By Anthony Veloso
Associate Head Coach
Coach Anthony Veloso, Associate Head Coach and OC, Becker College
Last season was our first running a spread offense here at Becker College. Every coach has a system and way of coaching certain schemes and plays that must be matched to the personnel in the program. Like most spread teams, we run a zone read running play. In designing this play to fit our offense we had to look at the players we had and figure out how to get the most out of our first day of installing the running play.
We have a talented running back and athletic wide receivers but an inexperienced quarterback that is more of a pocket passer than a runner. We had to figure out what to do on the backside of where we were running the ball. Since the read component of the play dictates that the quarterback may end up with the ball in his hands after the initial read, we had to figure out what would we do next. Do we have the receivers block for a quarterback that prefers not to run? Do we force the defense to defend both run and pass on the same play? The following are some of the ideas we put in place to maximize our personnel within the construct of our spread offense to attack how teams in our conference aligned to certain formation.
Red Zone Bubble Variation Out of 2x2 Formations
Once we get into the red zone we see a variety of coverages in our conference. Teams give us a variety of looks; whether it be two high safeties, one high safety or no high safeties. The beauty of the backside passing combinations is that typically a linebacker is now forced to decide whether to drop into coverage or pursue the quarterback post pull. We automatically put him in a conflict.
The most common backside combination run is bubble, where the outside wide receiver blocks the man over him and the inside receiver runs a bubble route. A linebacker must now decide to run with bubble or attack the quarterback. Given our youth and lack of size this past season, blocking was not our receivers’ strength. Too many times the corner would defeat the block and make a play on the bubble so we decided to add a slant by #1 to the bubble by #2 (Diagram 1).
We ran this backside combination between the plus 10-20 yard lines because in this area on the field safeties still must respect deep routes and cannot alter their alignments by cheating towards the LOS. Once the quarterback pulls the ball after his initial read, his eyes now go to his secondary read (play side box linebacker) while running towards him. His secondary read will tell him to either keep running by either dropping into coverage or running with the bubble or to throw the ball by attacking the quarterback. Once the quarterback gets a read to pull up and throw he must now decide where to throw the ball.
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A slant versus a cover 2 corner with the LB vacating his zone presents a nice option because the QB has a giant window. This is a quick throw in front of the safety. If the corner runs with the slant in any type of man coverage, the bubble is uncovered.
This past season we saw a ton of pressures inside our opponent’s 20 yard line. Since we faced far fewer zone pressures than man pressures this close to the end zone, we gave our quarterback the liberty to forgo the run play altogether and simply rise and throw once the snap was received - provided if he read blitz by his secondary read. Again, his secondary read was a linebacker who must decide to cover the bubble or pursue the quarterback. If his secondary read was blitzing, a safety would have to cover the bubble. If by alignment we had leverage, the quarterback was also allowed to forgo the run aspect of the play and throw now (Diagram 2). Any run action draws in linebackers and assuming it’s a pull read, the windows for the quarterback are optimal. Running the whole play also protects against incorrect blitz reads by the quarterback.
We stressed the coaching point that once the quarterback pulls the ball from the running back, he must get his eyes immediately to his secondary read. On one play this past season, we ran the scheme at the plus five- yard line against a 1 high look, the run action drew in the inside linebackers and the safety. The quarterback got a pull read and raced towards his secondary read. The linebacker froze preventing him from covering the bubble, which also left a large window for the slant behind him so our quarterback threw for a touchdown in the back of the end zone.
Smash Concept vs. 1 High Safety
The most common coverage we saw to 3x1 was Cover 3. Not surprisingly, we ran a good amount of four verticals out of this formation. Because of our success with this concept, we saw typical free safety alignments at 15 yards or deeper and outside linebackers would wall our number two receivers instead of running to the flats so we used a smash combination by #1 and #2 and a Dig concept by #3 (Diagram 3). We completed the hitch and the dig routes for an 83% completion percentage.
Assuming the QB gets a pull read, nothing changes for him. His eyes immediately go to his secondary read, again the linebacker in this case. If the linebacker attacks the quarterback, he must go through his progression. Hitches are efficient against cover three because cornerbacks that align at 9 yards typically bail at the snap and outside linebackers walling #2, the hitch is open. If the outside linebacker runs to the flat to take away the hitch, the #3 receiver now occupies the area where the second read player would normally drop. We saw a ton of backpedaling by free safeties aligned at 15 yards who feared a seam on the opposite hash. If the safety has hard inside leverage, the dig has the option to sit. Against a safety that plays at a shallower depth over the top of #3, the dig must sell the vertical route and hard cut inside.
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With the constant chess match of adjustments between offenses and defenses, we have automatic checks built in versus certain defensive alignments. If by alignment against our 3x1 formation we have the defense out-leveraged, we checked either the play or combination to bubble (Diagram 4). If only the combination changed, the quarterback still goes through his reads and progressions. Nothing changes.
Screens vs. 2 High Safeties
We typically see a two-high safety look to 2x2 formations. Depending how teams align their outside linebackers, you can have a wide variety of options to attack the defense. With five in the box, and outside linebackers splitting the difference between #1 and #2, we like run. If the outside linebackers are close to the box, we prefer to pass. Given that our young players were not proficient blockers, the bubble wasn’t our best option backside so we would run a rocket screen backside to change things up (Diagram 5). We like this screen because the #2 receiver just has to get in the way and not dominate the defender over #1.
Assuming the pull, the quarterback has his normal rule of getting his eyes to his secondary read, once again the linebacker. If the defender attacks the quarterback, he pulls up and throws the screen. If the linebacker drops into his zone or runs to the flat, the QB keeps the ball and runs. Depending on the speed of the defensive end - and not his play responsibility - versus 5 in the box at times we made this play an automatic give.
We ran this combination frequently against one particular opponent, which led the backside safety to run to #1 once he saw the #2 receiver run to the defender over #1. The Rocket Screen and Go (Diagram 6) was our answer.
In regards to play concepts, if you can think it up and block it, it has a chance to be successful if you believe in it and have the personnel to run it. We did this with a first year staff, first year coordinator, all while starting five freshmen on offense. The credit goes to our players as last season they broke a number of season and program records and improved in 11 offensive categories from the previous season including passing for nearly 1000 more yards in 2011 than in 2010.
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Bio: Anthony Veloso
A Long Island native, Coach Veloso played and earned his BA at Denison University and later when on to receive his MS at Indiana State. He has coached at Peoria Rough Riders (UIFL)(FB/LBs) now the Peoria Pirates (AF2), volunteered at Indiana State (video/recruiting), and Curry College (OLBs). Coach Veloso is currently the Associate Head Coach and RB/TEs coach at Becker College.