Berry College (GA) needed to find a way to give smaller offensive linemen a leg up in running traditional concepts. So, offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Rich Duncan created a system to vary the splits of his OL based on the run and pass concept called.
By Rich Duncan
Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach
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In starting our program at Berry College in 2013, we quickly found that developing our offensive line was going to be vital to our success. In our first two seasons, we were not able to effectively run the ball. While the schemes we had in place were time tested and traditional, we needed to find ways to help our guys upfront gain an advantage. Simply stated, doing what I had been doing over the past 20+ years in coaching the offensive line was not going to be enough. I had to find creative ways to help us improve quickly up front in order to become a successful football team.
We started this process by asking the question, “What would make it easier for our players?” We started watching film of teams that were successful, trying to study ways to improve. Through this process, we discovered that using strategic line splitting was something we needed to explore. We were hopeful that our splitting plan was going to help our guys gain an advantage.
We began maneuvering our splitting in different ways that were not traditional uniformed spacing. Instead, we adjusted our splitting in ways to give our linemen an advantage of increased blocking angles and technically efficient double teams as well as reducing gaps for penetration by the defense. As this process evolved, we began to achieve our ultimate goal of finding success in the run game.
Now that we have been using our line splitting rules for three full seasons, we have found many benefits that were not necessarily intended but have aided us greatly. These benefits include identifying and picking up twisting defenders, seeing line movements pre-snap because of alignments, as well as recognizing blitzes. Additionally, our running backs and QB’s are able to visually see blocking schematics and running lanes before the snap of the ball.
Procedurally, we are a no huddle offense and we practice at a high tempo pace. Our goal in practice is to get a high volume of reps while coaching with buzz words. Most of our corrections happen through meeting time and video sessions. For visual learners, the more interactive we can be with video, the faster they will develop. Show them how to do it correctly and also show them previous errors and why they are a problem. What I have learned through coaching in this manner is that our players start to learn the “why” of our splitting, often through their correctible mistakes on film.
I must note that we do a fair amount of walk through coaching. At Berry, walk through sessions are committed exclusively to assignments, which includes splitting for our OL. For those that are primarily tactile learners, this is a great way to spend time “doing it” while allowing them a slowed down way work through the process of splitting.
As a general coaching point, we have defined maximum, minimum and over splitting to our players:
- Maximum splitting is 2-3 feet from the offensive lineman inside you with emphasis on being as wide as you can to do your job.
- Minimum splitting is “shoe to shoe” or about 6 inches from the lineman inside or adjacent to you. One of the flaws we have had to work through with minimum splitting is allowing enough space between us that we do not step under ourselves with our first step. We tell them they must be able to use their footwork without stepping on one another.
- The final term we use is over splitting. It is for our tackles when the guard has split away from him and he is trying to maintain as much space as the defense will allow. Over spitting can range between three and five feet from the guard.
Split Sub Groupings
We have grouped our splitting into four categories. These are:
We refer to these different splits as BIG Z. This acronym is a way for our guys to memorize the splitting concepts we use.
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- The “Big” splitting rules that Coach Duncan uses to manipulate even front run boxes in the run game, particularly with tight zone run concepts and six-man protection schemes.
- The “Gap” splitting rules that Coach Duncan uses to help Center’s fill for backside pullers, create thicker double teams and protect against cross dog A gap pressures.
- The “Zone” splitting rules that Coach Duncan uses to produce better zone combinations against minus alignment second level defenders and to create a natural bubble for zone insert concepts.
- The keys for coaches to integrate split rules as it pertains to self-scout protocols and game planning procedures.
- Plus, game film on all these split groupings.
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Three years ago, we decided to make a drastic change in how we were going employ our line splitting. Necessity is always the mother of invention and this decision was made purely out of necessity. As we started the process, we had very few resources. The idea was inspired by something that Mike Leach’s group had done years previously with oversized splitting. What started as a quest to improve has become something that gives us a distinct advantage. Usually, the first question I hear when talking about our splitting with coaches is, “Don’t you worry about tendencies?” My response to that is, “We all have tendencies and what you put on film is who you are. The key is being able to execute what you do.” The follow up question is usually, “What happens when they blitz here or stunt there?” And my response is always, “Regardless of our splitting, the defense is going to blitz and stunt. It is to our advantage to dictate where they attack.”
Meet Coach Duncan: Rich Duncan was named offensive coordinator at Berry College in July 2012 during the recruiting phase of the start-up program. In his Berry career, Duncan has helped the Vikings to consistent offensive improvement culminating in Southern Athletic Association titles in both 2016 and 2017. In 2017 conference play, the Vikings averaged 35.5 PPG, 446 total yards per game and 196 yards per game rushing. Additionally, they ranked fourth nationally in Red Zone Scoring, converting 92% (47/51) of their red zone opportunities into scores.
Prior to Berry, Duncan was the head coach at Aurora University from 2005-11, leading the Spartans to the NCAA Division III national playoffs in 2008. That season, Duncan was named the Northern Athletics Conference Coach of the Year after guiding Aurora to a 9-2 overall record, including an undefeated mark in conference play. He owns a 38-33 career record as a head coach.
Prior to Aurora University, Duncan was the OC/ OL coach at Loras College. He also served as both OC/OL as well as defensive coordinator at UW-Platteville. Additionally, Duncan has coached the offensive line at Capital University, UMass-Lowell and Manchester College.