Guest Football Coaching Blog Post
In Part 1, Breaking Down the Option Quarterback’s Responsibilities, we discussed the option quarterback’s responsibilities and thought processes from the time he breaks the huddle, through the mesh, and up until the first read. We will now move on to the read phases of the triple and progress through to the whistle.
The Quarterback’s Reads: The Dive Read
Once the option quarterback has gotten the snap, located his Dive Read, taken his steps, and pushed his arms back to begin the mesh he is ready to make his first read. While in the mesh the quarterback decides whether or not he is going to give the ball to the fullback, or pull the ball and move into the next phase of the triple option. His decision is based on the action of the Dive Read player (#1 in the count shown in the diagram to below) and it is essential for him to be decisive and confident in his reads.
The option quarterback has learned to think in terms of a “one way” process. He knows that the Dive Read will react in one of four basic ways. He also knows that three of them result in a give-read and a subsequent handoff to the fullback. Therefore he will think to himself, “Give unless the Dive Read makes me pull.”
In response to the triple option blocking scheme, the Dive Read will typically respond by (1) crash stunting, (2) squatting, (3) going up field, or (4) charging the mesh.
As the option quarterback rides the mesh, he is watching the Dive Read’s reaction and deciding on his course of action. If he sees the Dive Read crash stunt, squat, or move up field, he gives the ball to the fullback. He then disengages and runs out his option fake. The crash stunt is the most difficult reaction to read as it looks like a mesh charge but turns into a move up field late. The key with this is to be patient in the mesh and see the DE make his move up field. Each of these reactions from the Dive Read give the quarterback a give-read. If a misread occurs, the quarterback should tuck the ball away and get behind his fullback.
Alternatively, if he reads a mesh charge, he pulls the ball, snaps his eyes to the Pitch Read and attacks the defenders outside hip. The option quarterback cannot guess, and cannot be hesitant.
Hesitation and doubt are primary causes of mesh fumbles.
If the quarterback has any doubt as the ball reaches his front foot/hip, he gives the ball to the fullback and lives with the decision.It is far better to take a loss on the play, and avoid the turnover. Conversely, the quarterback knows if he pulls the ball on a give-read, he never makes it worse by pitching off of the Dive Read. His only course of action is to tuck the football and get behind the fullback. The quarterback knows this is the safe play because the fullback’s responsibility is to collision the Dive Read when the ball is pulled. Again, the option quarterback never pitches the ball after misreading the dive phase of the triple option.
Prior to the snap, the quarterback had taken note of the defensive front as well as any other indicators that would help him make the correct read. One of these factors would have been the alignment of #1. If the defensive end was in a wide 5 technique, or even shaded on or outside the play side slot back, the quarterback would be aware that the Dive Read must make a more definitive move inside to indicate a pull read. Alternatively, if the Dive Read is aligned as a hard 5 technique and tilted to the inside, the quarterback has a pre-snap read indicating a quick pull might be necessary. He must be proficient with his reads. He is prepared because he has developed a feel for the mesh and his read through thousands of repetitions.
Along with the pre-snap indicators, the option quarterback needs to develop an ability to focus on the Dive Read while maintaining an awareness of the Pitch Read. If he is capable of this, he improves his ability to run the triple option effectively and makes the offense extremely explosive. Defenses will attempt to make his reads more difficult by moving people around and bringing pressure. Because he is able to simultaneously read both players, also known as “reading the stack,” he is able to handle the various stunts and is less likely put the ball on the deck.
In the YouTube videos below we see how a couple of these reads look as executed by Josh Nesbitt at Georgia Tech. The first video is an example of crash stunt. Nesbitt displays excellent patience in his ride, holds the mesh, and gives at the last second just as the Dive Read slows his charge and gets up field to take the quarterback. The result is a long gain for Jonathan Dwyer.
The second video shows a mesh charge and Nesbitt reads it well again. He pulls the ball and attacks his pitch key. Again, the result is solid gain.
The Option Quarterback’s Mechanics and Reads: Breaking Down the Mesh Mechanics
Once the quarterback’s decision is made, he must respond accordingly and either give the ball to the fullback, or pull the ball and attack the pitch key. Both of these responses require a certain set of mechanics that will help to make the mesh more efficient and reduce the likelihood of turning the ball over. To perfect the Ride and Decide mesh method, the quarterback and fullback must develop a cohesive feel for these techniques and practice them extensively.
Option Quarterback Mechanics: The Give
During the mesh, the quarterback has his eyes on the Dive Read and is thinking to himself, “Give the ball unless the Dive Read makes me pull.” As the mesh is occurring the quarterback sees the Dive Read squat and he knows he will be giving the ball to the fullback. To initiate the give, he stops the forward momentum of the ball with his front hand and slides his back hand out from in between the ball and the fullback. As the back hand is removed and ball’s momentum stops, the quarterback creates pressure on the fullback’s stomach. The pressure is the fullback’s indication that he will be the ball carrier. The quarterback keeps his front hand on the ball until he feels the fullback’s grip tighten on the ball.
Once the fullback has the ball, the quarterback will pull his front hand out and explode off the mesh at full speed with his eyes focusing completely on the Pitch Read. He must “take the air out” of the space behind the fullback, but be careful not to make contact with any part of the ball carrier. Once the fullback clears, the quarterback carries out his fake and continues until he is tackled or the whistle is blown. He knows this is essential to ensure the defense honors the perimeter phase of the triple option. He also knows he must always maintain awareness of defenders, especially the Pitch Read, to avoid taking a big hit. Being consistent with the give and fake is a critical aspect of the quarterback’s mechanics, and should be an essential coaching point.
Option Quarterback Mechanics: The Pull
Conversely, when the quarterback sees the Dive Read charge the mesh or come down inside off the tackles veer release he knows he has a pull-read. During the Ride and Decide, he has seen the “unless” contingency of his one way thought process and he knows he must pull the ball. This is the most critical technical aspect of the triple option due to the potential of having a football on the deck. To reduce the risk, the quarterback must ensure that the pull is clean and does not place any pressure on the fullback’s belly. He must always remember that his fullback does not see the Dive Read and reacts to the pressure in his gut. The quarterback’s mechanics on the pull are essential.
To pull the ball, the option quarterback dips his back shoulder slightly and bends his back elbow while snapping his elbows and wrists back to his chest. He knows this will help to disengage the ball cleanly while also keeping him from coming into contact with the fullback. Once the ball is disengaged, the quarterback seats the ball slightly away from his body at chest level and flares his elbows slightly. Always ready to pitch, he explodes off the mesh, and attacks the #2 defender. He is now ready to make his next read.
The Option Quarterback’s Read: The Pitch Read
As previously stated, during the ride of the mesh, the quarterback should have the Pitch Read (the #2 player in the diagram on the right) in his peripheral vision as he is making his first read. This will help him find his read more quickly and assist in making quicker adjustments if the defense stunts or does something unexpected. After exploding off the mesh, the quarterback is ready to attack his Pitch Read defender and make his read.The quarterback will focus on the Pitch Read’s outside hip and attack it downhill. He knows attacking the outside hip forces the defender to declare his option responsibility sooner and widens the quarterback running lane if the defender dictates a keep-read. This allows the quarterback to utilize his speed in space. Speed in space is always a good football play. The quarterback also knows attacking the Pitch Read’s outside shoulder will allow the pitch back to out-leverage the Pitch Read more quickly. Leverage on the Pitch Read leads to a huge running lane for the pitch back and often keeps the quarterback from taking a big hit.
As the quarterback attacks the Pitch Read, he will wait for the defender to show his responsibility or for the pitch back to gain leverage to the outside of the Dive Read. Again, he has a “one way” decision to make, and thinks to himself, “Keep the ball until the Pitch Read makes me pitch.” If the defender commits to the quarterback or the pitch back gains leverage, the option quarterback will sit and fall back as he pitches the ball. This will soften the impending hit and will help reduce the risk of injury. When this happens, the quarterback’s responsibilities in the play are complete and he should go down easily after the pitch is made.
The YouTube video below shows how the pitch portion of the triple option looks.
If the defender feathers to the outside or commits to the pitch back, the quarterback has gotten a keep read. His reaction is to stick his backside foot into the ground and cut inside the Pitch Read. Once he has cleared the defender he will tuck the football, using three-points of contact, and run the ladder to get on the pylon path. He knows that once he is in the grasp of a defender he will never pitch the ball. This is another major cause of turnovers when running the triple option. Again, another important quarterback mechanic is discipline. Knowing when to pitch and throttle down and when to keep the ball, forgoing the pitch, is important.
The YouTube video below shows keep reads from a pistol Flexbone set. We see the Pitch Read commit to the pitch back and the quarterback stick his foot in the ground and cut up field.
Option Quarterback Mechanics on the Pitch
Once the quarterback sees that the Pitch Read is responsible for him, commits inside, or is out-leveraged by the pitch back he knows it is time to get rid of the football. To pitch the ball he stops his forward momentum and points the toe of his back foot at his target. He sits low, and pushes back off his front foot as he drives his thumb down and through the ball. His aiming point is slightly in front of the pitch back who is running at a 4×1 pitch relationship (4 yards wide and 1 yard back). The ball should lead the back slightly and travel through the air with an end over end rotation. The key is to deliver a soft, catchable ball that allows the back to make the catch at full speed. Once again, the quarterback knows the pitch back will be in good pitch relationship as they have practiced the timing thousands of times. Option football is about consistency and timing. Both of which are predicated by repetition.
In the video below, Ty Detmer explains some of the mechanics of the option pitch.
Final Thoughts on the Option Quarterback
The development of the option quarterback is integral to the success of an option offense and requires a great deal of time and effort from both the coach and the player. Coaching the option quarterback’s mechanics well is of pivotal importance. Coaching the option quarterback’s reads thoroughly is also critical. This series only touches on some of the intricacies of the play and how the option quarterback functions within its concepts. Additionally, there are several different schools of thought on how to best accomplish the goals of option football. For instance, some coaches prefer the Ride and Decide mesh method discussed in this article while others prefer the Point method. Some coaches also prefer to use a basketball style pitch as opposed to the thumb down approach I discussed, or might count out to 3 or 4 with their pre-snap count.
This is why football is such a great game. Individuals take schemes and techniques and modify them to fit their needs and philosophies. The fun part is trying to figure out what the other guys are doing on Friday nights and coaching your kids up to execute your scheme more effectively than they can. If you are successful, that’s great. If not, you go back to the drawing board the next week and do it again. It is an exercise in dealing with adversity and presents those of us who take part with many life lessons.
Thanks for reading and feel free to visit my website at OptionFootball.net and contact me at optionfootball[at]optionfootball.net if you want to discuss the game of football.