By Zach Turner
Kenton High School (OH)
At Kenton High School we have had a long history of being an empty team. Our base passing DNA comes from the Mouse Davis Run and Shoot system where the receivers based on the coverage make sight adjustments. We start every year with teaching our kids as much about coverage’s and defensive structures as we do with the ins and outs of our offense. Over the past few years, we have discovered that we are getting far less of the “base” generic man coverages (cover 0, cover 1, or cover 2 man). We are also seeing fewer pure zone coverages like spot drop cover 2, cover 3, or cover 4. We see more pattern matching, bracket coverages, and split field coverage’s.
Since we do not have the time to teach our players the ins and outs of each new coverage, we have learned with an exotic offense often comes exotic defenses and multiple looks. Rarely do we see the same defense 2 weeks in a row. We found that RPOs gave us the answers we needed to these different coverages.
Development of RPOs
In 2016, I thought our QB was getting hit too much. We were not giving him the answers with in our play calling for all the different looks he was given and that was on us as coaches. We put together some empty RPOs that we would hang our hat on and develop throughout the season. They are all one-word calls that involve a pre-snap side. The pre-snap side is always based on a yes or no scenario. Along with the pre-snap side, there is a post snap side which involves a read key to either run or throw the ball.
Advantages of RPO’s in an Empty Set
RPO’s have given us a number of advantages. The first being it has always given us an answer. We started using the RPOs as openers to get us into a rhythm. It gave our quarterback some comfort ability knowing there was a guarantee. We get this guarantee because the defense just cannot match numbers. It also gave us as coaches a chance to see alignments and structures to adjust to what we are seeing. That said, the biggest advantage was it kept us ahead of the chains and detoured the defense from bringing pressure.
In 2016, we had 3997 yards of total offense through 10 games. In 2017, we had 4746 including 3529 through the air and 1217 on the ground. We increased our points per game by more than four points a game, but more importantly, we decreased our quarterback knockdowns and sacks. In 2016, we were knocked down 87 times and sacked 56 through 10 games. In 2017, we were knocked down only 21 times and sacked 9 times. I contribute that to two things. One is our RPO system we developed but the other is we hired a great offensive line coach this off-season. This season RPOs consisted of 20% of our offense. Our completion percentage was 67% when running an RPO and we averaged 8 yards per play. The biggest number to me is when an RPO scheme was called only twice did we have a negative play of minus yardage.
The structure of our RPOs is very simple. We have a pre-snap side and a post snap side. It is crucial to the success of the RPOs to make sure all players understand what determines the pre-snap side getting the ball, or not getting the ball. For the post snap, we must understand the read key. With the pre-snap and post snap side, we attach one of two of our base run plays.
When we begin to teach the RPO system, we start with the pre-snap side. The pre-snap side to use is always the screen game side. When looking at the RPOs we wanted a system that could guarantee us we were moving forward and for us the easiest throws are with in our screen game package. We stress 100% completion when throwing the screens so it must be automatic.
When looking at the pre-snap side, we tell our players it is a yes or no scenario. Yes we can throw the screen or no we cannot throw the screen. To get to that yes or no answer we have a two step criteria our QBs must go through to determine if it is yes or no. The criteria go as followed:
- Number of force defenders (defenders below the hard deck 7 yards) - We played with the depth we considered a force defender. We started at five but we saw that most defenders at six to seven yards still have the ability to put their foot in the ground and play down hill quickly. This makes tough blocks for our guys especially since we are usually smaller on the perimeter (5’7” 145) on average.
- Leverage - Leverage is an over used term in football at times because we just tell our players have leverage, use leverage, gain leverage but never tell them what it is or why it is important. For us, we want our blockers to have leverage on the force defenders, if we are going to throw the screen. We use two terms in teaching this. The first is catch point and the second is rendezvous point. They easily work together. To define each, the rendezvous point is the meeting point where our receiver meets their defender to block them. The catch point is where the receiver will catch the football. The bubble screen and our now screen have two different catch points. Now screen is the numbers and the bubble screen is two yards outside the hash.