How can you ensure that your quarterback's are ready to run the game from year to year given their different strengths and weaknesses? Coach Behrendsen says it is all about preparation. Find out more here...
By Jeremiah Behrendsen
Dakota Ridge High School (CO)
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While the idea of giving your quarterback the freedom to run your offense might scare most coaches, especially if they have a young quarterback, it is something I believe they can handle. I’m not talking about giving them the ability to audible when they want or to change our play call to any play that they think might work. I’m talking about giving them the tools to manage the plays called to optimize our success and to allow them a few basic play call changes when we see specific looks. It is crazy to think that we are always going to call the correct play, to the correct side, and against the correct front or coverage. No matter how much we scout and how many tendency reports we work through, we still have to understand that when the game starts, we are on the sideline and the quarterback has the best view of what the defense is doing.
I just completed my 5th season as the offensive coordinator at Dakota Ridge High School and each year I have found myself giving the quarterback more responsibility, freedom, and flexibility on game day. That is not because my quarterbacks are better players now than they were when I first began. Instead, I believe it is because I am doing a better job of coaching my quarterback during the week. This leads to more confidence in his preparation and helps me trust him to make the right decision.
Starting with the Game Plan
Probably the first key component to giving your quarterback the kind of freedom I am talking about is developing a clean and detailed way passing along your weekly game plan to your players. As an offensive staff, we put a significant amount of time each weekend into developing a scouting report that covers a variety of topics that are not just important to the quarterback, but the entire offense. If all of the players are accountable for this information it will help the quarterback and serve as a sort of checks and balances on game day. Examples of the checks and balances include:
- The offensive line should know if we are running a play at a certain defensive technique or maybe towards an overhang LB.
- The wide receivers should know if we are using a certain type of motion on a given play during the week, etc.
If they know these types of details, we can help identify if any mistakes are made early in the game to avoid making them as the game continues. The scouting report, continued repetition, and specific coaching throughout the week will guide the decisions that quarterback is supposed to make when controlling the offense on the field.
Over the past 3 seasons, we have had 3 different starting quarterbacks and each of them has been very successful leading our offense. They have made quick and easy completions allowing them to avoid injury while also being able to complete explosive pass plays. Each has thrown for over 2,000 yards each season while averaging about 5 different wide receivers with double-digit receptions each year. Each quarterback also operated an offense with 1,500 rushing yards or more, including a 1,000 yard rusher each season. The last 2 years, we have had two different players rush for 1,500 yards. Our yards per rush average has been 5.1+ during that time span. In total our offense over the past 3 years has averaged 35.5 points, 176.1 rushing yards/game, 217.6 passing yards/game, and 393.7 total yards per game. I truly believe that this success is rooted in our decision to allow our quarterback to get us into the right situations or plays.
The QB’s Role in the Passing Game
In the passing game, our goal is to make the quarterback’s job as easy as possible. We utilize parts of the NFA’s R4 system in the majority of our pass game. The means that we talk about “Rhythm, Read, and Rush” routes before telling the quarterback to “Release” to either extend the play or run for yards.
While we do not allow our QB to typically change us from one pass play to another, we do try to build in as many Rhythm passes into our concepts as possible. This allows the QB to pick what he believes should be his first option in his route progression. Not only does this give him confidence in the first route he will look at but it has optimized our efficiency by giving us more completions and less than 1 sack per game. The quarterback will typically base his primary Rhythm route decision on the coverage he sees, the amount of blitz he anticipates, and what he has identified as the easiest potential completion. Once the ball is snapped he then follows the R4 method of thinking by reading indicators like cushion, collision and cap. This style of thinking along with proper footwork allows him to glide through his progressions and decision making. The results are an average less than 1 interception per 30 pass attempts and about 1 touchdown pass per 11 attempts.
When we draw up our plays, we use colors to how the different types of routes. The routes marked in green are potential Rhythm routes, the yellow routes are the Read routes, and the red routes are our Rush routes (check downs). The QB is also responsible for identifying any blitzes or fronts that force us to alter our base pass protection for these plays.
The QB’s Role in the Screen Game
At Dakota Ridge High School, our screens fall into two main category. The first consists of screens where the QB will call the directions (bubble and tunnel screens). The second set of screens are double screen where the QB has one specific defender he will key on to make his decision on which screen to choose (ex: TB screen to one side and a WR screen to the other). While these are not unique concepts, they illustrate examples of moments where I tell the QB that he’s the one in best position to make these types of decisions not me from the sideline.
The way we teach these concepts allows the QB to drive more of the decision making instead of a coach simply giving him concrete rules. Football is too abstract for that and the multiple looks defenses are giving make it a must that we give the QB more flexibility. We will make decisions during the week that influence what coverage, front, and blitz situations fit each of these options. Through repetition and continuous coaching, the quarterback will be prepared to make the best decisions on game day.
The QB’s Role in the Running Game
Perhaps the most dramatic improvement we have made in our offense over the past few years was seen when we let the quarterback drive the run game. What we do is allow our quarterbacks to call the direction of nearly every run play based on our scouting report and rules. These decisions can be based on the defensive personnel, specific techniques that we want to run a play at that week. Some examples include running at/or away from the 1 technique or at/or away from specific LB alignments (most commonly the overhang LB). This has allowed us to call the type of play we want (Inside Zone, Outside Zone, Power, or Counter) and allow the quarterback to decide on the direction. This ensures that we are running a play into a look that will optimize our success.
This change has allowed us to go from a team that averaged 4 yards per carry to averaging over 7 yards per carry this past season. It also has given my quarterbacks a much better understanding of the entire defensive scheme and is making them better prepared to play at the next level. The scouting report above shows some examples of simple rules we might implement on a given week.
The QB’s Role in Changing the Play Call
While we do not have a lot of situations where we simply ask the QB to change the play entirely, there certainly are times when we do give him this freedom. This is done by laying out some simple rules for the most common issues we foresee for our offense. I do not want to overwhelm the quarterback with this task as it is by far the smallest part of his job.
What You’re Missing…
Join X&O Labs’ exclusive membership website, Insiders, and get instant access to the full-length version of Coach Behrendsen’s clinic report. Here’s just a short list of what you’re missing without an Insiders membership…
- The five “must elements” Coach Behrendsen includes for his quarterback in his scouting report as well as a downloadable sample.
- How Coach Behrendsen gives his quarterbacks freedom to utilize additional rhythm routes in his shallow concept.
- How Coach Behrendsen allows his quarterback to check his run game to the low or high shade depending on the concept.
- The three specific audible situations in which Coach Behrendsen will allow his quarterbacks to change the play call.
- VIDEO: Watch game film on Coach Behrendsen’s concepts.
Quality QB play starts with consistency and I believe that the best way to create consistency is a simple teaching method that gives the quarterback some control. I am telling you, if you take the time to teach the QB then they can handle the responsibility. The last three years with three very different QB’s producing at a high level in our offense serve as proof for me that this has put us on the right track for years to come.
Meet Coach Behrendsen: Jeremiah Behrendsen just finished his 11th year coaching at Dakota Ridge High School in Littleton, CO. In 2004, he served as our Freshman Offensive Coordinator (8-2). Then from 2005-2009, Behrendsen served as the Varsity Running Backs Coach and Head JV Coach (42-8). For the past 5 years, he has been the Varsity Offensive Coordinator and Quarterback's Coach (35-21).