New Grantland: June Jones’s Retirement, and the Lasting Influence (and Possible End) of the Run-and-Shoot

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Yet Jones’s most important contribution to football will be his association with the run-and-shoot. It was an offense he first encountered as a record-breaking quarterback at Portland State while playing for Darell “Mouse” Davis. The run-and-shoot was developed by Glenn “Tiger” Ellison.2 Sometime in the mid-1950s, Ellison stopped to watch a group of kids play backyard football. Instead of huddling and running off-tackle, as his team did, the kids played a free-flowing game. The quarterback ran around while his receivers improvised ways to get open. Ellison’s insight was to channel his players’ improvisational instincts into an offense that could be run at any level. The run-and-shoot was born.

Some years later, Davis refined Ellison’s insights into a few four-receiver formations and a handful of pass concepts, where each receiver had the freedom to run three, four, five, or sometimes as many as six different adjustments, based on how the defense played. One “play” in the run-and-shoot could become, on the fly, the equivalent of 20 or 30 plays in a traditional offense. “The concept of reading the coverage, nobody did it,” Jones told CBSSports. “Nobody in the NFL [in the late 1970s and early 1980s] allowed their receivers to read coverage. If you’re running a curl, you’re running a curl. That was it. There was no conversion.”

Read the whole thing.

What Gadgets I’ve Been Using: Garmin Vivofit Fitness Tracker, UE Bluetooth Speaker, Clever Coffee Dripper, Babyfood

I’m not a big gadget guy but I realized that I’ve been acquiring several over the past few months and thought I’d share a few that have been working well.

vivofit– Garmin Vivofit. The biggest revolution in football right now is not on the chalkboard or even in the stadium; it’s on the practice field, in the weight room and often even continues once the players have gone home — it’s the rise of so-called “sports science.” I wrote about some of the ways Chip Kelly monitors and tracks his players, and most of the NFL and many of the best college teams are using this technology to monitor and track their players. We’re in a world of data.

The Vivofit fortunately does not cost $25,000, but I’ve found it still generates — and most importantly prominently displays — a great deal of useful data. The Vivofit, along with most of the other leading “fitness trackers,” focuses on tracking your steps, reminding you when you’ve been inactive too long, and even monitors the amount and restfulness of your sleep. I’ve been thrilled with mine and it has definitely served its purpose of motivating me to keep hitting and surpassing my daily goals, which can be set manually or automatically by the software based on my own history. These devices are all very new — just ask most major college football and NFL programs which are experimenting with trackers of varying levels of sophistication (and cost) — and I’m guessing the next generation will render the current crop obsolete. But until then I’ve been very happy. I chose the Vivofit over the Fitbit because I wanted a tracker that displayed the number of steps, miles, calories and so on right on the face of the device. All of these devices sync with an app to track your progress over time, but I like being able to check mine in real time. The Vivofit also displays red lines if you’ve been inactive too long, which gets to the purpose of these devices: It’s not to perfectly track my steps or calories (though I certainly expect it to be close), but instead to keep me moving. At that it’s been very effective.

– UE Mini Boom Wireless Speaker. Bluetooth speakers don’t always give you the best sound quality but it’s hard to beat them for convenience — connecting your phone, iPad or other device to this speaker is a cinch. I liked this one based on its small size — portable means portable even though I typically use it at home — and the sound quality has been excellent (considering it is bluetooth). It sounds good both playing my music, as well as a few baby songs.


Downfield passes as the “pitch phase” of the read-option, as run by Russell Wilson, Gus Malzahn and many, many, others

Since the invention of the zone read from the shotgun, coaches have dabbled with creative ways to add a third option for the quarterback. Early on, teams added a second runningback or receiver looping around for a traditional pitch, while others have added bubble screens where the receiver can either get the ball right at the snap as a pre-snap read or as a late option after the quarterback has kept it.

And for at least the last six or so years — but probably more like ten — teams have given their quarterback the ability to throw downfield as part of the pitch phase. I don’t know who was first, as some say it was Rich Rodriguez, others point to the Todd Graham era at Tulsa when he had offensive coordinators Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris, but I first saw the play back in 2007 and it seemed to gain some momentum in 2011 as Graham at Pittsburgh and a flurry of high school teams scored touchdowns with it. But there’s no doubt the play hit the national consciousness when Gus Malzahn’s Auburn team scored their penultimate touchdown against Alabama in the Iron Bowl with the play.


When Auburn ran the play they ran it with as many as four options for the QB, though my understanding is they also sometimes just called it as a called keep for the quarterback where he could either run it outside or throw it downfield. The purpose of this wrinkle isn’t really to just hit an easy touchdown pass when the defense falls asleep — though it does that too, just ask Alabama — it’s to create real run/pass conflict for a cornerback who is a run “force” defender to the backside.


Against teams that use the QB as a run threat, like Auburn, defenses need to get secondary players involved in run support. Sometimes that means safeties but other teams a corner will be the “force” defender whose job it is to set the edge and funnel runs inside, as with Cover 2. The traditional bubble or pitch concedes the edge of the defense to the force player, while these concepts put him in what is essentially a high/low bind: either he stays with his man and gives up easy yards to the quarterback or he comes up and gives up big yards behind him. In Cover 2 it’s the safety’s job to get over to the receiver, but that’s why the WR doesn’t fly upfield on a streak route. Instead it’s a “hole” throw, just behind the corner and before the safety can get over.

This isn’t the basis for an entire offense and doesn’t represent any kind of football revolution, but it is a sound concept, which is why I’m not surprised the NFL has taken notice. Last night Seattle QB Russell Wilson threw a TD pass against the Packers on this very concept (h/t SBNation):


After the game, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll copped to getting the play from Malzahn and Auburn:


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New Grantland Bits On Andy Dalton and Ryan Tannehill (and Dolphins OC Bill Lazor)

Bill Barnwell invited me to write some sidebars for his Grantland pieces analyzing Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

TannehillCheck out the Tannehill piece:

Ryan Tannehill enters his make-or-break third season with a new offense coordinated by Bill Lazor, a promising but relatively unknown coach. Joe Philbin let his friend Mike Sherman go and brought in Lazor, who has coached with Joe Gibbs, Mike Holmgren, and, most recently, as the quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia under Chip Kelly. Miami is hoping Lazor can do for Tannehill what he did for Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who went from an iffy rookie year in 2012 to a sparkling 27-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a league-high passer rating in 2013. Nonetheless, Lazor, who, befitting his Cornell degree, looks less like an offensive coordinator than he does a management consultant, is something of a blank slate and has never called plays in the NFL before.

And while several players have intimated that the new Dolphins offense will look like Philadelphia’s, Lazor has maintained it will be a blend of what he has learned throughout his career, not just his lone season with Kelly. But while we don’t know if Lazor brought the Eagles’ playbook to Miami, we do know he is trying to replicate Kelly’s fast-paced approach. “The number one thing we want to do is play with great tempo,” Lazor explained recently. But the best no-huddle offenses in the NFL — the Broncos, Patriots, and Eagles — expertly vary their tempos, a skill Lazor is going to have to develop.

And the one on Dalton:

It’s a shame because when he has a comfortable pocket, Dalton is able to show everyone what his coaches clearly see in him, namely that he understands defenses, route concepts, and even how to look defenders off and throw with anticipation before his receivers make their breaks. Unfortunately for Dalton, the threat of pressure can’t be wished away in the NFL.

One question often asked about Dalton is whether his background with the spread offense in college helped or hurt him. It probably helped, but it’s hard to say. TCU — the rare college spread offense team that boasted top-five defenses while Dalton was there — ran a standard spread: multiple receiver formations, a mix of inside zone and read-option runs, coupled with quick passes and a bevy of screens, which sounds a lot like what he did in Cincinnati under Gruden, minus the emphasis on read-options. Dalton’s other top passing concepts at TCU are also found in NFL playbooks, and the reality is that he’s going on Year 4 as a starting quarterback — he’s had plenty of opportunities to adapt to the pro game.

Pete Carroll explains how his Seattle Seahawks team tackles better and with reduced risk of head injury

I don’t think I need to explain how crucial tackling is to football, nor do I need the explain the serious concerns our developing knowledge about brain and head injuries poses to the future of football. Recently, the USA Football, with the support of the NFL, has begun putting out a series of videos and other materials about “Heads Up” or “safe tackling” — though the reality is there can never truly be such a thing — but the method they propose is not much different than what has traditionally been taught and the head is still front and center in the tackle. And it’s not necessarily the easiest way to get a moving target to the ground, so defenders end up resorting to more haphazard methods just to get the tackle made.

Pete Carroll, one of the best coaches in all of football, has a video with HUDL explaining his team’s tackling techniques, which is based on a rugby style “shoulder-to-thigh” approach. You can watch the video below using the password “dominate“. (Hat tip to Brophy.)

There are good coaches who aren’t big fans of the “Hawk” tackle, particularly for the secondary, though the “Profile” tackle included here more or less covers the remaining bases. But there’s no doubt about the effectiveness of the techniques Carroll shows in this video, and while the tackling isn’t “safe” per se he is right that these techniques put less stress on the head (and neck) than some other tackling techniques. This is just a tremendous video on tackling technique, and an important one as well.

Smart Links — Strategery Round-Up: GPS tracking, bootleg passes, defending 3×1 — 7/15/2014

GPS tracking to measure exertion, speed and to prevent injuries (see also here):

Four years ago, Erik Korem and Joe Danos, who were FSU assistants at the time, brought the idea to [Jimbo] Fisher after seeing the devices used by an Australian rules football team. The Australian company that makes them, Catapult Sports, had never had an American football client, but Fisher was quickly sold on the possibilities of designing highly specialized training programs for his athletes that promised increased production and fewer injuries. “He knew at some point in time, we were going to be ready to face the best of the best, and we had to be a little bit different,” head strength coach Vic Viloria said. “His little bit different turned out to be really, really impressive.” . . .

The cost is dwarfed by the sheer scope of information the devices provide. Each GPS monitor returns about 1,000 unique data points per second, which for 95 players practicing for a few hours a day amounts to an overwhelming amount of information for coaches to dissect. Florida State now employs two assistants working full-time hours — Jacobs and Kratik Malhotra, a data analyst with a degree in electronics engineering — just to sift through the numbers. . .

Florida State’s run to a national championship last year hinged greatly on an unusually low number of injury casualties, which Fisher hardly chalks up to luck. With information gleaned from the GPS devices, Florida State virtually eliminated soft-tissue injuries — muscle pulls and strains — and Fisher adjusted the team’s practice schedules to reduce midweek workload and ensure his team peaked on Saturdays. The more FSU’s coaches learned about the data delivered by the GPS systems, the more the team’s conditioning and practices could be tailored to the specific needs of each player.

Defending 3×1 (trips) formations, Part IV:

There are many key items to look at when setting the defense up vs. 3×1, but if your opponent utilizes the bubble as a mainstay, I’d suggest overloading to the trips side of the coverage. Now this may mean rolling a safety down and playing a one-high look in these situations, or playing a version of TCU’s Special coverage, but whatever you do, I’d over play the trips side. First off, when coupled with the run game, the zone read can easily be defended as discussed in a previous post. The LB’s track the RB and the DE gets a two-for-one on the RB and the QB, usually giving the QB a give read. Now, if the QB, or the OC is savvy enough to simply call the bubble, instead of having the QB read it since the OC knows the DE is sitting on the give and the QB keep, he’s now made the DE a three-for-one player, because this gets the DE into pursuit quicker than if the QB were actually reading the play. Likewise the over shift in coverage puts more defenders closer to where the offense is trying to attack. Again, this is a big win for the defense. I recommend rolling into a one-high shell late, or even on the snap to gain a defender with leverage on the bubble.

NIU’s empty quarterback power and counter combination play:

Northern Illinois has a pretty nifty offense. It seems to be all the rage these days. However, when you watch the film, the vast majority of the offense relies heavily on the old, reliable power blocking scheme. In this case, since they run QB power from an empty formation, they’re kicking out the end with the guard in this specific usage of the power scheme. You may consider this a trap play, but it’s using the power blocking concept (specifically the “counter” play scheme, with the QB’s read acting as the “wrapper” typically filled by the fullback or pulling tackle). They run a lot of QB power, and this article will focus on their combination QB power play with the jailbreak screen.


New Grantland: Evaluating QBs: Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel…and You

It’s now up over at Grantland:

That, however, is precisely what makes this draft so fascinating: Bortles, Bridgewater, and Manziel are all first-round talents with fifth-round flaws, and which of them a given personnel man or fan likes best says as much about that person as it does about that quarterback. They’re different players, but they’re united by the uncertainty that surrounds them. Each QB is a Rorschach test for the evaluator, which makes examining these three prospects in turn a way to study the larger, gut-wrenching process of evaluating and drafting players who can make or break careers.

Read the whole thing.

What I’ve been reading — Flash Boys, Home Game, How Children Succeed, The Lean Startup

Flash Boys, by Michael Lewis. flashFlash Boys is Lewis’s newest book — it was released on Monday, preceded by a feature story on 60 Minutes — and details how high-frequency traders are “rigging” the stock market. I, of course, bought it immediately, as Lewis’s work is all essentially self-recommending. I haven’t had the chance to make much progress yet, but so far, so good: it’s in Lewis’s typical clean, elegant prose, and covers subject matter (financial chicanery through the eyes of colorful outsiders) right in his wheelhouse. I’ll put up a more extensive review once I’ve finished the book.

Home Game, also by Michael Lewis, is something altogether different, and I read it last fall when I was home with our new baby. It’s hard to recommend the book as the subject matter — Lewis’s own unique approach to fatherhood, which mostly involves him detailing ways he feels inadequate or at least overmatched by the prospect — is quite narrow, and the book itself feels a bit like an attempt to cash in on his success as it is a collection of disparate thoughts and events, some recalled years later for his older children and others recorded in somewhat real time for his younger ones. Of course, there remain moments of insight, such as when Lewis details a father’s feelings of paralysis and uselessness while his wife suffers through labor and deliver, and the book was an easy read at a time when I am still amazed I had the brainpower to read much of anything. It’s a good book for expecting and recent dads, though Adam Gopnik’s From Paris to the Moon covers somewhat similar territory in similar though more complete and better organized fashion.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, by Paul Tough. This surprisingly riveting book is about a shift in thinking about the best way to educate and prepare children for their lives, specifically a shift away from a sole focus on raw IQ — evidenced by making three year-olds do countless math problems or other pure “cognitive development” activities — to methods that, for lack of a better term, try to help them develop supporting skills like character, diligence, curiosity, and, most of all grit and determination. I’m no education expert and reading a book of competing educational studies is not how I’d like to spend my time, but Tough supports his argument with fantastic stories of real people. I was alerted to this book by this fantastic review (which contains several excerpts) of Tough’s book which focuses on Elizabeth Spiegel, an inner-city chess teacher and one of Tough’s heroes. But this isn’t just a Hollywood style narrative; it’s far more complex, and far more rewarding.


Smart Links — Defending packaged plays and trips, Auburn tempo, Noel Mazzone clinic notes — 3/31/2014

Courtesy of Dan Shanoff, a diagram of four verticals autographed by Kliff Kingsbury:


Is man-to-man the modern defense’s answer to packaged plays?

Holgorsen’s offense may be revered for its stars and its successes, but it’s like many others. It uses a lot of combination plays that can be a run or a pass depending on how a defense sets and reacts and how the quarterback reads it. WVU likes to run a stick-draw play where the quarterback can wait and hand the ball to a running back on a draw or wait and sell the draw and throw a simple pass to an inside receiver for easy yardage. Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty has the authority to hand the ball off on an inside zone or flick a pass to a slot receiver running a slant. Kansas State and TCU both hurt WVU when the quarterback would run outside or sell that action and then throw a pass to a receiver on the move in space created by the threat of a quarterback run.

In all those instances, the offense is at a greater advantage when a defense plays zone. The offenses try to target linebackers, nickelbacks or the hybrid linebacker/defensive back types in the area they’re trying to cover. The offense’s options force that defensive player to make a decision and the offense acts off of that….

“Quite a few teams use the zone read and that pop pass off the zone read,” WVU cornerbacks coach and former ECU defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell said. “You don’t want to put your defender in a run-pass conflict. He bites on the run and they throw a pass right behind him, or they run some kind of bubble screen off of it. When you go man, you take that out of the equation. He’s either a run defender or a pass defender, and you get an extra guy in the box with man coverage.”

The University of Miami has a site up with video of most of their major drills, called UDrills.TV. Below is an example of their Pat ‘N Go drill (an Air Raid staple):