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wheatonBy Josiah Sears, Former Offensive Coordinator, Wheaton College (IL)

Wheaton College (IL) finished in the top ten in Division 3 for the first time since 2008 and much of it had to do with its offensive production. In his clinic report, Offensive Coordinator Josiah Sears details his route progression, QB post-snap read progression and sight adjustments that he uses to fine tune this Vertical Dig concept into an all-coverage beater.



By Josiah Sears
Former Offensive Coordinator/Quarterback Coach
Wheaton College (IL)
Twitter: @CoachJSears

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wheatonThe vertical dig concept has been a staple of our offense here at Wheaton for a few years. This is a concept we now generally use from a 3x1 formation, but can also fit in a 2x2 set. This article will discuss how we install the concept by talking about each individual route, the QBs pre-snap thought process and post-snap progression and some basic progressions and variations to the concept.

There are several reasons we use this drop back passing concept at Wheaton College. First and foremost, we feel there is a great opportunity to attack the middle of the field if a defense chooses to play open coverage versus our 3x1 formations. We also believe there is a great opportunity to stress the middle and outside linebacker to the 3 receiver side based on the responsibilities in most open coverages. Lastly, it creates a difficult scenario where a defense must commit to defending our single receiver side with two defenders or risk giving up an easy throw and catch to our best receiver.

Route Descriptions by Position


X – Vertical or Comeback Route.

Y – Middle Route.

Z – 14 Yard Curl Route.

T – Swing Route.

Quarterback’s Pre-Snap Thought Process

We coach our QB to attack 1on1 to the single receiver side coverage anytime it is given. His pre-snap assessment of the defense starts will him assessing if he has 1on1 coverage with the X receiver. If a preferable 1on1 matchup exists, he will intend to work the ball to the single receiver side at the snap.

We talk about two pre-snap clues that tell him the coverage is not 1-on-1. They are the width alignment of the boundary safety (F) or the width alignment of the outside linebacker (W). Obviously, the coverage can change post-snap, which requires the QB to adjust his thought process from his pre-snap intention and force him to move into his progression read.

To see game cutups of Wheaton College’s Vertical Dig 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 Sears’ clinic report. Here’s just a short list of what you’re missing without an Insiders membership…

  • The specifics behind each of the routes in this concept such as landmarks and depth, including how Coach Sears teaches the middle route to occupy the deep safety.
  • How Coach Sears teaches his quarterback to read the boundary safety as an indicator to target the concept side or the free access side.
  • How to adjust the middle route against Tampa Two coverage structures.
  • Plus two variations of the Vertical Dig Concept that vertically stretch coverage structures.
  • VIDEO: Watch full game film on all of Coach Sears’ concepts.

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This discussion of the Vertical-Dig concept is by no means all-encompassing, but it gives you a good idea of how we install and read the concept in its base forms. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to reach out in the comments section of the Insiders site or via twitter.

Meet Coach Sears: The 2015 season will be the third as a member of the Thunder coaching staff for Josiah Sears. Prior to joining the staff at Wheaton, Sears served for 5 years as the Offensive Coordinator at Franklin College. While at Franklin, Sears directed a Grizzlies’ offense that was in the top-10 of Division III in total offense, passing offense and scoring offense among other categories. In addition, two of his quarterbacks were recognized as the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) Player of the Year. During his five seasons on the Grizzlies’ staff Franklin posted a record of 44-11, with four HCAC Championships and four NCAA-III Playoff appearances. Coach Sears is a 2007 graduate of Indiana University where he was a four-time letter winner at running back and fullback for the Hoosiers’ football program.





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