Designing a Complete Passing System — Excerpt from Dan Gonzalez’s “Recoded and Reloaded”

The below is an excerpt from the new book by passing guru and friend of Smart Football, Dan Gonzalez, titled Recoded and Reloaded: An Updated Structure for a Complete Passing Game at Any Level, which expands and builds on his earlier book, Concept Passing. You can find the book on Amazon and CreateSpace.

For all the talk in football about “systems” — the Air Raid system, the West Coast Offense, the Run and Shoot, a Pro-Style System — there is very little discussion of how does one go about building an effective system, and what makes a system effective. There are a few cliches that everyone throws around when discussing systems, that each seem to contradict each other: they have to “have answers” while being “simple”; they have to be “easy to learn and communicate” but be “flexible” enough to account for “multiplicity”; and they have to be “cutting edge” and “new” but still rely on “sound football principles.” This isn’t to say all of this can’t be accomplished — I believe they can — but it’s clearly not easy. I put a significant amount of thought into this as I wanted to rework my existing passing system.

I began by trying to simplify the existing system. But, while simplifying a structure to accommodate beginning learners is relatively easy, as all you may need to do is simply be a matter of stripping away layers from a complex organization, you might be left with something very incomplete. You might be “simple” but not have “sufficient answers.”

Because of my coaching background, a system overhaul required not only accommodating the most basic in features; the ability of the scheme to “grow” into a complete pattern system is a non-negotiable as well.   So what makes a pattern system complete?  As a fledgling coach, the great Homer Smith’s influence on how I conceptualized the passing game could not be overemphasized.  His willingness to correspond, send me game and drill footage, and converse with me crystallized my vision of what I wanted in my system.   The first page of my quarterback manual reiterates what he imparted to me, namely the characteristics I’ve outlined below. It’s my belief that any well designed passing system must have all of these traits.

  • (1) It gives receivers the opportunity to defeat tight man coverage.  This is more than simply having one or two “pick” plays (Figure 2-1) that a team uses.   It encompasses development of release and separation techniques on individual routes, and the emphasis of accuracy and timing on the part of the passer, and having viable options that can separate from man coverage on every pass play.

1

  • (2) Prevents conflict between receivers.  Figure 2-2 shows an example of receivers whose pass routes “bleed” into one another.  In other words, the routes are so close in proximity that two defenders can cover three offensive people.

 

2

Our stretches are designed to isolate a specific defender, and make sure there is enough space so that one defender cannot cover two receivers (Figure 2-3).

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Long live the Air Raid! The Air Raid is Dead?

The Air Raid offense — the pass-first attack developed by Hal Mumme and Mike Leach from the old BYU offense — is seemingly everywhere. In the last couple of weeks, Cal hired former Leach and Mumme assistant Sonny Dykes as well as his offensive coordinator, the mercurial Tony Franklin; Southern Miss hired Oklahoma State’s nouveau guru Todd Monken, after he impressively orchestrated the Cowboys attack over the last two seasons, both with a future first round quarterback and while rotating three different quarterbacks; Mark Stoops is bringing prodigal son Neal Brown back to Kentucky to run the Wildcats’ offense; and Kliff Kingsbury, fresh off his tutelage of Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, returns to his old stomping grounds at Texas Tech to become one of the youngest head coaches in college football history. These new hires, together with existing Air Raid programs, brings my count to ten different college football teams that will all be using some variant of the Air Raid in the fall of 2013.

“OK, loser has to chug a six pack of Red Bull.” “No, the winner does that.”

And when you throw in teams that I consider part of the extended Air Raid family, like Oklahoma, UCLA, and Indiana — offenses heavily Air Raid influenced even if they don’t quite fit the definition — you have thirteen different schools whose offenses are direct descendants of the ideas Mumme and Leach developed at places like Copperas Cove high school, Iowa Wesleyan, and Valdosta State. And last season, nine of the top twenty offenses in the country were among this group — and we’ve only added more Air Raid schools to the mix. As someone who has had his hand in this offense in one way or another for roughly fifteen years, the feeling is not quite vindication; it’s more like contentedness: yes, this is where it all was undoubtedly headed all along, the questions were only how and when.

But there’s another element, maybe less of a feeling so much as it is a realization: This may be as good as it gets. The larger trends are going to continue independent of this offense, contra the wishes of Nick Saban (and, admittedly, maybe every defensive coach in the country): for the foreseeable future at least, the game will continue to get faster and more wide open at basically every level, and athletic directors will continue to hire hotshot offensive coaches who promise yards and points to draw crowds and eyeballs for TV, something increasingly important as schools crane their necks to be noticed in an era of conference realignment. This factors are not unique to the Air Raid, and other attacks, primarily Chip Kelly’s at Oregon, are arguably more famous.

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New Grantland — The Future of Playcalling: “Packaged plays,” Tecmo Bowl and a revolution in how we define “football play”

It’s now up on Grantland:

Admittedly or not, most fans think of real-world play calling as a slightly more complicated version of this “Tecmo Bowl model.” The offense’s job is to “keep the defense guessing,” and the defense must “guess right” to make a stop. On some level, even with their lengthy play sheets and reams of data, professional coordinators are engaged in a version of this same psychological battle, employing little more than educated guesses about the opponent’s tactics. Until recently, even the best, from Bill Walsh to Bill Belichick, have been playing what amounts to a complex game of Tecmo Bowl, improved only by the marginal differences coming in the form of various checks or audibles by the quarterbacks.

That seemingly straightforward screen pass to Ryan Grant suggests that now things are no longer so simple. There’s a new game, and it takes those time-tested plays and blends them into something new. It blends them so seamlessly that it threatens to upend the very idea of “run” and “pass.” These are the “packaged plays,” and because of them real football is ahead of the video games — both old and new. The answer to “What play was that?” is no longer so simple, because it’s increasingly “All of them.”

Read the whole thing.

Advanced Trends in Packaged Reads and Concepts

This article is by Patrick McCarthy. You can follow him on twitter at @patdmccarthy. Any and all questions are encouraged. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, he played and coached in France and Sweden while also coaching at St. Thomas Aquinas HS (KS) and Neenah HS (WI). Since then he has coached at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Southwest Minnesota State University, Culver-Stockton College and most recently as the Head Coach of the Kuwait Gridiron Football National Team.

Decisions, decisions

This spring I had the opportunity to visit the practices of several college programs in the Midwest. My primary focus was on the offensive side of the ball, and a recurring theme with all teams (and has been noted before) was the proliferation of read run plays and how they are packaged with other concepts, whether run or pass. Many of the following plays are in a similar vein as attaching a run play toStick’. The majority of teams also pair these concepts with an up-tempo no huddle while giving their quarterback the freedom to take any of the options or check into another play. Multiplicity within one play call through packaged concepts and the willingness for Coordinators to let the players on the field determine what the defense is giving them for the taking appears to be the direction that offenses are taking in the foreseeable future. Another interesting trend was that an increasing amount of teams are incorporating gun run concepts into non-traditional spread personnel groups (21/12 personnel groups) and out of the Pistol backset.

Many of the advancements of the sport in the last 10-15 years have been based off of the zone read, subsequent adjustments — reading the defensive tackle, or the linebacker (which I will call Key for clarification for the duration of the article) — and the defense’s response in the ever evolving battle of “who-has-the-chalk-last-wins.”

Below are some wrinkles off of the Read/Key concept packaged with other schemes that I encountered this spring.

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Cool “trick” formation empty set series

Via Derek Leonard of Rochester high school. Note that the quarterback for Rochester was Wes Lunt, who is now the starting quarterback at Oklahoma State.

Noel Mazzone’s Offensive Philosophy and Inside Zone with Built In Quick Screens

Good stuff from former NC State, New York Jets and Arizona State assistant and current UCLA offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone. Particularly good stuff on practice philosophy and how to have base plays and how to solve problems (i.e. with constraint plays). Says he goes into a game with no more than about 32-35 plays, total. Also, make sure to watch the eighth and last video, as it covers Mazzone’s packaged concept where he combines a quick three-step pass combo with a slow screen to the other side, which I’ve discussed previously.

Update: The videos have been taken down. There’s a comment that the clinic asked the person who uploaded them to take them down; if so, I didn’t know they were uploaded without any permission. I will try to address some of Noel’s stuff in the future on here.

The Future of the NFL: More Up-tempo No-huddle

It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that huddling is an archaism destined for the dustbin. I say it’s a slight exaggeration because there is a value to huddling, primarily when you have a great leader at quarterback as a huddle is an opportunity for him to show his leadership skills. But otherwise, it’s inherently inferior to going no-huddle. It’s slower, which is a problem both in games but also in practice where your offense gets fewer reps, and, maybe most importantly, the safety net of a huddle leads coaches to transform plays that can be communicated in just one or two words into multi-syllabic monstrosities. That’s the sad secret of those long NFL playcalls: They convey no more information than can be conveyed with one or two words or with a combination of hand-signals.

I prefer to go fast

It’s doubly bizarre that the NFL, which has the most (i.e. infinite) practice time to develop no-huddle methods, and where the quarterbacks actually have a radio speaker in their headsets — shouldn’t it be easy? And it’s no secret, too. Despite being a copycat league, most NFL teams don’t do it while the best teams and the best quarterbacks — Tom Brady and Peyton Manning — kill people with it every week. And what is strangest of all is that the NFL was onto the no-huddle before most modern teams:

None of this is particularly new. In the 1980s and early 1990s, both the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills used the no-huddle extensively, and college and high school teams have increasingly moved to no-huddle approaches over the last decade. In his 1997 book Finding the Winning Edge, Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh—whose West Coast offense fueled the growth of complex play calls—predicted that no-huddle offenses using “one word” play calls would come to dominate football. Walsh may have been a bit early, but Brady and Belichick are making his prediction come true.

But things may be changing, led by an influx of college quarterbacks comfortable in the movements of the no-huddle. As Tom Brady shows every week, there’s an art to manipulating the defense in the no-huddle. And there’s an incredible value to this, as NFL defenses become more and more complex.

Modern defenses want to match offenses in terms of strength and speed via personnel substitutions. They also want to confuse offenses with movement and disguise. The up-tempo no-huddle stymies those defensive options. The defense doesn’t have time to substitute, and it’s also forced to show its hand: It can’t disguise or shift because the quarterback can snap the ball and take advantage of some obvious, structural weakness. And when the defense is forced to reveal itself, Tom Brady can change into a better play. The upshot of this tactic: Brady, of all people, sees defenses that are simpler than those most other NFL quarterbacks go up against.

I’m somewhat more confident about seeing more no-huddle in the NFL both because there was more of it last season, but also because of those young quarterbacks. The “Gruden QB” camps are not the same thing as actual player evaluation, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting subtexts. Last season, everyone jumped on Cam Newton for his performance on Gruden’s show, when he was challenged about how simple his playcalls were at Auburn. The consensus was that because, in Auburn’s no-huddle offense, Cam would simply say “36” instead of one of those long NFL playcalls, he was unfit for the pros. Well those predictions didn’t turn out well.

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New Grantland: Alabama’s Run Game — Simple and Deadly, But Is It Good Enough to Beat LSU?

It’s up over at Grantland:

That said, we should never count out Nick Saban. Alabama’s defense is arguably even better than LSU’s based on statistics (though I favor LSU owing to stronger competition and general fearsomeness). Alabama also boasts perhaps the best player on either team: running back and Heisman finalist Trent Richardson. Perhaps more than any other player in the country, Richardson has the ability to personally shred defenses, even those geared to stop him.

But can Alabama get Richardson loose? In the first matchup (or hadn’t you heard that this game was a rematch?), Richardson led the Crimson Tide in rushing and receiving but never really got free. Because we know what we will get from Richardson — primarily, if you’re an LSU defender, a face full of the kneepad-covered pistons he calls legs — Alabama’s success on offense Monday night will depend on offensive coordinator Jim McElwain and tight end Brad Smelley.

Read the whole thing.

Anatomy of a Beatdown: The key concepts Dana Holgorsen’s West Virginia Mountaineers used to crush Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl

I put together a short video showing and describing some of the key plays West Virginia used to crush Clemson. Of course, as big as these plays were, the turnovers and high tempo were probably just as important to WVU’s victory. But I still found these plays quite interesting and worth exploring, particularly how they fit together, as each base play had a counter (and sometimes a counter to the counter) mixed in the gameplan somewhere. As I always say, it’s not about how many plays you have, but how they fit together.

The last thing to note is I didn’t see a single concept that I hadn’t seen West Virginia run at some other point this season. It wasn’t an all-new gameplan; they just executed much better. If you want to learn more about Dana Holgorsen’s brand of the Airraid, you can read more here.

Dana Holgorsen’s West Virginia “Airraid” offense

Dana Holgorsen came to West Virginia to install his own brand of the Airraid offense, which was invented and developed by Hal Mumme and Mike Leach. Their offense had been somewhat inconsistent all year, but 70 points — in the Orange Bowl — is pretty much how you draw it up. Below are some links giving a primer to an offense — and a coach, and a system — I’ve long been studying.

– I explained in detail the history, evolution, and development of Holgorsen’s own unique brand of the Airraid — with added emphasis on the run game and play-action — over at Grantland earlier this season.

– Holgorsen often says that the key to the offense is less about the schemes than how they practice. As explained here, he says his offense can be explained in three days (with obviously some refinement later on).

– Further, see here for a primer on how Texas Tech set up their practices under Mike Leach. Holgorsen used this same framework at West Virginia.

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