While many RPO offensive systems complexities are centered on pre- and post-snap reads triggered in seconds, the ones being used at Thomas More College (KY) are built more like pure triple option schemes that unfold on the perimeter. Designed by a former flex bone QB, Thomas More College Offensive Coordinator Trevor Stellman constructed a run first system with a legitimate post-snap read progression for the QB on the perimeter. Its simplicity lies in eliciting four post-snap options based on the reaction of a conflict defender that is identified pre-snap. Using this one concept on 17% of snaps the last two seasons has propelled TMC into the top ten in rushing at the Division 3 level, averaging over 270 yards on the ground. Read the report...
By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
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“The quarterback knows who is going to end up with the ball based on the formation. It doesn’t make sense to target individual defenders for mismatches in the RPO game because we know who is going to end up with the ball based on how they defend it. Once the play starts its hands off for the coaches, and that’s the way I like it.”- Trevor Stellman, offensive coordinator, Thomas More College
As a former flex bone option quarterback at his alma mater, offensive coordinator Trevor Stellman was enamored with the flexibility of the post-snap RPO game but wanted to find a way to mesh it with the structure of a pure triple option offense. While most RPO offenses contain a backside read away from the run action, Coach Stellman wanted a read directly in his quarterback’s face. Something most option quarterbacks are accustomed to seeing. This would mean the quarterback would actually have the option of running the football on the perimeter, rather than throwing it out there to an intended receiver. The creation became a pure option football concept that is quarterback friendly. Coach Stellman calls it a “QB driven system,” so much so that in 2016 he called it 114 times. He called this play 114 times or 17% of the time and the QB ran it 12 times. TMC averaged 6.8 yards per play on this scheme and 9 yards a completion. The QB averaged five yards a carry and handoffs were seven yards a carry.
Overview of the System
At Thomas More College everything revolves around the midline zone scheme, which is analogous to Coach Stellman’s triple days. The difference is he’ll use multiple formation groupings (which he calls formations) particularly in the form of 21 (two backs, one tight end), 11 (one back, one tight end), 20 (two backs, no tight end) and 10 (one back, no tight ends) for every run he uses. “We think of groupings as what they can do from that formation,” Coach Stellman told us. “Our goal is 24-26 formations. If it’s too much, we’re not getting enough time during the week to practice it. If we’re too little, we get stale in what we’re doing.”
But Coach Stellman doesn’t use numbers in his system. Instead, he’ll use colors for each personnel grouping so players know exactly what they are supposed to do from that grouping. Because of this labeling, he’s able to get creative on what he can do from those formations, whether it’s a motion look or moving the fullback from the backfield into a wing.
Although TMC is a no huddle outfit, it doesn’t run at breakneck up-tempo speed. Coach Stellman calls it a “methodical” up-tempo. “We’ll get the ball snapped with less than 20 seconds in the play clock,” he told us. “We’re not trying to get it snapped in 30 seconds. We’re not like the Baylor’s and the Oregon’s of the world. It’s about being efficient and not too quick.” The reason for this is because Coach Stellman will use various pre-snap shifts and motions to help see coverage and in order to clear up the read key for the quarterback. There are specific concepts built into a name. All of TMC’s runs are cities and states. If it starts with an “M” it’s a midline run such as divide zone, isolation or the midline RPO concept that will be discussed in detail in this report. Power runs start with “P” and counter runs start with “C.” Cold is left, hot is right, it’s that simple. “Because of this we don’t use built in tags that we have to add,” said Coach Stellman. “We don’t need to necessarily tag every little thing. If we want a passing concept built in, we just tag that concept.”
Quite simply, the offensive line blocks inside zone just like midline but the distinction between midline and inside zone is that the midline play is not designed to cut back in this system. According to Coach Stellman, the read side offensive tackle must track the hip of guard on the midline mesh because that linebacker will really be coming downhill. “The midline hits so quick, those linemen can block the second level just by being in the way,” Coach Stellman told us. “The tight end either zone blocks or will get wider than the defender on or inside them. If it’s a 9-technique, we still arc on them so what that does is promote the handoff on the midline zone scheme.” One of the things that Coach Stellman will do is over split his play side offensive tackle to make sure there are two off the edge on the read side (Diagram 1).
The running backs aiming points is call side leg of Center and his read is the first backside player for staying vertical or cutting back (Diagram 2). According to Coach Stellman, he’s found that often times if the quarterback’s stagger is too big, he will step back before he steps up throwing the timing off on the read. So to alleviate this issue, he’ll have his quarterbacks get in smaller stances so the back foot is already in a sprinters stance. “If the midline is open, we need to take it,” Coach Stellman told us. “The quarterback must get off of the midline first. I started teaching it with one leg off the midline but the more that you teach one specific thing, it may not be the right thing for every kid. You need to get off the midline as fast as possible. The tailback must go straight downhill so they need to step away from the call side. We start with opposite foot so they don’t push too wide.”
Coach Stellman doesn’t teach reading numbers of the read key, which is always the first defender outside the read side tackle. “We talk about either the defensive end making the tackle or not making the tackle,” he told us. “The key is that because it’s a backside A gap play, a traditional C gap defensive end has to work four gaps over to make the tackle. More often than not even if that defensive end is shuffling down as quick as that midline is hitting, that tailback should be past him. By the time that defender recovers it’s a three yard gain.” And because TMC is in Pistol most of the time and runs the divide zone, the QB can change the way he opens each week. “This week we may open opposite of the fullback or to the fullback,” said Coach Stellman. “It depends on the outside linebacker or two gap player who can make plays in the run game. If we have a game where he will be more run heavy, we will open to him so if he folds in to play the run he’s leaving the area vacant where he needed to be. So we will throw it out to the slot. We see a lot of mesh blow up, which is fine because it’s declared to pull. We tell the QB that if that defensive end takes a step up field he can’t tackle the running back. We’ll get four yards a carry. Best part of midline is that if the tailback stays on his course he’ll hit it front side.”
Watch film of the Thomas More College RPO System below:
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- The identification system of the post-snap conflict defender and how it changes based on formation.
- The concept of the “Replace Route” that Coach Stellman uses as the third and fourth progression for the quarterback on the perimeter.
- How Coach Stellman “formations” the replace route concept by using Y/H off formations, overload formations, trips formations, bunch formations with various shifts and motions.
- The game planning process Coach Stellman uses to train his quarterback each week to make the right reads in this system.
- Plus narrated and raw game film of this concept.
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According to Coach Stellman, the difference in his RPO system is that the post-snap read progression of the quarterback is tied directly to the run action. This half-field read for the quarterback allows him to make an efficient, high percentage read in real time.