Category Archives: Tight Ends

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]gmail.com.

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.

Quicks

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

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]gmail.com

Make sure you checkout ChiefPigskin.com for some great new videos!

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 SmartFootball.com 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 Smartfootball.com. 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!

Two Tight End Offensive Formations

Two tight end sets are pretty tough to defend. Manipulation of multiple tight ends allow your running game and passing game to flourish. Now I know what you’re thinking, I don’t have two tight ends. So what?! Use an undersized linemen or an oversized or slow receiver. Anyone from 5’10+ will work for high school!

All you want in the passing game, for most offenses, is someone who can attack the flats, run a drag, or run directly at a safety and maybe break inside or outside. Also, in my opinion, technique trumps size in 90% of your on the field battles. Chances are, you are not going to have the prototypical tight end, but you don’t need one. Put your kids in a position to be successful. If they can block better, sneak them out on a flat route after selling pass pro for a count. If they can run routes, flood the defense.

Regardless, lack of ideal personnel should never be an excuse for not using one or two tight end sets. Think about this, you use defensive ends I bet without prototypical defensive end types, and you use two of them…

Two Tight End Gap Advantage

Now, onto the X’s and O’s regarding two tight end sets. Remember, what you want is the gap advantage. It is very difficult to defend and offense that puts two tight ends on the field.

First of all, is the extra tight end treated as a receiver, a blocker, or a second full back?

Do they have him on or off the line, and do they move him around?

If they move him around, what are their tendencies with motion?

These are just some of the questions a defense must ask itself. Now imagine you are a linebacker. The tight end goes from a wing position away from the tight end to a position to the strength. First of all,when are they going to snap it? Second, what are the new play call tendencies from here?

As a play caller, use the two tight end sets and motion to manipulate the defense. Some people ask, how can you limit verbiage in your offense? I personally like the idea of calling the “set” formation during the playcall, and having your tight end start off in a set position called before the formation.

For example, the tight end starts off in “Ace” and moves to “Plus”. The formation call in the huddle is “Ace – Plus Right”.  From informing our players and rep’ing our calls in practice, the players know we don’t have an “Ace – Plus Right” formation. They do know they are two base formations for us.

All formation adjustments, for this offense, come after the direction call. For example, Ace Right Twinz would be a regular formation call. “Ace – Plus Right” tells our J-Back (H-back like player) that he needs to move across the formation to a wing position off the tight end or Y.

What kind of structural problems can we cause for the defense? Lets start off with our first example, “Ace – Plus Right”. As the tight end gets set to the strength, we put the defense in a bind. Suddenly, what do we have?

We have gone from a 2 x 2 formation (two receivers to both sides) to a 3 x 1 formation, or trips. Not only that, it is a form of bunch.

Bunch, a subject of great advantage for another day, causes numerous defensive problems, even if its two players. First of all, it forces the defense to recognize a new gap, the E gap. The D gap, depending on the defensive structure, may need to be played in a new way.

Secondly, how are they going to match up to defend these gaps? Will they bring a strong safety over or bump the linebackers?

Maybe they’ll do neither, depending on the down and distance. But if they don’t, they’re minus one in the run game, and probably going to force the players to play a weird form of coverage that is slightly unfamiliar to them.

I’ll give some examples of how this formation’s intricate structure provides mis-matches against an opponent. The first play I like off this motion and formation is Inside Zone. Take that J-Back across the formation again to block the backside defensive end. First of all, linebackers, in the heat of all the motion, may assume that it is a puller and could over pursue, opening a cut UP instead of a cut back, probably through the C gap, putting a runningback on a safety or outside linebacker down hill, something you should like as a play caller if you have a talented back. On the other hand, the linebackers could lose that backside edge blocker and not play the cutback as well as they should, which is always great for an inside zone running team.

The next play I like is obviously the run action off of this play call. Oregon State gives USC a bunch of fits off this, but with a receiver. As the J-back comes back to act like he is blocking the EMOLOS, he hits the DE with his inside shoulder. This will knock the the DE inside allowing the bootleg. You can have your traditional backside flood then off of that bootleg. Also, you can run curl flat combos and even smash variations.

4 Verticals can be LETHAL if you have two undersized tight ends from this formation, and if the zone structure of the defense is unbalanced, or if the safeties jump on crossing routes. The Y, or traditional tight end, will run at an aiming point of 8-10 yards to the OPPOSITE hash mark (depending on his speed).

He should be looking for the ball against any inside linebacker blitz. The J-back or wing should move up the seem and hash mark, looking for the ball, especially if the free safety follows the ever so tempting crossing tight end. The X and Z can run comebacks if the corners settle inside or, if they have a step, run deep routes.

My personal favorite, however, is using the motion and formation combo against your traditional Under front, ESPECIALLY if they roll the inverted safety to the weakside before the motion.  You can run stretch, or outside zone, toss, or what I call power base, where the Y blocks the end and the J is responsible for the Sam and the Guard wraps on the Mike.

So, as a play caller, how can you know how to approach these tools in your offense? First, ask yourself how the defense plays the formation.

Do they rotate the safeties, move the linebackers, or both?

How does the top of the coverage work?

Remember, the coverage often dictates the front and how they play the run. Use YOUR playbook and find out how your plays can manipulate them. You shouldn’t be installing these plays, instead, you should use them as ideas on how to manipulate YOUR offense around your players. Maybe you pass more, and use the trips and bunch advantage to the strongside, which I didn’t mention. Maybe you run more, and you will use some form of counter or trap by utilizing the tight ends.

What about other two tight end formations, such as the tradition Ace back, 2 x 2 we were in before all that motion?