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RHPABy Brian White, Offensive Coordinator, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Because most play-action protections are gap sound by nature they could be susceptible to overload pressure concepts and, before you know it, there is a free rusher in the face of your quarterback. This is why Brian White, the Offensive Coordinator at Rose-Hulman IT (IN) relates pressures to his QB in four categories and details the adjustments he makes in this clinic report.


By Brian White
Offensive Coordinator
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
Twitter: @CoachWhite_RHIT


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RHPAThe main goal of our offense is to be a great Inside Zone team. In order to be an effective running team, we must have a well-developed package of compliments to our run game. These include our Bubble Screens, Four Vertical package and our Play Action package, which is the focus of this article. Our Play Action package is simple to execute for all eleven players on offense, while adding a layer of complexity for the defense to defend. We have found our Play Action schemes to be effective against the run stopping defenses we see, such as Quarters, Cover 3 and Cover 1.


All pass concepts start with great pass protection. Having the offensive line understand the launch point of the quarterback and the backfield action behind them is critical to the success of the protection. The offensive line does not need to know every detail about the pass concept and action. They only need to know enough to make them understand where and when the ball should be thrown. In the case of our Play Action concepts, the quarterback and running back will execute a hardball fake of our Inside Zone. The quarterback will then work to a depth of 9 yards deep behind the original alignment of the back side tackle (meaning the tackle away from the zone fake). The quarterback will either break contain or pull-up based on the block of the back side defensive end. We will detail this mechanic a little bit later in the article. Based on this information the offensive line must understand that our Play Action concepts involve a hard action fake and the quarterback is working away from the zone.


The protection will start with the center identifying the Mike linebacker. The center will use the same Mike declaration as if we were running Inside Zone. This means the Mike will be the first Linebacker from head-up on the Center to the play side. The offensive line will block Inside Zone with covered/uncovered principles. The first uncovered offensive lineman is responsible to work in combination to the point. The adjustment we make when running Play Action protection is that all offensive linemen will block a play side number landmark, which is slightly different than on our Inside Zone. Knowing that the quarterback’s launch point is away from the call, the offensive line can be confident to keep their defensive lineman on the run to the call side. 

Editor’s Note: Get More Inside Zone With X&O Labs Inside Zone Study. Go Here…

Our tight end serves a vital role in this protection. He is responsible to block the back side C gap defender. We can run this protection with the TE already aligned in the back side C gap or on the front side to mimic our Split Zone action. When aligned in the back side C gap, the TE will shuffle inside to sell back side cutoff on the DE. If the TE is aligned front side, he will cross the formation on the snap of the football aiming to get his pads square to the line of scrimmage at a spot 4 yards deep in the back side C gap. We teach the tight end and quarterback to look fthe most common reads.

If the DE rushes up field, the TE will kick him out. The quarterback will read the kick-out block and pull up inside of the block to read his progression. If the DE chases, the quarterback will break contain and read his progression on the run. When the DE chases the Tight End must determine who the C gap defender will be. We often see defenses that like to run an exchange stunt with the inside linebacker scraping into the back side C to defend Zone Read. In this instance, the tight end will block the scraping linebacker. Having the TE get his pads square to the line of scrimmage 4 yards deep allows him the vision he needs to the defensive scheme. If the linebacker does not scrape, the TE will block the retracing DE. The last situation we drill is edge pressure. When we run our Play Action with the quarterback working towards the blitz, the tight end will release hot and the quarterback will deliver him the ball quickly.

All of the previous reads are still active when the TE is aligned in the back side C gap. He will shuffle inside to keep his pads square and block the inside number of the DE. The TE will evaluate the course of the DE. If the defensive end rushes up field, the TE will block him with an inside number landmark and a strong outside arm. He will wash the DE as far as he wants to go. The strong outside arm puts the TE in good position to handle a retrace. If the defensive end aggressively chases the hip of the back side tackle, the tight end will stay square and evaluate the back side C gap. He will either block a scraping linebacker on an exchange stunt or the retracing defensive end. Finally, the TE must still be alert for edge pressure. This can be harder to see when not crossing the formation, but the tight end should have some pre-snap clues that will help him release. We also coach him to evaluate the course of the DE. If he is crossing the face of the back side tackle, there may be edge pressure coming outside the stunt.

Addressing Pressures

In every pass concept we run, our quarterback is coached to understand how different pressures must be handled. We relate pressures to our quarterback into four categories; one from the call side, one from the back side, two from the call side or two from the back side. The quarterback must understand how the offensive line and receivers will react to each one of these pressures. He must also understand what effect the pressure will have on what he must do with the ball. 

Backfield Mechanics

For our Play Action concepts, the quarterback and running back align the same as they would on Inside Zone. We are primarily a pistol team so the quarterback will have his toes at 4.5 yards and the running back will align at 6.5 yards. Once the quarterback secures the snap, he will take a width step with his play side foot then a drop step with his back side foot to clear the midline for the running back. The running back will take a drop step with his play side foot and then lead with that same foot. He executes a great mesh with the quarterback then carries out a great run fake. He runs as if he has the ball on Inside Zone. His job is to allow any wrong colored jersey to tackle him. The only coaching point we give him is to start at his initial read spot (play side leg of the center) and bounce outside if needed. If we were actually running the Inside Zone, he would look to cut back. In this concept, the running back does not have any pass route responsibility.

Pass Concepts

There are two main pass concepts associated with our Play Action protection, they are Smash and Sail. Both of these concepts are simple reads for the quarterback. He will read the flat defender and work low to high with a crosser completing the triangle read for the quarterback. We read this concept low to high because of our offensive philosophy. Our goal is to have 85% of our plays result in runs or completions. We will never pass up an open receiver to take a shot. The explosive plays will become available if the quarterback is consistently making the correct read. As a result, our Play Action concepts have become great run after catch plays as well as big completions.


Our Smash concept consists of a width hitch by the outside receiver and a corner route by the inside receiver on the two man side. The single receiver will run a cross to a depth of 12 yards on the opposite hash. To run a width hitch, the outside receiver will align in a normal split and run a 3.O stem. We label this route a “3.O” meaning that the receiver will plant on his third step with his outside foot. On his stem, the outside receiver will aim two yards outside his initial alignment. He will accelerate through the first 2.O revolutions then chop the last two. He will get his numbers to the quarterback and attack the ball in the air. Against coverages with a soft cornerback, the quarterback must be alert to throw the ball to the outside shoulder of the receiver to keep it away from the overhang defender.



To run his corner, the inside receiver will also align in a normal split. He will take the best release he can (inside or outside the overhang player) to get to a depth of 10 yards as soon as possible. Once at 10, he will nod to the post then break to the corner. His aiming point is 22 yards on the sideline. Against a cloud coverage, he should keep his route high but expect the quarterback to throw the ball into the window between the safety and the cornerback.
The single receiver will align in a minus split so that his cross can show up in time for the quarterback. The cross should end up at a depth of 12 yards on the opposite hash. If the ball has not been thrown by the time the single receiver reaches the hash, he will throttle down in that area. Against press coverage, the route runner will take an inside release then push vertical, or “stair step,” to get separation from the defender before breaking across the field.


Our Sail concept consists of a stem corner by the outside receiver and a flat by the inside receiver on the two man side. As on the Smash concept, the single receiver will still run a 12-yard cross. The concept is creating the same stress on the defense as the Smash concept but now the deep route is coming from the outside receiver. To run the stem corner, the outside receiver will align in a minus split. His initial stem will aim 5 yards deep at 4 yards inside of his initial alignment. Once at that spot, he will push vertical to a depth of 12 yards before breaking for 22 yards on the sideline. As on a corner route by an inside receiver, the route should be run high with the expectation of being thrown open against cloud coverage.
The inside receiver will run a flat route. On all flat routes, we tell the route runner to aim at a spot 3 yards deep on the sideline. We stress the width of the route more than the depth of the route. The route must get an immediate stretch of the flat defender. Once the inside receiver reaches the inside edge of the numbers he will throttle then get his numbers to the quarterback on the outside edge of the numbers.



To see game cut-ups of this play-action protection concept, click on the video below:



What You’re Missing…

Join X&O Labs’ exclusive membership website, Insiders, and get instant access to the full-length version of Coach White’s clinic report. Here’s just a short list of what you’re missing in the full-length report:

  • Rules and footwork for each offensive lineman (based on covered and uncovered principles) in his play-action protection scheme.
  • Why the back side tackle is the most important component to play-action protection and the footwork needed to execute his block.
  • 4 ways that Coach White handles the back side C gap defender in his play-action concepts and how his actions dictate the blocking progression.
  • 4 categories that Coach White uses to identify pressure and the adjustments he uses to block them.
  • VIDEO: Watch Coach White’s game film on all these concepts.

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The simple Play Action package detailed in this article has been very productive for our offense. We have developed variations off of this package, but these are the two staple concepts that comprise the core of our Play Action routes. These are concepts that our players are able to execute from a variety of formations and tempos. With simple adjustments, they can be executed from other personnel groups and extended formations.



Meet Coach White: Brian White enters his fifth year on the Rose-Hulman offensive coaching staff during the upcoming 2015 season. White enters his fourth year as the Offensive Coordinator at Rose-Hulman in 2015, and also serves as the team's Recruiting Coordinator and Offensive Line Coach. His most recent offensive unit established five single-game individual school records, seven single-game individual team records, 12 single-season individual records, and 13 single-season team records in 2014.





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