“RB First” Isolation Progressions in Pass Game

Jan 4, 2021 | Offense, Pass Game, Pass Game Mechanics, Intermediate Pass Concepts, Running Backs, Position Groups

By Mike Kuchar with Greg Stevens
Offensive Coordinator
Southeastern Louisiana University
Twitter: @GregStevensSLU


It starts during the recruiting process with Greg Stevens. He wants backs that can not only run but be good receivers too. Makes sense, but at the high school level where many backs are groomed to be downhill runners in tight zone and gap schemes, this becomes easier said than done. So, there is an evaluation and training process that he will orchestrate to develop the backs in his system to be pass catchers. “Once they get here, we figure out what they can do,” he said. “Then we have a system to adjust to their skill set.” This system is built around having the back be the primary target in the pass game. The benefits are simple: it forces defense to cover the entire field and makes defensive coordinators think twice about front loading pressure. “We got pressure early in year, but if your back is an option you wind up getting advantages,” he said. “It forced teams to have to cover our back with peel techniques. Eventually they get away from it, particularly if you’re efficient throwing the ball. We saw less and less as the season went along.”


Installation/Game Planning:

According to Coach Stevens one of the first biases you have to overcome is teaching the QB that the back is a viable option in the pass game. “It’s all about completions in our drop back pass game because obviously that is what moves the sticks,” he told me. “But you find that backs are usually wide open and QB’s are forcing the ball downfield into double coverage. So, we stress throwing the ball to the back with space.” This mindset is universal. That means even in long yardage situations when receivers are taught to get to the sticks, the back has to be a viable option underneath. “If the coverage dictates the throw then throw it to him,” he said. “We have a better chance of throwing a two yard route to him and having him break a tackle for a first down then trying to push the ball downfield. Most of our third and long conversions have been completed before the chains and getting the first down.”

But with new running backs having to divide teach time with learning run concepts as well, I was curious to hear how many indi routes he will build into their toolbox without overloading their learning curve. For Coach Stevens, it starts by studying the coverages of his opponents. “We run a lot of the same concepts with different personnel and formations,” he told me. “For example, we ran 18 variations of the flood alone last year. So, when use 12 personnel you’ll often get Cover 3 pictures that dictates routes like Floods and boots. If you know that by formation and personnel you are going to get them in different coverages, you need to decide what you want to run against that.”

During the installation process, Coach Stevens will build in the route first and then the back is taught his route based on if he’s to the two-receiver side or three-receivers side. This correlates with what his route is, which is explained by the concept below. When he puts the game plan together, Coach Stevens will highlight the back in each of these concepts and track his touches. “While touches vary depending on how explosive he is, we wanted to get him at least 15 touches out of 90 plays a game,” he said. This clinic report emphasizes how he’s able to get the back on mismatches in coverage or personnel based on the following core pass concepts:

  • Flare (Swing) Concepts
  • Flood Concepts
  • Spacing Concepts
  • Mesh Concepts
  • Isolations