag. For example, “Drive, Sail” would be one concept while “Mesh, Return” could be another. In total, there are six different concepts (these include tags) in the shallow/mesh family which are included further in the report. When these concepts are mixed with a variety of personnel groupings and formations it becomes difficult for defenses to prepare for. “We don’t repeat a play for three games,” said Coach Hawk. “So, when a defense breaks us down, it will look a lot but we run the same concepts.”

How Coach Hawk and his staff build in his tags is by devising a worksheet template each game week. This template is later generated into a call sheet. That worksheet contains the following:

  • 8-10 pure Drop back passes
  • 5 quick game concepts
  • 10-12 runs


The drop-back menu will consist of two vertical routes, two climb routes, three shallow routes, and two high-low concept routes. The staff just decides on how many of each concept they want, based on what they are seeing. The frontside of the concept will attack whatever coverage the defense is presenting that week and is the quarterback’s first progression. “If it’s a Cover 2 defense, we will try fit in a bender underneath the safety,” he said. “If it’s a quarters defense, we think about getting them on an out and up on the Nickel. Things like that. That limits us so we don’t endlessly come up with plays and allows us to focus on specific concepts when watching the opponent. We package our concepts with what the quarterback feels good about throwing where your first and second read should be our top two receivers. Throughout the week it’s building it to match that together.”


Locked Open Routes:

An example of these tag packages comes in the form of what Coach Hawk calls his “locked open” progression. These are front-side tags that never change. And one of the most efficient locked open routes last season has been the field out by the number one receiver, who happened to be a two-time All-American for the Reddies. Rather than number two running the out (or sail) as most offenses do, number one would run a 10-yard out (six steps) from a choke split (+2 from the hash) alignment to the field. This is contrary to a number two receiver running the route, which would be a 12-yard cut.

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