The simple, wonderful, inexpensive speed option

The speed option may be the best run play in football. The pro guys don’t like it because your quarterback can be hit, but, whether under center or from the shotgun, it’s an exceptionally useful play to have in your arsenal. There are three basic reasons why the play is so effective and useful:

  • Simple: Both the concept and the schemes are simple. Unlike the true triple options, there are not multiple reads and the one read that is there is a simple one of a defender often stuck in space.

Wish they called this more in Denver

  • Inexpensive. What I mean by inexpensive is that the play requires very little teaching for any offensive players as the blocking scheme should be one already used for a traditional play. Typically, this will be outside zone blocking.
  • Speed in space. This is tied to #1 and #2, but the play works most of all because it is a simple and inexpensive way to get athletes on the perimeter of the defense in space. The option threat by the quarterback — and the numbers advantage gained by reading a defender instead of blocking him — keeps the defense inside, but the point of the play is to pitch the ball to the runningback on the perimeter where he can burst upfield to do maximum damage.

What further makes the play so good is that these concepts are universal; they are not tethered to a single offense or system. The play works from under center or shotgun, and has been effectively used by teams with great running quarterbacks and it has been used by teams with more pedestrian quarterbacks as just a cheap way to get the ball to the outside.

In modern form, the play is simple. The line outside zone blocks, which means they step playside seeking to cut off the defense and to even reach them as they can. The linemen work together to double-team the defensive linemen before sliding off to block the linebackers, and the idea is to create a vertical crease somewhere between a spot outside the tight-end and the sideline. The offense leaves an outside guy unblocked, typically either the defensive end or the strongside linebacker. The quarterback takes the snap and runs right at the unblocked defender’s outside shoulder. If the defender stays wide, the quarterback cuts up the inside crease (and typically looks to cut back against the grain). If the defender attacks the quarterback or simply stays inside, the QB pitches it. The outside receivers block the outside run support, being more focused on being in their way than pancaking anyone. Below is a modern example of the speed option from gun:

For a little more historical perspective, Tom Osborne’s great Nebraska teams used the speed option as one of its chief weapons.


After a steady dose of inside runs, Coach Osborne knew when the speed option would cripple a defense and break a big play. Often, Nebraska faked the dive and then ran the speed option from there, but other times ran two common, more modern variations. The first is the basic speed option from a one-back set, recognizable to any current football fan. See the basic diagram and video below:

The other variation was “Arc” or the “load option,” which had the fullback serving as lead blocker for the speed option:

But what about these modern spread versions? There’s no question that it’s easier to run the speed option from the shotgun and spread sets are particularly conducive to options because they force the defense to “tip their hand.” Further, options are particularly effective against both man-to-man as well as zone blitzes. Indeed, with the sophistication of modern defenses throwing “hot” into a zone blitz has become increasingly risky, but a speed option into the face of blitzing defenders can be devastating for the defense: the space players will have blitzed themselves out of position while other guys have to rotate into position and defensive linemen must drop off, leaving lots of big play opportunity for the offense.

No one is better with the modern speed option than Oregon’s Chip Kelly. He’s managed to make the play work as both a quick hitting outside play as well as a bread and butter grinding play, as yet another variation of his zone blocking based attack. See the video below for more examples.

Like any other play it’s the small coaching points that make it go. A few of my suggestions are below:

  • Think of the speed option as an overlay over whatever outside blocking scheme you already use. If you run the outside zone, use outside zone blocking with the only variation to identify who is the unblocked defender to be read. If you use some other toss or sweep scheme, use that. It’s important to just use a few blocking schemes from different looks.
  • Teach the quarterback to attack the unblocked defender’s outside hip. Most coaches focus on the defender’s inside hip, and there is a logic to that, as it puts the quarterback inside the defender’s shoulder so they can cut up. But Nebraska used to teach the quarterback to attack the outside hip and I agree. The reason is that it forces the defender to declare whether he will account for the quarterback or the pitch man (the runningback). If the quarterback attacks the inside hip, an athletic linebacker or even defensive end can widen and keep his hips square, force the pitch and still be in position to attack the pitch inside to out. If the quarterback attacks the outside hip the defender won’t have the leverage to get outside to defend a pitch, and, most surprisingly, if the defender wants to keep widening to account for the pitch against a quarterback attacking his outside hip, he will actually open up more of a running lane inside because he’s widened so far.
  • Know your quarterback and plan the unblocked defender accordingly. If your quarterback is athletic you’re probably better off running the true outside zone and having your quarterback attack an outside linebacker or strong safety or some other outside run support defender. Doing it this way will give him more room to cut inside and work in space. If your quarterback is not much of a runner, however, you probably are looking at the play as more of a cheap way to get outside. In that case, don’t block the defensive end as it is easier to draw him in and pitch outside of him than it is to do so to a linebacker. Moreover, if a defensive end does take the pitch man even a slow quarterback should be able to hit it right off tackle to get five or six yards and get down without having to be Barry Sanders in the open field.

The speed option is a wonderful play; I think the above amply shows that and hopefully I’ve provided some additional insight. The best sendoff I can give is the below coaching breakdown of the play from Kansas State; Bill Snyder, K-State’s head coach who in turn coaches his coaches, knows a thing or two about the ol’ speed option.

  • Ryan Bolland

    How do you (or anybody else) feel about cracking on speed option?

  • Anonymous

    I like it. You can see Oregon do it in one of the clips above. I think playing with the WR blocking is another way to get extra mileage out of the play by only teaching one guy different assignments. It’s the type of stuff the flexbone guys have been doing for years.

    http://smartfootball.blogspot.com/2009/06/why-you-cant-just-play-assignment.html

  • http://www.andthevalleyshook.com Billy@ATVS

    The receiver’s motion can also set up a reverse pitch.

  • Wbe

    I am amazed that the pro guys continue to largely ignor this scheme when they start a running QB. 

    The play allows you to get increbile numbers advantages to the play side.  You are leaving 2-3 guys unblocked so you can outnumber defenders at other spots.

    Its not like you have to run the QB a lot.  The mere fact that you WILL run the QB causes huge advantages in the run game.

    I have always thought a scheme similar to the one run with Texas and Colt McCoy would be great for NFL teams with good running QBs.

    3 WR and TE,  mainly passing offense but willing to run the QB 3-5 times a game either on zone read or lead option.

  • Anonymous

    I’d have to think about it more, but if I was a pro coach I’d leave the defensive end unblocked and would block it with outside zone and try to get it to the RB on the outside in space. Just tell the QB if the DE widens for the option to get four yards and get down.

    Alternatively, I’d block it outside zone but use a scheme like in the crack toss/screen post, and crack the WRs down and option off the cornerback. Again just tell the QB that if the cornerback sits on the pitch man get four or five yards and get down. A big problem when the pro guys run this is the QB only wants to pitch it when they take away or even just muddy the pitch read the QB looks like a befuddled idiot and *that’s* when he gets killed. But, like everything else, it does take reps to get good at.

  • Anonymous

    I’d have to think about it more, but if I was a pro coach I’d leave the defensive end unblocked and would block it with outside zone and try to get it to the RB on the outside in space. Just tell the QB if the DE widens for the option to get four yards and get down.

    Alternatively, I’d block it outside zone but use a scheme like in the crack toss/screen post, and crack the WRs down and option off the cornerback. Again just tell the QB that if the cornerback sits on the pitch man get four or five yards and get down. A big problem when the pro guys run this is the QB only wants to pitch it when they take away or even just muddy the pitch read the QB looks like a befuddled idiot and *that’s* when he gets killed. But, like everything else, it does take reps to get good at.

  • Anonymous

    I’d have to think about it more, but if I was a pro coach I’d leave the defensive end unblocked and would block it with outside zone and try to get it to the RB on the outside in space. Just tell the QB if the DE widens for the option to get four yards and get down.

    Alternatively, I’d block it outside zone but use a scheme like in the crack toss/screen post, and crack the WRs down and option off the cornerback. Again just tell the QB that if the cornerback sits on the pitch man get four or five yards and get down. A big problem when the pro guys run this is the QB only wants to pitch it when they take away or even just muddy the pitch read the QB looks like a befuddled idiot and *that’s* when he gets killed. But, like everything else, it does take reps to get good at.

  • Anonymous

    I’d have to think about it more, but if I was a pro coach I’d leave the defensive end unblocked and would block it with outside zone and try to get it to the RB on the outside in space. Just tell the QB if the DE widens for the option to get four yards and get down.

    Alternatively, I’d block it outside zone but use a scheme like in the crack toss/screen post, and crack the WRs down and option off the cornerback. Again just tell the QB that if the cornerback sits on the pitch man get four or five yards and get down. A big problem when the pro guys run this is the QB only wants to pitch it when they take away or even just muddy the pitch read the QB looks like a befuddled idiot and *that’s* when he gets killed. But, like everything else, it does take reps to get good at.

  • Anonymous

    I’d have to think about it more, but if I was a pro coach I’d leave the defensive end unblocked and would block it with outside zone and try to get it to the RB on the outside in space. Just tell the QB if the DE widens for the option to get four yards and get down.

    Alternatively, I’d block it outside zone but use a scheme like in the crack toss/screen post, and crack the WRs down and option off the cornerback. Again just tell the QB that if the cornerback sits on the pitch man get four or five yards and get down. A big problem when the pro guys run this is the QB only wants to pitch it when they take away or even just muddy the pitch read the QB looks like a befuddled idiot and *that’s* when he gets killed. But, like everything else, it does take reps to get good at.

  • Anonymous

    I’d have to think about it more, but if I was a pro coach I’d leave the defensive end unblocked and would block it with outside zone and try to get it to the RB on the outside in space. Just tell the QB if the DE widens for the option to get four yards and get down.

    Alternatively, I’d block it outside zone but use a scheme like in the crack toss/screen post, and crack the WRs down and option off the cornerback. Again just tell the QB that if the cornerback sits on the pitch man get four or five yards and get down. A big problem when the pro guys run this is the QB only wants to pitch it when they take away or even just muddy the pitch read the QB looks like a befuddled idiot and *that’s* when he gets killed. But, like everything else, it does take reps to get good at.

  • Anonymous

    I’d have to think about it more, but if I was a pro coach I’d leave the defensive end unblocked and would block it with outside zone and try to get it to the RB on the outside in space. Just tell the QB if the DE widens for the option to get four yards and get down.

    Alternatively, I’d block it outside zone but use a scheme like in the crack toss/screen post, and crack the WRs down and option off the cornerback. Again just tell the QB that if the cornerback sits on the pitch man get four or five yards and get down. A big problem when the pro guys run this is the QB only wants to pitch it when they take away or even just muddy the pitch read the QB looks like a befuddled idiot and *that’s* when he gets killed. But, like everything else, it does take reps to get good at.

  • Wbe

    Yeah I think I would tell him that if you can’t get 5+ yds or a first down  before sliding then pitch it.  It would be 90% pitch but that 10th time it would be a big gain that would make the DE  play you honest

  • http://mountaintiger.wordpress.com/ mountaintiger

    I’m having trouble finding a good video, but I recall the Jaguars running option a couple times with great success last year by starting the play with flow in the other direction to better isolate the read.  This link_/a> doesn’t offer a great view, but you can see how effectively the line pins everyone but the playside corner and the read key left on the option right.

  • LHS

    I’d be interested in the coaching point on a defensive end who is dropping.  Seems like it would muddy the read for the QB.

  • Anonymous

    Just keep attacking! If he wants to lose ground instead of making a play, then keep getting yardage

  • dubber

    One of our favorite plays…..in a close game we just lost, we ran it 4 times, garnering 10+ yards on 3 of those attempts (the fourth one had poor perimeter blocking, which is really all that can stop this play).

    One of those headslap moments breaking down film.

    Guess what the game plan says this week?

    There are a couple of ways to teach the “if/then” decision making of speed, and it usually comes in handy when the pitch key tries to muddy the waters with a slow play.

    Last year we had a lumbering QB type.  He threw 30 TD’s, but couldn’t out run  1/2 our OL.  His rule was:

    “If the pitch read can’t tackle the RB, pitch it”—–meaning, if the defender is slow playing us, press him and pitch, because then he doesn’t have the angle to rally to the RB.

    This year, our best athlete plays Q, so our rule versus the slow play is to pump the pitch and cut up.  We want the pitch key to start screaming to our Q (which is the only way he will be able to tackle him), which means our RB gets the ball on the perimeter sooner………which means we don’t have to hold perimeter blocks as long, the defensive pursuit is late, etc.

    We really like this versus the 3-4 teams we play.  We will go 11 personnel with the RB away from the TE, and if they don’t reduce on the weakside  (DT’s in 4’s), we have the numbers to run our inside play (essentially wrap/power).

    If they do reduce, they just put the force player (OLB) on the LOS, gave our OT the angle to down block the ILB, and put us at 2-on-2 blocking wise on the perimeter.

    We love to run speed option versus anything that has the force player on the LOS. 

  • J_J_I_I_F_F

    Not to detract from the informativeness of this page, but more than anything else I was reminded how awesome 21st century video quality is…

  • http://twitter.com/coach_gurkan Gustaf Hallgren

    Ryan, is this something we’ll see the Predators doing this upcoming weekend?

  • James Morrison

    1 second into the first video the viewer will notice that the onside Tackle leaves the playside DE alone and doubles the 3 tech DT (i.e. BLOCKS DOWN) up to a MLBer (TE release to LBer). Unless I was absent the day they taught football, when you run outside zone, most offensive coordinators would want the playside DE covered up with the on tackle.

    The defensive front will dictate how you block speed option.  Trying to simplify something for the sake of simplicity can lead to greater confusion. 

    An almond may look like a nut, but it is really a fruit. 

  • Truss

    I think that might be because they’re trying to get the ball out of Weedon’s hands and into their excellent rb’s hands asap after the snap. Strong QB runner: pitch off a second level player. Weak QB runner – pitch of a first level player? 

  • Guest

    If you’re trying to install this as a wrinkle, the basic issue that most quarterbacks have with this initially is, “When do I pitch?” Paul Johnson teaches it simply as what he calls a “one-way” decision making process: pitch until he won’t let you pitch, then run.

    Curious to see if anyone else has a different opinion.

  • AtomicTickets

    I agree that it is a very good play, great in High school, College level but in the pro’s where Linebackers are 250 lbs and up and as fast as running backs leaving your quraterback that vunerable who in the Pro’s can usually pass fairly well is a high Risk play and if by chance you lose your starting QB because of this play it could be your year! when you can check out http://www.atomictickets.com/ I think we saw the Miami Dolphins run a version and a few other teams  that worked at 1st but once teams game planned for them you didnt see it run as much. The other question is can a QB stand up to that kind of punishment for a season ????