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By Mike Kuchar, Senior Research Manager, X&O Labs


This article dives into our most recent research on RPO systems to help you better drill your RPO concepts.

By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikekKuchar


Editor’s Note: The following research was conducted as part of XandOLabs.com special report on “Run/Pass Options.”

Even though the majority of coaches choose to rep their RPOs during team sessions, we wanted to explore the methodology of the 30 or so percent of coaches that use other forms of drill work such has half-line drills, mesh reads and group work to rep the RPO reads. We asked them to select one drill that they felt reinforces the reads of the RPO for the quarterback. Some of the more general responses are below, followed by specific types of drills.  

Question: What is one thing (individual work, group work, walk though, etc.) that you do in practice that best teaches the QB to make the right decisions in the RPO system?

Reader Response:

Jeff Russell, Wethersfield High School (CT): “Our first RPO that goes in is a combination of an Inside Zone
play and our Stick passing concept. Our receivers coach will
be working Stick with the receivers during individual, our QBs and RBs will be working on the mesh keep/give concept of our running plays from different alignments, and our offensive line will be working on zone blocking with an emphasis on double-teaming the LOS, and slowly working to the second level. Then we see how it all comes together in team and troubleshoot it. If we see an uncovered offensive linemen flying up to the second level too fast, and putting us in an “illegal man downfield” situation, then our offensive line coach will talk to them about securing the defensive line first and only attacking a LB who is attacking you. The QB reads usually take care of themselves with repetitions. The QB will slowly start to see that he can’t predetermine the read.”  

Mike Martin, Madison High School (OH): “We evolved into using our perimeter game teaching/thud sessions on Tuesdays (outside zone leverages, WR screens, RPO) as the biggest prep on this. As I scripted Tuesday practice, the RPO aspect of it just evolved into being an aspect of the game plan that the kids knew we would be covering and shoring up at that time. Teach the scheme and any adjustments, walk through any coverage/alignment variations, get some full speed repetition, then just make sure that you create a few definitive pull reads in your team scripts to make sure the kids have comprehension and can execute.”

Josh Franke, Edgewood High School (OH): “Film, film, and more film. Using a flip cam, we have a manager film our team sessions from behind the quarterback. We are then able to break down each read he makes, correct him if need be, and explain why. This teaches the QB to ‘read’ the play and not ‘run’ the play. Too many times, my young QBs get anxious, or want to run the ball, or want to throw it, that they don’t read the play, they know what they’re doing before the ball is snapped. Film can help get them out of this habit.”

Doug Taracuk, Dublin Scioto High School (OH): “I think the key is getting quality teaching periods and then putting the offensive unit in as many live/semi-live/run through reps as possible. We may have only run 33 RPO plays during our games. We ran close to 200 live or semi-live reps of the plays during pre-season practice, scrimmages and game prep practices. With the Draw/Stick, we start with a QB, RB and TE working against a linebacker. The line and defensive front gets added next, so the back can read the draw blocks. We finish with the rest of the skilled positions and defense. When working with the whole unit once they ‘get it,’ you need to add the ‘what if’s’ or defensive adjustments. We show them every defensive answer our opponents have used on film and on the field during the pre-season. During week one, our opponent changed the nickel back’s alignment to take the ILB out of his assignment conflict. Our QB simply threw to a different receiver. The more the QB can react and not think, the better you are with these combination plays. As I said earlier, with the Draw/Stick drill, we start with the QB, the RB and the TE working against one LB. We try not to clutter the teaching process up. Here, we can work on footwork, handoff and throw effectively. We add pieces as the practices progress. With the Jailbreak, Bubble, and Shark, we like to work against the defense. It becomes almost an old fashioned ‘Oklahoma or Hamburger’ drill. We work one receiver against a defender. The ball is thrown to a second receiver who reads the block. A second DB comes from depth or and OLB comes from width to tag off on the ball carrier. This is done once a day in pre-season, while inside run is being conducted. We found that this helps us understand safety leverage and OLB leverage and how it affects our decision making.”

Scott Girolomo, Offensive Coordinator, Liberty High School (VA): “We run our RPOs in our SKELE (perfect pass) and it allows the QB to locate the read defender a little easier. We do not have much time for indy during the week, so the RPO did not get indy practice time after pre-season. We rep a specific RPO in SKELE and then call the same RPO from the same script in team.”

Rick Bouch, Waterford Mott High School (MI): “We run a drill we call Triple Drill every day. The drill uses all the skill positions vs. perimeter defenders, including a DE. For example, we can Zone Read with a Bubble. The QB reads the DE first, and then continues to the next read if he pulls the ball. The repetition of the drill helps him make the right decision come game time.”

James Stubkjaer, SF Roosevelt High School (SD): “I feel that the following allows our QB to make the right decisions in the RPO system. It would have to be a combination of running those plays during indy, inside and full team. The reason I say this is, we can break down the play into its smaller/simpler pieces for the QB and allow him to get quality reps with reads. He will get reads vs. an assistant coach at indy time. During inside, he will get more of the total picture, and then get reads against number twos. Last, during full team, especially ones-against-ones, he will get the full picture, and then have real (game situation) reads vs. number twos and then number ones, which is invaluable. I feel that teaching our QBs this way, allows them to not be overloaded, but allows them to slowly work into those plays at a slower pace.”

Greg Hardcastle, Dublin High School (TX): “We do ‘Option drill’ with RB and WRs to work reading DE to Overhang, pitching an extra ball to the QB if he gives to RB to work second read and throw. We will do a similar drill to read LB on Zone/Stick concept and have someone throw the stick if QB gives the ball. We also do a five-minute ‘Team Option’ period after Inside drill to work these against a full defense.”

Pat Murphy, St. Anselm College (NH): “We spend four minutes a day on his reads with our ‘Read drill,’ which on Tuesday is just our QBs and RBs working on the base read as well as all of our interior (ILB, NG and DTs) reads. On Wed we incorporate our WRs and add all of our Triple option attachments (i.e. bubble, spot/smoke, pitch phase, etc.). On Thursday we rip through all of our RPOs for the week such as Bolt, Row, Rox, Buzz, Option, etc. I’ve run a Spread offense camp now for about 10 years and I use the same process with high school kids from freshmen to seniors and they all leave camp with the ability to run this concept easily.”

Nick Coleman, Offensive Coordinator, Itawamba Community College: “I do a run/pass drill with 11-on-11 in which one QB is handing the run play off, while at least one other QB is throwing the pass portion of the play. If there is more than one throwing option in the RPO, then I have another QB throw it as well.”

Some specific drills submitted by contributing coaches are provided below:

Using Coaches as Movement Keys:

Collin Eardley, Valhalla High School (CA): “We always test the read with a coach simulating a defender. Other players rarely do a good job accurately simulating defenders.”

Devin Gates, Fitchburg State University (MA): “We have implemented an on air period where coaches are the key conflict defenders and pop up bags represent other defenders to we can hit our landmarks. Nothing earth shattering, just go up-tempo and try to get as many reps in during a ten minute period that we can.”

Play Polish Drills:

Dane Evans: “We have a Play Polish period once a week where the QBs, RBs and WRs (and defensive keys) work on the reads and meshes. Then we also have two post practice periods (about ten minutes total), where the QBs and WRs work the route combos on air. The only place confusion could come into play is for our quarterback. However, playing QB for me requires a mastery of these simple schemes, and if/when he makes a mistake, it is giving the ball to the RB.”

Two-Ball Drills:

Pat Murphy, Head Coach, St. Anselm College: “We do what we call a Read drill for five minutes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday during the work week. It’s similar to an old school Wishbone drill. We set up a line strip with both quarterbacks lining up over the guards. It’s a rapid fire drill where the running backs are running what ever run action we want as they mesh with the quarterback. Here’s the three-day progression:

  • Day 1: Work with just the quarterbacks and running backs working an Inside Zone path.
  • Day 2: We bring the receivers over and we work our Triple option. The back works Inside Zone, Dart or Power action while the receivers work their bubble, smoke and pitch routes. I’ll be the apex player who is the dive read and another coach outside me will be the pitch key. He’ll give the dive, then I’ll flip him the ball and he’ll work the next phase of the option with the next coach.
  • Day 3: We do the same drill, but now they are on opposite sides of the strip facing each other. Now we’ll mix up the reads he has to make.”

Jim Collins, JP Stevens High School (NJ): “We have a mesh period where we run all our plays with the dual read. We run our play such as Midline and it’s an automatic give, we then flip another ball to the QB and make him throw the bubble route. We then add a defensive end and a linebacker (both coaches) and he then reads him to see if he gives or pulls. Then if he pulls the QB’s eyes go to the LB to see if he keeps it and runs or throws the bubble.”

Mesh Drills:

Craig Stutzmann, Offensive Coordinator, Emory and Henry College: “We package RB tracks with our Quick Game periods together. Thus maximizing our QB’s time and getting as much reading and throwing as possible. We have coaches or players play our read and pitch keys.”

James Vint, Seminole High School (TX): “We have a ten minute period where we have all of our skill players together. Backups are on defense aligning based on a card. Our offense has our QB, backs, and receivers working the called concept. The QB will go through his pre-snap process. If we have our pass concept, the QB will throw the concept. The back will run his path just like he would on the run play. If the QB does not like the pass concept, he will snap the ball and run the called run game concept with the back. We work several variations of this drill. This drill began as the ‘Option drill’ when we were running our Triple concepts from under center. We adapted the drill when we got into the gun.”

Tyler Schneider, Bixby High School (TN): “As we go through our Mesh period with our RBs, we work both our true Zone Read concepts with a defensive end read as well as our RGS concepts where our QB reads the sixth man in the box (typically a back side flat defender). In this drill, we will have a coach acting as the read man for our QB, whether that is a back side end or flat defender. Our QB footwork for our ‘read to run’ plays and our ‘read to throw’ plays are the same up until the ball is pulled. When we are working our ‘read to throw’ packages, if the QB gets a pull read, he will pull the ball from the RB and get the ball to our screen as fast as possible. When we are pulling and throwing to the left, we use a ‘turn-two and throw’ technique similar to that of a second baseman turning a double-play in baseball. If we are pulling the ball and throwing to the right, we teach a ‘turn-toe and throw’ technique in which the QB turns his throwing toe to his target, steps and releases the ball as quickly as possible. When working our mesh drill we utilize our QB throwing net as the target for our ‘read to throw’ plays. We will move the net to the different places on the field that would mimic the differing RGS routes that we may run.”

Vaughan Mitchell, University of Manitoba (Winnipeg, Canada): “We bring the DL over to work directly with the QBs and RBs. This way, we get game speed reads during an individual teaching session. We find this is much more effective than using extra QBs or RBs as the 'read' defender. This also helps the DL work on their techniques as well.”

Kameron Arnold, Uvalde High School (TX): “We work our dual reads during mesh period with the QBs, RBs, and slots (Zone Read and Bubble concept) and then we switch our slots and outside guys and run it with them (Zone Read and outside screens) with coaches being the read keys. Then in team, we work it all together with different screen tags and the QB reads his keys.”

David Durish, Offensive Coordinator, Clarion University (PA): “All of our ball

handling drills includes the read key (usually one of our RBs playing the read key). We ask them to give the reaction that we have seen our upcoming opponent use and will also incorporate a reaction that the QB may be struggling with (i.e. running at the mesh).”

Multiple Quarterbacks Drill:

Nick Coleman, Offensive Coordinator, Itawamba Community College: “We have multiple QBs, one performing the run play and the other quarterbacks throwing the pass game variation. Our scout team defense is set up with the look you want to run the ball into (light run box). Our wide receivers and quarterbacks are throwing and catching with game-like simulation, while our running backs and offensive linemen will be finishing plays.”

Half-Line Drills:

Steve Rampy, Offensive Coordinator, Pittsburg State University: “We do a lot of drill work by throwing the spot route off the back side linebacker and trying to get our quarterbacks to snap their eyes from there (linebacker) to there (spot). We do all half-line throws with receivers, running backs, tight ends and secondary defenders. You get through the first part where you’re reading the linebacker often, now you have to work to get your eyes back out to find the second level.”

Brian Callahan, Offensive Line Coach, Western Michigan University: “We use a half-line ride and decide drill with slot receivers and half the defense.”

Gary Brewton, Bridge City High School (TX): “We like to practice half-lines to teach the progression. Sometimes it is 2x2 and sometimes we work the 3x1 sets. I like the concept I learned from Chip Kelly, he calls it 'Fuji,' he runs one play from every formation he may run it from, and then he runs it against every front he sees. It is slow in the beginning, but after you do it two to three times you get the timing of the period down better and it goes faster.”

Mike Doty, Dalton High School (OH): “We work these situations or reads in half-line ‘racehorse’ drills. Each side will work a specific read. We flop sides after three reps and players are also taught how to rotate in/out with defense to maximize time. It is important that we don’t rush the QB in his development of making choices. He must be very confident as to why he chooses any option. If the QB is slow in developing, coaches will decide for him pre-snap, until the QB is ready. We progress to situations that require the QB make a decision. For example, give/pull or give/bubble. We teach this drill as early in the season as possible. Players will become very familiar and efficient running the drill, which maximizes quality reps. This drill we be done every week during the regular season at least once if not twice.”

David Buchanan, Mason County High School (KY): “We have drill work with our QB, back, WR/TE, and their read/key defensively. We work our toss/slant read on one side of the drill. On the other side, we work our ISO/Curl read. We get a bunch of reps in a short period of time.”


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