Category Archives: Runningbacks

Why Offensive Line Coaches Need to Understand Defensive Run Fits

I’ve touched on the topic of offensive line coaches understanding defensive run fits in the past. But it is absolutely critical that offensive line coaches spend time with their defensive coordinator in order to understand how defenses defend plays. Then, the coach needs to take this information to the next step and equip their plays to be better prepared for well coached teams. I’ll use a simple example, weakside iso versus a 4-3 over cover 4 front, to show the importance of understanding defensive run fits.

Offensive Line Coaches Understanding Run Fits: “The Play Looks Wide Open Coach!”

Or… “It’ll be there all day!” Then it’s not. We’ve been there as O-line coaches. The defense makes an adjustment. For instance, below is an example of weakside iso versus the 4-3 over front. Every offensive line coach licks his chops when he sees this. There’s a big, natural bubble, and all we have to do is get a body on a body.

Weakside I Formation Iso versus 4-3 Over Cover 4

Weakside Iso versus 4-3 Over

I always assume the defensive coordinator is smarter than me. They’re not giving me a huge bubble unless they’ve got a way to protect it. In other words…

It's a Trap!

As many o-line coaches find out the day after film, while we draw it up and it looks perfect, the execution kills us. That’s because good defensive teams understand run fits and they do them so often that this play get’s clogged up. As you can see below, it was indeed a trap. The Mike linebacker has strongside B, the safety fills outside, and the Will linebacker plugs the kickout by the fullback. In other words, it’s hard as heck to get movement on the double and get to the Mike linebacker with a traditional horizontal combination block through the nose tackle.

4-3 run fits versus I formation Weakside Iso

Notice the bad angle for the combo to keep the Mike from Inserting Inside the Fullback

The Mike scrapes to B gap, and inserts inside of the Will linebacker, who should be taking the block on with his inside shoulder. Even if the Will linebacker takes it on wrong, the Rover is there. We can’t account for the Rover unless we get into some double tight sets OR use a receiver and get to him. So let’s assume the Will does forces it back inside.

On top of this, the Sam is probably flying to strongside A gap because the backside safety can take C gap. So now, we’re in a tough spot.  Three linebackers who are scraping fast towards the play. We’ve got to combo a nose AND hope the backside tackle takes a great path to the strongside linebacker.

Offensive Line Coaches Understanding Run Fits: Offensive Line Technique

As an offensive line coach, need to understand how your conference opponents will insert their run fits against your run game before the season starts. Why? Because then you can really focus on teaching the skills necessary to play their run fits, not where they are going to be at the snap.

Want More Offensive Line Material?
Order Strong Football’s first e-book, Developing a Physical and Aggressive Offensive Line. In it, you’ll find…

  • Establishing Every Day Drill
  • Details on the “Finish Drill” to teach kids to block through the whistle
  • Working with an offensive coordinator
  • How to build confidence and communication between linemen
[purchase_link id=”1331″ style=”button” color=”green” text=”Download Now”]

For instance, in the diagram below, we see a vertical combo block on the nose tackle through to the Mike. You may not get the dominating combo, but you will get a body on a body. The crease here in the 4-3 over weakside B gap is big enough naturally that the tailback should have no problem punching it through if the guard and center can get some vertical displacement on the nose and just come off to the Mike.

Weakside Iso versus the 4-3 Over Cover 4 with better technique

Notice the vertical combo on the nose tackle to the Mike.

The tailback also needs coaching here. He needs to trust that his linemen will come off off onto the Mike. If he cuts back at the line of scrimmage, he will run into cutback defenders. He should stay inside, true to the hole. It probably won’t be terribly clean, but he should be able to punch it through for 5 yards if not much more.

We also see the tackle and guard on the backside stepping tight together. This is almost a zone combination. Some coaches would say combo the backside defensive tackle to the Sam linebacker. I feel that the tackle, even on the vertical combo, can step too hard and knock the defensive tackle into the A gap in this scenario, closing that window for the linebacker, which in turn makes him press tighter to the playside because well coached linebackers go to the next open window. I’d rather have the backside of the offensive line here use a mentality like, “you two have those two”, and really zone through. So that way, if the 3 technique works into the offensive tackle, the guard can slip off for the Sam. If the defensive tackle gets hands on the guard, like he probably will, the offensive tackle will step inside (no matter what he’s doing that) and work on a 45 degree angle inside up to the Sam.


By taking time to understand how the Mike will flow (aka, his run fits), I will know to coach our guys to use a vertical combination block in this scenario, rather than a horizontal combo. Some offensive coordinators may need to be “schooled” on why that nose tackle shouldn’t be completely blown away by the combo. You need to care more about getting to the backer on this play. For winning teams, while it’s nice to physically dominate the defensive line, it’s better simply to get a body on a body so that way the running back can use his vision. So overall, when scheming plays, you need to make planning for a defense’s run fits a priority. is a place you should visit today. They have some great drills that can help you.

Running Back Drills

Many people think running backs cannot be coached. I strongly disagree. Every position can be coached up significantly. An average running back can develop into a good back. Great backs can develop into amazing backs. The important factor is ensuring you identify traits of good backs that can build drills to simulate. Developing some strong running back drills that emphasize proper technique can help you in your effort to develop your backs.

Download the Free Strong Football Running Backs Manual
Smartphone users may have issues downloading, for best experience use a computer/tablet

Running Back Drills: Block Setup

When I coached running backs for the first time, I quickly identified the need to setup blocks. While our starter was great at it, our younger backs struggled. I watched some film of what other great backs at had done in these situations. Patience and shoulder shifts.

Coaching patience in backs is critical for block setup. I’ll start with the patience factor. It doesn’t matter if you’re running inside zone, power, or even if the back is the dive back on Inside Veer. Patience is critical for a backs success when he’s got a blocker infront of him. I made running backs drills that forced players to jog through them the first time, followed by 75%, then full speed.

For this first running back drill on block setup, the running back jogs 50% to the first blocker, who is blocking the bag holder. The blocker has outside leverage on the blocker, and should accelerate around the block.

The second part to this running back drill has the blocker stuck right in the middle of the defender. I like to have a second defender coming from the same direction as the runningback, but coming from 5 yards behind the bag holding defender. This defender is unblocked. It’s the job of the runningback to analyze the pursuit angle of the defender, while setting up this initial block. If the pursuing defenders shoulders are turned towards the sideline, it will be hard for him to square up and make a sound tackle. If that’s the case, the runningback should setup the block to let him cut inside.

In order to setup the block, and to ensure the pursuit angle of the defender keeps going outside, the back should dip his shoulders to the outside and open his hips slightly for one step. As soon as that step hits the ground he should plant and push off to accelerate just inside the block. This will force both defenders to commit to the outside and, if they make the tackle, we should still be able to fall forward for a yard or two.

If that defender that is pursuing (so not the bag holder) is shuffling and his shoulders are square to the running back while he pursues, the runningback should take one step inside, like he plans on cutting up into the tackle. This will likely get the shuffling defender to commit to the running back, causing him to step up. The defender with the bag will commit to the inside as well. Again, as soon as the runningback plants that foot inside and dips his shoulder, he should explode to the outside and accelerate the feet. The blocker on the bag holder should have the advantage to now hook the defender, and the pursuing defender will be in the hole and have a terrible angle to make the tackle.

Running Back Drills: Block Setup

Running Back Drills: Block Setup

The last step of this running back drill occurs when the blocker has inside position on the defender with the bag. He should clearly cut up the field and get his eyes on the next defender.

You can add a pursuing defender to the first and third parts of that drill. You can also use two bag holders instead in this running back drill, and have the running back each defender being blocked.

Running Back Drills: Hand off Exchange

I like the handoff exchange drill because it can get multiple people involved. The idea here is focus on this most critical aspect of the play, the exchange. I start with two lines, one on the right and one on the left. The first running back on the left will have the football. They will start first and run towards the running backs on the right. The first one on the right hesitates for a moment, and then jogs and takes the hand off from the running back. He should try to elbow the guy handing him the football in the chin and get his other arm with his thumb right around the belly button. He should clamp down, put it away, and then by that point he should be over half way to the next running back, who will take the hand off going left.

Running Back Drills: Hand Off Exchange

Running Back Drills: Hand Off Exchange

This drill should be slowly sped up. Your running backs need to focus on the little things, even when the clock is ticking. There might be points in a play where the defender comes in unblocked, and if that is still the case they need to take the hand off and put the ball away. If they get over anxious, the exchange could be comprimised.

Running Back Drills: Foot Movement

All running back drills that involve contact need to emphasize not stopping the feet. Over and over again, we see running backs that excel keep working their legs. There is equipment for this (the gauntlet), but not every team has on. So one thing I like is to have the running back work into a bag holder. I will make a path (either with cones or pads) to ensure the running back stays on course. The defender will be half way through, and the running back’s goal is to make contact with his shoulders and explode the hips up and through the defender on contact, while keeping the legs pumping.

A coaching point here is that a lot of players close their eyes on contact, and when they do that they stop their feet. They also tend stand up. Players need to stay low throughout the play and have their hips work up and through the defender only on contact. You should use a cheap camera or even an iPad or your phone to record the drill to show the kids when they stop their feet. Also, it sometimes helps to simply WALK the kids through it the first time. So that way they keep moving their feet. You then speed it up to about 50%, having them jog through it. Again, still moving the feet. Then do the running back drill 75%. The 100%. Some kids really don’t understand that they stop their feet until they feel, even at slow speeds, what it means to keep moving their feet through contact.

Running Back Drills : Conclusions

I hope you enjoyed this post on some of my favorite running back drills. It’s critical, in my opinion, that you jog through most running back drills first so the kids understand that they don’t always have to run full speed to make a play special. Make sure to download my running backs manual (above) and hopefully you’ll get some good ideas on technique out of that as well.

Make sure you check out everyday football blocking drills for your offensive line as well.

If you’re looking for drills for other positions, like these offensive line drills and these defensive line drills, continue to read Strong Football.

Coaching the Spread Offense

Spread Offense Philosophy

Let me start by saying I typically don’t like the idea of making a general term apply to an offense. Each offense is different. The typcial spread offense that is seen in college and high school football today, by definition, is designed to attack the football field horizontally and vertically by using player leverage and field spacing. That’s basically the one aspect of the spread offense that is applicable for all teams.

So basically, this is my plead for all coaches, calling your offense the spread offense is limiting and lacks seriously detail. You’re creative, tell people that you like to “make defenses defend the width and length of the field with your running game”.

But still, is that enough? Is that an accurate description of your “spread offense”? Perhaps you should describe your spread offense like this… “From the shotgun, we displace defenders by using spread sets and when they’re isolated we attack them with multiple option plays”.

You might say, well, is all this necessary? It is if you’re telling you’re players you’re offensive philosophy from a technical stand point in a meeting. Maybe it’s not the kids (probably shouldn’t be unless you’re really trying to build buzz and can show them previous examples). Maybe you should save it for your coaches meeting, when you’re installing your offense. The main point is, telling people “I coach the spread offense” or, “We run the spread offense” is way too generic.

Coaching the Spread Offense Running Game

If we go back to the most basic theory, that our offense is “designed to attack the football field horizontally and vertically by using player leverage and field spacing”, then our running game should support that foundation. A necessary component of that theory is using the space defenders void when they go to cover a receiver. If teams don’t respect your passing attack or receivers, then they will close down at that spacing, making the spread running game ineffective unless you have vastly surperior talent.

For the spread offense, you have an advantage over the I-formation (“CoachCP… are you feeling okay?!?” – peanut gallery). The advantage is defenses cannot disguise what they are doing as easily on film or from the box view. It’s a lot harder to tell alignment and assignment when you’re coaching 21 or 22 personnel football (which is why I think it often get’s overlooked).

Overall, it’s important to establish then some sort of attack out of the spread that forces the defense to honor the width of the field and the players across the field. If they don’t, you’re offense will struggle. From the running game perspective, you can use quick jailbreak screens or bubble screens as an extension of your running game. Think of it as your I-formation toss sweep play.

In addition, speed and load option can quickly put full flow to one side of the field, making defenders cover a lot of grass to catch up to them.

Once you force defenders to honor your slot receivers, you should force them to respect the box as well. By utilizing the zone read, or trap, or QB inside runs (like the QB Power Play), you suddenly force the defense to be wrong. They can no longer properly defend the box running game. A lot of teams feel that the running game inside is limited. This is simply not the case. You can be creative. Almost anything you run out of the I-formation, can indeed be run out of the spread offense sets as well. You may need to utilize the quarterback or make the quarterback read a defender, but it can be done.

Coaching the Spread Offense Passing Game

The same element about the running game can be said about the passing game. Forcing defenders to respect the box should open up your passing game significantly.

Using coverage beaters on both sides will hamper you though without a strong play action passing game. You need to be able to have receivers cross the formation to force “playside” defenders in the passing game to honor them. That way, the defenses linebackers simply don’t flow directly to the hook/curl. If they do, the drag from the backside will hurt them. Overall, full field passing games are necessary to attacking the full width of the field in the spread offense. Use your quick passing game when you want to attack specific coverages (hitches versus cover 3 or cover 4, and double slants versus cover 2).

In addition, utilizing a strong quick passing game will force the defense to cover receivers right now. Enabling your quarterback to quickly throw those routes will only amplify your running and passing game. The rest of your offense might run zone read, but your QB may have identified the quick bubble being open and simply makes a call in his cadence or with his hands to the slot and #1 receiver.

The play action passing attack is great if you don’t feel you can adequately attack a portion of the field (horizontally or vertically). Play action and good “ride” actions by the QB will ensure that defenders at the linebacker and secondary don’t just jump passing routes. A safety being flat footed for half a second may open up the post route directly behind him.

Coaching The Spread Offense’s Forgotten Tight End and Unbalanced Sets

I think the least understood aspect of the spread is the idea of gaps. This is prominent in 21 personnel attacks (we go overload sets, tight end over, unbalanced, ect…). I believe this is lost sometimes for spread coaches. The theory of the extra gap that a tight end can present is excellent as well. Some teams simply don’t use a tight end because they can’t find the prototype. Your tight end doesn’t have to be 6’4″+, or over 220lbs even. He can be a regular athlete, who can block decently well for his size. If you’re tackles are road graders, they can make a huge difference in helping him block on the edge. So even if it’s a slightly above average sized athlete, you can still use him well and have a lot of aspects of the spread. Presenting that extra gap changes run fits entirely for a defense as well. Using him on the backside or the 3rd receiver in trips can change the entire dynamics for a defense, but all your blocking schemes can stay the same.

In addition to the tight end in general, using unbalanced sets can work. A lot of times, defense will have problems finding a good answer early in a game for an unbalanced set in the spread. With the element of the zone read and other option plays, even by showing it on film or using it once or twice a game will force defenses to spend signifcant time defending the running game and still ensuring they respect the passing game in practices. If they don’t do that, then you can take advantage of a poorly aligned defense quickly.

Conclusions on the Spread Offense

I hope you enjoyed this post, designed to detail the basic theories of the spread and how to be successful with it. A good spread offense will typically be able to force the defense to defend the full length of the field and the players across it. You can do this and be focused on the rushing attack or the passing attack. However, you must use both to keep defenses honest and to maximize efficiencies. Mike Leach may disagree, but even his team will run versus 5 in the box.

Make sure you check out ChiefPigskin’s videos!

Load Option versus Defensive Ends that Spill

How the Load Option Can Defeat Defensive Ends that Spill

I hate defensive ends that spill. They irritate I formation offensive coordinators. The defensive end spills power or some other off-tackle play and the linebacker or safety replaces him. It’s a good theory for defenses that want to use their speed and the sideline to give I formation teams fits.

Power versus Spill

Power Versus the Spill Technique

What is Load Option Option

Depending on your terminology, Load Option is the ability to block someone who is responsible for one aspect of the option on defense. For teams that spill, I like to use what I call load option on the defensive end. If a team follows block down step down rules, when the tackle blocks down or zone blocks inside, the defensive end should step inside as well. One of two things will occur. The defensive end will fly inside, thinking the play is power or some scheme to kick him out with the fullback. Some teams run Load Option to block the Quarterback Player, others the Dive player, and finally some Load run load option where they are blocking the pitch player. I like to differentiate the terms, but it’s whatever works for your terminology.

Load Option versus Defensive Ends that Spill

Load Option versus Spill

Playside EMOLOS Technique

When the defensive end drives inside to spill, he will be giving the play to a linebacker or safety to make the tackle. It is of pivotal importance that your end man on the line of scrimage (EMOLOS) rips UP the field if he’s working to a linebacker directly or if he’s comboing he needs to keep his shoulders parralel to ensure he can at least get his body on the linebacker who is supposed to replace the defensive end when he spills. Usually defensive ends who are taught block down/step down rules are taught to get hands on the person executing the down block to help keep them off the linebacker. Well coached teams do this better than others. The tackle, if he has does not get a free release to the linebacker, needs to fight pressure with pressure and expect contact right at his first step. He should lean into his rip, much like a defensive end would do against him. If the EMOLOS, be it the tackle or tight end, can’t get directly to the linebacker, he needs make sure he gets his hands on him enough to run him past the hole. Sometimes all you need is a body on a body. The ball carrier (or potentially carriers in the case of the option) should be able to see this and adjust their path.

Fullback Technique on Load Option

For the fullback, the fullback should attack the outside hip with his inside shoulder and be ready to really drive his feet on contact. He should be aiming as low as possible so he can bury the end at least back to the line of scrimmage. He can’t fall down as he rotates his hips either. Some fullbacks try to do this when kicking out, but when they rotate and fall, they clog the running lane with their feet. They must keep their feet driving and underneath them.

Quarterback Technique on Load Option

The Quarterback needs to step off the line before moving down the line of scrimmage himself. When a defensive end spills, he will be fighting to get into the backfield, not just to clog a hole, but if the play was power, to prevent the guard from getting to the linebacker who was replacing him. By clearing himself from the LOS, the quarterback ensures he will be able to get around any trash. Teams that run two back pistol or shotgun power and load option will likely be able to avoid this problem all together since they are removed from the line of scrimmage at the snap.

Formation Adjustments to Increase Big Play Opportunities

I Formaiton Twins versus Spill

The Secondary Rotated to the Twins Side, Opening up a big play opportunity to the tight end side

Understand how the defense will adjust to your different formations. If you get into a twins or slot formation out of 21 personnel, will they play 3 over 2 to the 2 receiver side? If that’s the case, you should try to run load option to the strong side and isolate the pitch on the deep half or deep 1/3 player, as seen in Diagram 1.

Using unbalanced formations can really boost the big play effectiveness, however, I do not recommend running the option on the first play or two. It’s hard to predict how teams will respond to overloaded lines or unbalanced offensive lines. This is because coaches may change their philosophy for your team OR the players may be misaligned. While sometimes misalignment is good, it can also spell doom for your playcall if you can’t check it at the line of scrimmage, and in the best case scenario you may need to call a time out. Once you understand the defensive run support system from the secondary, you can execute option plays.

What to do when the EMOLOS Boxes Out

So what do you do when the defensive end starts to box out your fullback, meaning play contain rather than spill. He may do this because they switched their run support… or because he doesn’t trust his coaches anymore. Either way, if he starts to do this, forcing your quarterback to run into C gap, which many I formation coaches won’t like, the best solution is to run power again. Remember the reason we run LOad Option. It’s a constraint play. It’s designed to make the defense play us honestly. I want to run Power or Iso every single play. Period. But… if the defense takes our A – C gap running game away, they’re giving us something else. People usually think you have to pass and that is simply not the case. You need to understand what the defense is trying to do to make an impact on them as a play caller.

What to do when the defense rotates to the fullback

i formation twin speed option versus spill

Run Speed Option away from a team that has a secondary that rotates to the Tight End Side

My favorite way to defeat a defense that shifts the position of their linebackers or the secondary is to run speed option quicklyaway from the fullback. By rotating the secondary and because the play hits so quick, the possibility for a steady run game exists. Any other running play that works away from the fullback can work as well.

Chiefpigskin has a 3-3 stack video up from Glenbard South HS in Illinois. Check it out.

Loosening Up the Box

This post was written by a great friend and even better coach, Joby Turner. Joby was my roommate in college and we also coached together at Crawfordsville High School. Joby has a unique ability to connect with every athlete on the field, regardless of position. You can contact Joby at jobyturner[at]

Any heavy run team knows that after you have had a couple of good gainers or big plays, the defense starts adding defenders into the box and deep coverage players get closer and closer to the line of scrimmage. This can make it quite difficult to block everyone and create a running lane for the running back. The problem then becomes how do you free up room for your running backs to operate without overhauling your system? Throughout the rest of the post, I plan on presenting different ways to “Loosen Up the Box” while staying true to your system and the formations you already have. I have organized this into three (3) different categories. They are Quick Passes, Runs, and finally Screens. Each will present different ways to create room for the inside run. These are all done with the assumption that you are using some type formation or set with two backs being in the backfield.


Football Quick Passing Game

The beauty of the Quick Passing Game is that the ball is out quickly and efficiently, and these types of passes can be run anywhere on the field. Whether you are backed up, or on the goal line, these types of quick routes can be used to provide an edge based upon the defense’s alignment to your formation. Other than the Out, these routes are also very cheap in terms of practice time it would take to install and rep during the course of the season leaving time to focus on what you really want to do.

Hitch Routes: The first type of Quick passing play you can implement is the Hitch. I have always taught the Hitch route as a 3-5 yard route that breaks back toward the Quarterback. This route is a solid route that will allow the receiver to have a chance for huge yards after catch (YAC) opportunities if the receiver turns back towards the outside after the catch. The beauty of the hitch is that any receiver can run the route from any position on the field. This route is best used against a deep corner in a Cover 3 type alignment by the corner, but is also highly effective by a tight end (TE) as well.

Pros of the Hitch Route:

  • Very safe – Low risk throw that is almost like stealing yardage. The Hitch is probably one of the safest throws a QB can make. It can be thrown by tall QB’s, short QB’s, Left-Handed QB’s etc.
  • Keeps you on schedule – When completing a hitch, you are guaranteed 3-5 yards, and this gain gives you a 2nd or 3rd and manageable. In my opinion, keeping on track to gain first downs is one of the most important traits of any offense no matter the style of offense
  • Frees up Deeper Routes – After you have hit a few hitches, you now have the chance to run a hitch and go, and get the defense to play way off of the line of scrimmage (LOS)
  • Can be run by any type of receiver – Bigger receivers can “box out” defenders, or smaller players can use speed and quickness to create separation from a defender.

Cons of the Hitch Route:

  • Pick will generally equal 6 Points the other direction
  • Slower types at wide receiver will probably not get as many YAC yards
  • QB needs to have a decent arm to get the ball across the field on time
  • OLB/Safety can make it tough to throw on a single receiver side, but you have now done your job.

Out Routes: Similar to the Hitch Route is the Quick Out Route. This route was popularized by Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, and the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980’s. This route is also ran at 3-5 yards, and is characterized by the receiver rolling outside toward the sideline at the desired depth. The only ways to stop this are to either have the corner play press coverage, or have the flat defender cheat out to get underneath of the cut.

Pros of the Out Route:

  • Easy completion that steals yardage
  • Gets the receiver going toward the sideline as he is catching ball, instead of having to get there after the catch

Cons of the Out Route:

  • QB usually needs to have a better arm to make this throw
  • Requires quite a bit of timing compared to the other quick passes

1 Step Slant Route: This route is becoming more and more popular in the NFL, because of the huge YAC opportunities and the overall size of the NFL wide receiver. The actual route is ran by taking one step forward with the outside foot as a plant foot, and cutting inside off of this foot at a 45° angle aiming for an area behind the MLB. After the catch, get North/South as fast as possible. One of the more famous examples is Larry Fitzgerald’s TD catch in Super Bowl XLIII vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pros of the 1 Step Slant Route:

  • As mentioned earlier, great opportunity for YAC, since receiver will generally only have one defender to beat on the way to the endzone.
  • Can be run by any type of receiver. Big players can create a great target for smaller QBs, and small players can use their quickness to rack up YAC.
  • Unless their Joe is better than your Jimmy, they must place a defender inside of the receiver to negate the throw by alignment. You have now accomplished what you wanted to accomplish.
  • Great on the goal line. Good for when you get single coverage on a bigger receiver toward the end zone. A whip route is also great after you have used this a couple times and the corner starts over playing the slant.

Cons of the 1 Step Slant Route:

    • This route can be tough against a very physical corner, or a corner that is a better athlete than your player. Receiver must be a good technician in this situation
    • Receiver can get jacked up by a LB/S if he is not paying attention.

This route is also limited by having an outside alignment. It is possible to run this from an inside alignment by a Flexed TE or slot, but it takes a much more accurate throw with all of the traffic inside, and the receiver has a much better chance of getting lit up. It is safer and more cost-efficient to keep it as an outside WR play only.

Bubble Screen/Route: The Bubble route, as most of you know, is slowly taking over College Football with the popularity of the Spread Offense. The way I have learned how the route is ran came from Gunter Brewer. The receiver takes a Carioca step with the outside foot for timing purposes, and then runs a fish hook type path towards the sideline all the while keeping the shoulders square toward the LOS. The receiver needs to make the catch while moving forward.

Pros of the Bubble Screen / Route :

  • Really great YAC opportunity, especially with a small scat back type.
  • The route pulls the flat defender fast from the box. If not, your player is off to the races.
  • Great Decoy route. Can be used to hold the OLB/S for a second while you are actually running a play. Spread teams kill using this principle.
  • Other secondary defenders must assist to stop the bubble. This will pull even more defenders away from where ever you are potentially running.
  • Great PAP off of it. All the other blocker has to do is “miss” the flat player and it’s money.
  • Usually ruled a forward pass if dropped.

Cons of the Bubble Screen / Route :

  • Requires another blocker
  • The extra blocker better be a good blocker or you will be in trouble.
  • Pick = 6 points.
  • Can be a loss of yardage if not blocked properly
  • Must be run by a receiver in the slot, so you must have at least two (2) receivers to that side.
  • Could be ruled a lateral if dropped.

Stand Up Route: The Stand-Up is another route that is becoming more and more popular in the NFL. The route is run by turning the shoulders toward the QB at the snap. Works best when perpendicular to the LOS. Teams that employ this type of strategy are the Packers and Giants, and it was a favorite of gunslinger Brett Favre.

Pros of the Stand Up Route:

  • Very Quick. The receiver isn’t going anywhere and all the QB has to do is throw it out there.
  • Versatile. Can be run to a 1 receiver side or 2 receiver side to either receiver.
  • Can be used with run action by the other 9 players
  • Can be called anytime the receiver has an adequate cushion on the DB over him

Cons of the Stand Up Route:

  • Tougher throw if the DE gets in the way.
  • You need to have space from the defender to actually throw it.
  • Receiver better have decent acceleration, since he is standing still at the catch.
Tight End Pop Pass, Seam Route, Stand Up Route

Fade / Go / Streak /POP Pass: The Fade/Go/Streak/POP pass is a quick route that’s purpose is to get upfield as fast as possible and take a shot deep. The fade/Go/Streak route is run by getting an outside release, while going no farther than the numbers outside. The idea is to make the catch over the outside shoulder.

Pros of the Fade / Go / Streak / POP Pass:

  • Big play when caught
  • Can work with any type of receiver
  • Pass interference happens more frequently with this type of route
  • It can be considered a punt if the pick is far enough down field
  • “POP” pass can delay LBs on the run

Cons of the Fade / Go / Stream / Pop Pass:

  • Really tough throw to get good at when throwing outside.
  • Easy to pick if not accurate
  • “POP” is only one that can keep you on schedule.

To close my discussion on the Quick Game, I want to bring up the point that there are many different ways to skin a cat with these types of routes. It is all how and what you want to accomplish with them. I would also suggest that if you plan on using the Stand-Up, Bubble, or 1 Step Slant you plan a part of practice especially for practicing these plays on the defense. Your players must be willing to throw these anytime in the game to get the full effect of throwing uncovered. For more reading, I recommend Andrew Coverdale’s Quick Passing Book/Movies. There are 3 volumes in the series. The link is to the first. Footballs Quick Passing Game

Running Plays

The Quick Passing Game is not the only way to “Loosen Up the Box” and exploit the alignment of defenders. Other run plays can also accomplish the task. The main plays I am discussing fall into the category of “Sweeps.” There are many types of different sweeps, and I will try to give them all justice in how they can help eliminate defenders from the box. The basic premise behind all of these different types of sweeps is to get the ball out on the perimeter quickly in order to “pin” the defense into the box and get a huge gain. Some of these sweeps are easily adaptable to what you may be doing already, others may not. My intent is to offer a smorgasbord of a selection to show you how different people attack the same problem of getting players out of the box.

Types of Running Plays

Jet Sweep: This Sweep comes in with a variety of different blocking schemes, due to the reason that it is very modular. The sweep is recognized by a sweeper back moving in full speed motion directly behind the QB at the snap of the ball. The sweep back is then in good position to attack the perimeter before the defense has a chance to adjust. The idea of the play is to get outside of the defense before they can react and find the ball. In order to stop the play, the defense must over shift toward the perimeter leaving valuable room inside to run the ball.

Pros of Jet Sweep

  • A very fast Sweeper can do some serious damage on the perimeter
  • You don’t have to block that many people
  • Spread the touches out between players
  • 2 for 1 chance getting a secondary player to suck up on the sweep

Cons of Jet Sweep

  • Somewhat time intensive to get the mesh point down pat
  • A little tougher for slower RB’s
  • Chance to get behind schedule
  • Can’t allow penetration on the play side
Quick Pitch and Rocket Screen to the Strongside

Rocket Sweep/Toss: The Rocket Sweep/Toss is very similar to the Jet Sweep in terms of what it is trying to accomplish. It wants to get a player on the perimeter as fast as possible. The main difference between the Jet and the Rocket is in the mechanics of the play. The Rocket wants to hit outside of the tackle on the catch by the sweep back. The Rocket also wants the sweep back deeper and away from the QB at the snap of the ball. As is the case with the Jet, there are numerous ways to block it, so I will not go into detail. I will let you explore it more on your own.

Pros of Rocket Sweep/Toss

    • Fastest hitting of all the sweep plays
    • You do not need to block many people for it to work
    • Quick sweeper back will devastate a defense
    • 2 for 1 chance getting a secondary player to suck up on the sweep


Cons of Rocket Sweep/Toss:

  • Fumbled toss can be a disaster
  • Somewhat practice intensive
  • RB needs to be good at reading blocks
Quick Pitch and Rocket Screen to the Weakside
Quick Pitch: Quick Pitch is a staple play used by many old school Pro-Style teams, but most notably with Split Back Veer teams. Quick Pitch is a hybrid between the Old School Toss Sweep and the newer Jet and Rocket Sweeps. The actual toss is usually to a stationary back at the snap, who is offset of the midline in a formation. This play can also be blocked a number of ways, but they are generally similar to the way people block Rocket, Jet, and the Old School Sweep.

Pros of Quick Pitch:

    • Can get a perimeter run by a player who may tend to run inside more
    • Hits perimeter quick. LB/SS can get outflanked in a hurry.
    • Can run no matter the WR situation


Cons of Quick Pitch:

    • A dropped pitch can be bad news bears
    • May get you behind schedule
    • Can’t allow penetration

Old School Toss Sweep: The old school toss sweep is generally characterized by a Quarterback reversing out and the entire “Student Body” all going outside to block while the running back gets the pitch. The Fullback generally attacks the Force player hopefully springing the back for a touchdown. The blocking could also be a Pin and Pull type of scheme popularized by the old Colorado Buffaloes and more recently the Indianapolis Colts and Howard Mudd.

Pros of Toss Sweep:
  • Everybody and their brother is blocking for you.
  • No motion needed
  • Chance to have a big play

Cons of Toss Sweep:

    • Slower hitting play, since no one is moving at the snap.
    • Better have some good in space blockers
    • RB must be good at making reads and reading blocks
    • Fumbled Toss could be a disaster
    • Get behind schedule on a tackle for loss
    • Not the most effective method for removing people from the box.

Fly Sweep: The Fly Sweep is probably one of the least used plays in the Sweep family, but it can be one of the more effective plays. The play is characterized by a receiver moving in motion at the snap away from the intended play side behind the QB in a reverse type look. The purpose is to hold the backside pursuit from destroying the play. The beauty of the play is that you only have to have success on a couple of plays to get the attention of the defense. The inside run then becomes more equitable. Some more recent teams that use the Fly Sweep are USC under Pete Carroll and Oregon State with the Rodgers Brothers. Also, check out Mark Speckman’s DVD devoted to the entire package. Coaching the Fly Offense

Pros of the Fly Sweep

  • Gives you a can to get a stud WR a carry or two in a game
  • Creates a cloudy picture for the D. The D must waste precious time figuring out who has the ball
  • Very formation friendly
  • Can gain a numerical advantage by having more than one player attack the sweeper back.

Cons of the Fly Sweep

  • Very time intensive to install and time up.
  • Need to have some decent speed with the Sweep back
  • Can bring a front side defender into the box which can be counter productive

Some additional resources for checking out the different types of sweeps are listed below.


Screens to Loosen up the Box

The last type of play that I would like to look at while we are discussing ways to “Loosen Up the Box” are Screens. Screens function similarly to the Quick Passing Game, yet they allow you to get blockers down field and create bigger gains. I have picked two screens to discuss in this section, and they are the Rocket Screen and the Running Back Fast Screen. (I have already discussed the Bubble Route, therefore I did not want to include it again.)The reason I chose these two screens is because they really place stress on the Curl/Flat player to make a play, and they take advantage of too many players being in the box. Air Raid teams use these screens to take advantage of hard pass rushing players, but run first teams can use them to force an adjustment in the alignment of the defense.

Rocket Screen: The Rocket Screen is an Air Raid Staple used heavily by Texas Tech in the Mike Leach years, but has also been used arguably more successfully with the Purdue Boilermakers and the Indianapolis Colts. The receiver who is running the route generally will take one step up field and retrace his path behind the line of scrimmage following his blockers to the endzone. Some of you may also know this play as “Tunnel Screen.” I will not discuss blocking scheme as there are numerous ways to block that could themselves be a post. However, I will include a diagram of one of the more popular ways to block it.

Pros of the Rocket Screen:

  • Can be run anywhere
  • Tons of YAC yards
  • Slows pass rush down too
  • Forward pass
  • Easy throw with receiver coming toward the QB

Cons of the Rocket Screen

  • Better have good in space blockers (OL and WR)
  • Receiver can get jacked up if a block is missed
  • Can get ball batted down
  • Pick will probably be 6 the other direction
  • Somewhat time intensive to get players where they need to be going

Running Back Fast Screen: This play has been utilized heavily by Rich Rodriguez when he was at West Virginia. While he has used this out of the Spread Gun, I think it can be particularly useful for an under center run team as well. The play is characterized by the running back shooting directly towards the sideline at the snap of the ball. There are generally receivers in position to block for the RB. I think this play can be made even greater with a flash fake to an offset FB to the playside.

Pros of the Runningback Fast Screen:

  • Another good way to get a good RB the ball with emphasis on being on the perimeter
  • Hits perimeter quick
  • Slows DL & LBs down
  • Secondary players must wait a second before going to play.

Cons of the Runningback Fast Screen:

  • Dropped pass could be ruled a fumble
  • Need good perimeter blocking

In conclusion, I hope you are able to add one or two of these different ideas to your current package to “Loosen Up the Box” for your bread and butter inside runs. I realize some of these descriptions are not very detailed, but I hope I have piqued your interest in learning more about some of these different types of play on your own. Feel free to direct any questions to CoachCP or myself. My email is jobyturner[at]

Make sure you checkout for some great new videos!

Running the Football with the Power Play (Power-O, Counter, Counter-GT)

I believe running the power play or scheme, otherwise known as power-o or even “Dave” by Jim Tressel’s offense of Ohio State, is the most successful football play I’ve ever run. The reason being is the blocking scheme is simple and it is easy to recycle the power play’s blocking schemefor other plays like Counter.

I formation Power-O Play Versus Under Front

I formation Power-O Play Versus Under Front

Blocking Scheme for the I Formation Power-O Play

Power’s blocking scheme is relatively simple, regardless of if you run it out of shotgun or pistol spread, under center, or anything else your creative offensive mind can come up with.

I Formation Power-O Play: Playside Offensive Linemen

The most basic way to teach the I formation power-o play is to tell all the playside linemen, they are responsible for their inside gap. If there is any threat to their inside gap, they need to execute a down block. Down blocking has your linemen work on a 45 degree angle, getting their head in-front of the defensive linemen, and running the feet. If there is no threat to their inside gap, then they should look playside in-order to execute combination or “combo” block with their playside teammate. If no threat exits or if a playside combination block is not possible (no playside teammate), the player needs to work to a backside linebacker.

So that sounds like a lot. Once you install the play and run through it, I use the following coach speak, “Inside Gap to Playside Combo”. This has been very successful for us. With these rules, you can easily pickup inside linebacker blitzes. Note, the tight end should know the playside combo never exists for him.

I Formation Power-O Play: Backside Blocking

The backside guard needs to pull playside on the I formation power-o play. His goal is to wrap on the playside linebacker, but often, if that linebacker is good, he will end up meeting him at or near the line of scrimmage. The guard also needs to block any unblocked man (when under center) that exists at the line of scrimmage.

The technique of the pulling guard is widely varied. Some teams will have him take a drop step with his playside foot and then step through with his backside foot. This looks like “karaoke”, the famous warm up drill. This offers your guard the opportunity to get his shoulders parallel right away, and the ability to get up field right away. The problem is his leverage (it’s very hard to stay low and execute the karaoke step at full speed), power (he won’t have the ability to drive a linebacker back until he takes 2-3 steps after his karaoke step), and finally balance (if the center get’s blown up, there is no way you’ll get around. Also, it’s hard for the guard to successfully around the fullback if your fullback is forced to log the defensive end for some reason.

The other technique for the pulling guard, and the one I prefer, is the short pull with a wrap. The guard picks his playside foot up, with his big toe aiming at the playside B gap. This should give him a good up-field angle. He then executes the pull looking to wrap at his first opportunity (usually around the pre-snap B gap). This may prevent your guard from getting his shoulder square and may take him more time to get up field, however he is better able to handle all the other variables that are presented to him.

The backside tackle needs to step and hinge. He does this for 2 reasons. If there is no backside A gap threat, he needs to push the B gap threat to the center and then he needs to hinge backside and pickup the defensive end. If there is an A and B gap threat, he needs to lock onto the B gap threat. If there is no one in the B gap, he still needs to step and hinge, so he can prevent linebacker run through.

Finally, some teams will wrap or pull the fullback on the playside linebacker rather than the guard. This is commonly considered “Counter” or “Counter GT” rather than “Power” or “Power-O”. Pulling the fullback from an off-set I alignment provides a better angle on the playside linebacker for the most part. The fullback can run downhill while not having to worry about penetration by the center or playside guard blocking back. The caveat is the fullback needs to read kickout block by the guard. If the guard logs the end, the fullback needs to continue around the guard and wrap the playside linebacker. This is easier said then done, because often teams that spill guards have engrained a linebacker mentality called “scrape exchange”, where the defensive end and linebacker exchange gaps. The fullback also needs to be ready to immediately take on a blocker once passing the center, looking for run through.

[vfb id=1]

I Formation Power-O Play: Kickout on the EMOLOS

The fullback or backside guard needs to isolate the inside position on the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOLOS) and drive him out of the hole as he pulls down the line of scrimmage. The EMOLOS is typically the playside defensive end. This block is very important, as is the technique. The fullback or backside guard MUST work inside out on the defensive end and run down hill. At the same time, the blocker needs to maintain a good forward lean and knee bend in order to roll the hips into the block. This is difficult to balance and execute, especially against “violent” defensive ends. If the defensive end works inside and wrong arms or spills the fullback or bubbles him back, the fullback will be forced to execute a log blog and our backside guard must work around his block, and the tailback must bounce it. This will typically leave the safety one on one with our back with a great angle to make the play. This is why understanding safety leverage, coverage technique, and aggressiveness is vastly important on the power or counter scheme. If you know going into the game that you will have problems going outside, you can adapt your play calling, call “power base” (described below), or really focus on getting your kickout blockers to dig out defensive ends. You can help the end by motioning him closer to the point of attack. This can cause tendencies and give away the snap count, so use it wisely with other plays as well.

Power-O Play: Read the EMOLOS

Some teams, instead, will choose to read the playside EMOLOS on Power out of the gun. They will offset the runningback away from the play or to the playside. If the back is offset away, he will come across the fullback on a stretch path. Instead of kicking out the end, the QB will read the end. If the end can tackle the QB, he gives to the back.

On the other hand, the back and line up to the call side, but he probably needs to be at least 1 yard to a yard and a half behind the QB. This will make the runningback the dive person. The QB reads the playside end, and if the end can tackle the runningback, the QB keeps the ball off the edge. This is different from the counter from the gun, where the back takes the hand off going to the backside, stops, and then comes back to the playside. This is a playside, down hill run for the tailback, more of the traditional “power o” mentality and footwork.

Power-O: Reading the End

Power-O: Reading the End. Source: My Spread Power-o fishduck article

Both variations are great alternatives if you want to install a few spread sets but minimize new blocking schemes, or if you come into the year without a fullback or tight end type to execute good kickout. It’s also good versus teams that spill, because the defensive EMOLOS will always be wrong. Overall, I feel this version is best used against a wider front or an over front. A tandem from the under defense cause problems (see below for more information on tandems below).

I Formation Power-O Play: Power “Base”

Power base is a wonderful adjustment to the kickout version. Some teams, like the Wisconsin Badgers, strictly run power base against a 9 technique EMOLOS. Versus a team that provides a traditional over front with a 3 technique on the outside shade of the guard and a 9 technique on the outside of the tight end to the strength, the fullback can lead up either on the Mike or the Sam. Usually, I prefer the Sam just because the fullback should almost never be taught to run past anyone in an I formation offense, in my opinion. The backside guard would then wrap for either the Mike linebacker in a 00 or a 10 technique in the strongside A gap, or the Sam playing over the strongside C Gap.

This adjustment can be limiting though, since Under fronts can give you a tandem on the edge. A tandem, in this case, is when there are two defensive players covering the last two offensive EMOLOS players. Against an under front, the fullback would lead up on the 30 technique strongside linebacker, or the B gap playside linebacker. The tackle and tight end would go “out” “out” on the tandem players, the strongside 5 technique defensive end and the Sam Linebacker, aligned in a 9 technique. The backside guard would pull into the first openning he sees and lead up on the first threat (often in this scenario, its actually the backside linebacker). Often times, Wisconsin will be in a two tight end set or even 22 personnel, with 2 tight ends in a fullback. This allows them find the 9 technique without a tandem and base him.

This variation can be run from pro style 3 receiver, 1 tight end set as well (11 personnel). This allows the power blocking scheme to be adaptable overall.

Weakside Power

I Formation Power-O Play Weak

I Formation Power-O Play Weak

It should be noted that weakside power (specifically to a split end side) is essentially the same as strongside power. All of the rules stay in tact. Playside linemen look (1) inside gap to (2) playside combo, before working to (3) a linebacker. The weakside tackle, who is now also the playside tackle, can eliminate step 2 and go straight to a linebacker. However, for younger kids, and Russ Grimm (power-o expert of Redskins, Cardinals, and Steelers), you may want to call the play something else since the read is different for the playside tackle and the wrap from the backside puller may happen quicker.

Red vs. White Side

There are some coaches who believe in the “Red” and “White” theory of playcalling, especially for counter and power. For those unfamiliar, the advocates of this system believe plays are run best to either a reduction (red) or a wide side (white). The reason for this is the technique and run reads will always stay constant. A reduced front means that there is a defensive linemen in the B gap (usually a 3 technique on the guard). On any down, there can be both a red and a white side, a double red call, and a double white call. (Yes, I summed this up quickly so I didn’t take an hour explaining all the scenarios). An example, an under front, with the 5 technique to the strongside, has white call to the strength, and a red call to the weakside (3 technique). Versus an over front, a red call would be made to the strongside because of the existence of a B gap defensive linemen (the 3 technique), and a white call to the backside (no B gap defensive lineman). A double red call could therefore occur in a Bear front (with two 3 techniques), so no white call would exist.

The theory of playcalling, for the most part, is simple. You call power to the red side because it is supposed to be a quick hitting play that goes down hill. The 3 technique, the person causing the “red call”, should be driven down inside with the combo block between the guard and tackle, and the tailback should be able to run the true “A gap” power then, where the back has an A gap mentality and footwork. Counter or Counter GT, on the other hand, should be run to the white side, because it will take a longer time for the double team between the tackle and tight end to move the 5 technique or C gap defending end down the LOS, and the back is typically making some kind of counter move with an aiming point in the B or C gap.

There are holes in the theory. For the most part, while this strives to minimize technique on certain plays (ie Always a a “deuce” or guard/tackle combo on power), a team can still provide different techniques. A combo block on a 4i is much different from a combo block on a 3 technique, at least in my opinion. It also limits you. I believe I can still have an A gap mentality on Power or Counter to a “white” side, especially if my tight end is a man. Overall though, the logic is there for this system, however, it involves great in-game scouting, careful game-planning, or a very smart offense to make the switch at the LOS, so this is a college or pro-style theory of calling power/counter (and a lot of other plays for that manner).

Running the Power O

Overall, yes you can make the scheme as complicated or simple as you’d like. However, at it’s core, the base power or counter scheme is simple and worthwhile for most offenses. You can run it and read the playside end out of a spread look. You can run it from the I or from the single wing or wing T. It can be adjusted easily and simply to be executed versus a wide variety of defenses and techniques.

Modifications to the Power Play

I want to thank Buckeye Football Analysis for this little update (or, reminder) of a way to use the Power play. Basically, its an adjustment for disciplined ends that wrong arm and over pursue the traditional power play (the LB’s press the LOS and the hole created by the double team(s)).

Buckeye football dates it back to the traditional T formation, but we actually ran a version of this when we ran the Counter GT in the Delaware Wing-T back in high school. If the end closed hard and stayed tight to the LOS, the guard would wrap on him and the tackle would read him and wrap around his block. It was also an in-game call (instead of counter, we called it counter sweep). 
For today’s Power Play, which Buckeye Football correctly cites a great article by in regard to it being one of if not the most famous run play in football, this play is similar.

If a defensive end closes hard and inside on the fullback, it would traditionally blow up the power play. The linebackers scrape over the top and then immediately press the LOS to cut off the runningback as he adjusted his path (naturally) to the outside.

Modifying the Power Play

This modification, which I like to call Power Flip, has the fullback wheel on the defensive end. With this idea already in play, it takes any indecisiveness out of the offensive guard. As the guard knows he’s wrapping, he can quickly get around the corner. The linebackers and force defender (especially the playside safety who fills inside when he sees power in Cover 4) will be out of luck. Now, where do the double teams occur? This depends on how you designed power. For instance, against an under front, some people cut off a backside 3 technique tackle with their backside offensive tackle, and the center and playside guard combo block to the backside inside linebacker, with the playside tackle/tight end combo going to the playside inside linebacker. The guard would wrap around onto any extra defender, hopefully a safety. Others have the center block back on the 3 technique, the guard block down on a shaded nose and the tackle and tight end double to the backside linebacker with the guard leading on the playside linebacker.

So, in power flip, you could follow those blocking rules. If the backside inside linebacker likes to press the LOS, this would likely work out very well. If he’s great at pursuing, you run the risk of him beating the playside guard to the hole and bubbling the playback.

Perhaps the best adjustment would be out of the gun. Running this out of the gun and reading the 3 technique versus an under or the backside end (maybe pulling the tackle instead of the guard) would give the offense a plus one advantage, with the pulling guard wrapping on the safety.

Some key coaching points would include the pull technique for the guard. While the fullback is wrapping, this would create “trash” at the point of attack. The guard needs to throw the playside arm back and really take a deep pull, and then run downhill from the LOS form there. Also, the fullback needs to be schooled on proper wheeling technique (sometimes called a log or a J back). The runningback needs to have his eyes meet the playside inside linebacker and nearly mirror the steps, except his toe needs to point probably off the tight ends playside hip. There will be no cutback on this play.

Overall, I feel this play would be a great addition to anyone who runs whatever variation of power. Again, I’d like to thank Buckeye Football Analysis and Also, thank you for reading despite the fact I have no diagrams (remember, no internet at home yet, so no playmaker pro).

Feel free to leave comments!