What used to be a post-snap RPO screen to the number two receiver has transitioned into getting a back out on the perimeter against a slower inside linebacker.
By Ken Vigdal
Brookings High School (SD)
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Thanks to the success of University of Arizona offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and his Nzone system, the “key” screen has taken various shapes and forms the last few football seasons.
What used to be a post-snap RPO screen to the number two receiver has transitioned into getting a back out on the perimeter against a slower inside linebacker. Because of odd front structures, the presence of one or two backers walked up on the line of scrimmage eliminated zone option runs. Many of the teams that we play in our conference ran some type of odd front. When our 20 personnel aligned, you would see 1 or 2 backers walked up on the edges making it a 5 front.
Zone option was effective at the start putting defenses in conflict. Then defenses started to slow play with their backside OLB taking the option part away from the play. Zone option still wasn’t the answer we were looking for. We started running motion with the H or W and noticed that OLB would only adjust one or two shuffle steps out. That’s when we decided to start running zone and Key 3 to the back out of the backfield. We like to run Key 3 with either back out of our Slot formation, or the W out of the Tight formation. This allows us to even up with the defense or gain a +1 advantage.
We were a traditional double tight Wing T team for many years. We made the transition to the Spread Offense 4 years ago. In our spread offense when we have 20 personnel in the game, either in the backfield or a wing position. Teams would put 8 or 9 defenders in the box, which made it difficult to run. To combat so many defenders in the box, we would run jet sweep to get to the edge, to limit the number of defenders we had to block. Defenses would buzz their safeties down into the box with the jet motion or linebackers would crash down hard to take the sweep away. We would run jet motion and run our zone, trap, and power, but running the ball was still a struggle. We had to come up with a solution to combat movement by the defense.
The RPO blocking rules are an extension of our jet sweep, receivers are blocking everyone to the inside with backs running hash, number, and sideline. This makes it simple for our receivers, blocking both the sweep and RPOs the same. We design our RPOs to get one of our best athletes with the ball, in space, and let them use their athletic ability to get up field. The goal is a plus 5, when we throw Key 3, it should gain 5 yards for it to be considered a successful RPO. Although we are a no huddle team, we are a very ball controlled team. We are going to use the run game to gain 3 or 4 yards a carry or throw the RPO for 5. We put many drives together this season that were over 10 plays, leaving the other team’s offense on the sideline.
Free Choice Route is always an option
When coaching your QB, make sure to reinforce the idea he can always throw the free choice route. With motion for the Key 3, defenses tend to start trying to take away the Key 3 and inside zone. They will match up man to man or give leverage on the backside route we want to run. As a coaching staff we did not encourage the free choice route enough with the QB. At times the QB would run the run play or Key 3 while we had leverage on the backside defensive back.
Practicing your RPO
Practicing RPO with tempo is a must. This practice segment is as fast as we can go, we coach on the run and we do not stop the rotation of the QBs. One of our favorite drills is the 4 corner drill. We start with 4 or 5 QBs in the middle of the field. Then we designate where each receiver position is going to be on the field. This is a 5 minute segment, every QB is throwing a particular key route. Once the QB throws he is moving quickly to the next spot to throw that key route. One key to speed up the drill is having a coach or manager at each spot by the QB. The receivers will return the football back to them. Each spot should have 2 or 3 footballs. This way each QB can rotate to each position without worrying about bringing a football with them. This allows several throws in a short period of time. Our QBs are throwing both left and right in this drill. The QB coach really concentrates on their footwork during this time. He reinforces getting the ball out fast starts with footwork.
Breaking down the numbers
We started the year with a 70/30 run pass ratio, which was way to run heavy. As the year went along our QB got better at reading and became more comfortable throwing. This evened out our ratio to a 45/55 run pass. This helped us greatly to keep moving the chains. The QB completion rating also grew during the year. From the middle of the season to the end, he was completing 80% of his Key 3 routes. We averaged over 5 yards a play with this route. To us a Key 3 route is just another sweep play.
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- How Coach Vigdal has alleviated any footwork issues by the QB by altering the footwork for a left handed and right-handed quarterback.
- The tags Coach Vigdal has incorporated this season off the Key 3 screen to take advantage of over pursuing defenses.
The pre-snap and post-snap responsibility of the QB based on a numbers advantage.
- Why Coach Vigdal chooses to use carioca footwork for the motion player in order to keep his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and seeing the block of receivers.
- Why a backside “lock” call helps accentuate free choice routes and assists in giving the QB time to throw downfield tags off the screen concept.
- Plus, game film of all these concepts
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This is a very simple concept that you can install in any offense even if you are not a big RPO team. If you are, it is just another way to package your RPOs. It gives you leverage in three different areas of the field in a single play call, allowing a team to run a run play, key 3, or a free choice route. QB reads are all pre-snap, which I believe allows for great success of the play in any offense. The last aspect of this package is that fact it breaks offensive tendencies, making it more difficult for defensive coordinators.
Meet Coach Vigdal: Ken Vigdal was a head football coach and offensive coordinator for Sioux Center Community Schools and Ogden Community Schools in Iowa for 15 years. For the last 7 years, he has been the offensive coordinator in Brookings, South Dakota, with an appearance in the championship game in 2014 and a semifinal appearance in 2018.