Combining the shovel option with a sprint-out pass

One of my favorite recent evolutions in offenses has come from the rise of “combined” or “packaged” concepts, which might combine both a run and a quick pass play or a quick shovel screen and a quick pass into the same play. Part of the motivation behind such concepts is that they are simply good ones: You can take things you are already good at, combine them, and make the defense wrong every time while executing simple ideas. But the other reason is that in the age of the no-huddle, they avoid the need for complex pre-snap audibles or convoluted calls in the huddle of multiple plays. With these “packaged concepts” you get both the quick call-it-and-go of a fast paced no-huddle without sacrificing the quarterback’s key role in putting the offense in position to succeed.

One of the most intriguing new concepts that I’ve been told teams have run this past season — if you have any film, please feel free to send it — is to combine the “shovel option” play that Urban Meyer made famous at Florida with a true sprint-out or roll-out pass concept. The “shovel option” or “crazy option” is a great play in and of itself: The line blocks the “power” concept, pulling the backside guard, while leaving the defensive end unblocked so the quarterback can option off of him. Typically, the defensive end cannot help himself but attack upfield for the quarterback, allowing the quarterback to shovel pass it upfield to the runningback who has slipped underneath and who has a lead blocker. Below is a clip of Tim Tebow tosses the shovel option to current Patriots stand-out Aaron Hernandez.

It’s a great play — and it certainly pre-dates Meyer, as I’ve even seen clips of Alabama coach Bear Bryant running the play back in 1976 — but teams have gotten better at defending it recently. And the defensive ends that have gotten better at defending it are able to squeeze and take away the shovel pass and to force the quarterback to extend the play to the outside. Sometimes, teams run the play as a true triple option, combining the inside shovel with a speed option to the outside. But the timing on this never seems to work out well, as the speed option isn’t particularly well complemented by the slower developing shovel to the inside. And even if it is a good play, it becomes significantly more expensive to convert it from a cheap way to run the shovel and not have to block some stud defensive end and to instead turn it into a true triple option. There must be some other way to run this.

Enter the shovel option-sprint-out. Here, the first read by the quarterback is still the shovel option: If the defensive end comes upfield, the quarterback simply tosses the shovel pass and the play goes on as normal. But if the defensive end squeezes and takes away the shovel, what exactly has happened? Well, it’s the easiest seal block ever on that defensive end; instead of trying to have an H-back crack down or the tackle reach him, the quarterback should have enough space on the corner to simply run around him because of how he has played the option.

It’s at this point that the second read kicks in, which is some basic combination route concept. I’ve drawn up curl/flat here, but it could be smash or anything else depending on the coverage tendencies from the opponent. The important thing is it should be a simple read, as the idea for the quarterback is he must make a quick decision and get rid of the ball.

If the quarterback can’t toss the shovel and both receivers are covered, he must either throw it away or get to the corner; in other words, run like hell. The obvious downside is that the defensive end is unblocked and therefore will only be momentarily delayed by the shovel option. The idea of the play is not for the quarterback to “roll out” and dawdle in the pocket. That’s why I refer to this as a “sprint-out” concept: The quarterback needs to be sprinting and throwing on the run. But the upside here outweighs the negatives, especially when one factors in how difficult that block on the defensive end often can be.

One must of course address the concern about linemen getting downfield. First, as I’ve noted previously, for better or for worse it’s not something often called and is difficult to see in real time. Second, and more importantly, linemen get a three yard “cushion” to get downfield without running afoul of the rule. If the play is executed on time — another reason for the quarterback to make a quick decision — it really should not be a concern. It only really becomes one if the quarterback tries to scramble around and the linemen drift downfield.

This is clearly a unique concept, and not one that would fit every offense. But it’s the offseason — and spring practice is imminent — and now is the time for creative brainstorming. I’ve gotten nothing but good reports on this concept from those who used it last year, and I look forward to putting up plenty of cut-ups of it this fall.

  • Tyler Sellhorn

    I think this concept would work best out of a TE trips situation where the tight end is the blocker for SAM or sits in the hole between MIKE and SAM if SAM flies out to a drop…pair the concept with the DASH/Veer Invert based on SAM/Safety leverage? Wow…that sounds great!

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  • smartfootball

     That’s actually kind of fascinating. Run the inverted veer to trips and have the receivers run little “pop” seam routes. Would be like the run/pass pop passes Rodriguez used to run with Denard Robinson:

    The first read would still have to be the defensive end but would be interesting to make the Sam the second read: if he comes up too fast for the pulling guard/QB toss it over his head.

    This obviously could look pretty ugly in installation, but it’s an interesting concept.

  •  I’m not completely sure if I’m thinking of the same thing you just said, but I think Texas did this this year in their “Ash package,” though not necessarily in trips.  They’d run an inverted veer option and if the receiver was able to slip by the SAM linebacker, then Ash would just hit him on some sort of short route right over the LB.

  • Will Veatch

    Hey Chris, if you’re looking for film of this concept, I’m pretty sure Wisconsin ran it against Michigan State in the game that ended in the MSU hail mary TD.  In that case the DE took the RB and Wilson kept the ball and threw a speed out / whip something along those lines (hard to see and harder to remember).  I don’t have the film myself, unfortunately, so you’d have to rewatch the game to find it.

  • Will Veatch

    I like this idea, partly because adding a slant or pop pass to the frontside of a load option is something that option teams have been doing for years, so you’re not reinventing the wheel, which is good.  However, I would offset the TB to the single WR side rather than having him directly behind the QB in the pistol.  The ability to use a backside player (the TB) to occupy a frontside edge rusher is one of the primary numbers advantages of the shovel play or inverted veer.  To balance the numbers out and defend the play, the defensive counterpart of the TB has to run across the formation through all the mess created by the linemen of both teams. 

    Since you said inverted veer instead of just shotgun veer, that might be what you meant to draw up anyway.

  • Joe Metzka


    Didn’t Martz do this back in the 90s with just the flat route as the outlet, prior to Mullen et al using a pitch option instead?  

  • Using three blockers to backside, don’t like it because the numbers are putting 2 on the backside end. Motion down the frontside end and make the force cover man commit, NOW you have created a true pass opportunity. Allowing the read to be a run defender used to being read isn’t a stretch to think about, but making a space player commit to the scrimmage line, now you’re getting into their heads!

  • Earle Bruce used the shovel play extensively in the latter part of his tenure at Ohio State… that was nearly 30 years ago.

  • How would you be blocking this play. Unless I am missing something (which is likely), this would result in an ineligible receiver down field penalty.

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