Category Archives: Offensive Systems

4 Keys to Option Football

There are four keys to option football. Option football, whether you use the triple option or a double option, can stress the defense and force them to avoid blitzing or overloading one side of the ball.

Whether you are a team that focuses on running the option, or do it to keep your base bread and butter plays running smoothly, these four keys should add to your option football offense. Continue reading

Wing-T Offense: Bucksweep

In the Wing-T offense, arguably the best concept is the buck series. I’m going to cover the 3 main buck series plays, but let’s start with the bread and butter, the bucksweep. What makes the Wing-T offense’s bucksweep play so lethal are the 2 other constraint plays, buck trap and the waggle pass. But regardless, for many teams, the bucksweep is the explosive play they like to run the most.

I’ll start with the traditional bucksweep, then we’ll cover the enhancements my high school coach in my senior year showed us, which really let our wing-t offense explode. Continue reading

Football Passing Play Series: The Smash Route or Smash Concept

The smash route in football, better known as the smash concept or smash pattern in football, is pass pattern designed to attack the defense vertically. When used as a full field concept, rather than a two man half field concept, it becomes both a horizontal and vertical pass pattern. The smash route or smash pattern is one of the most utilized football passing plays.

Defining The Smash Route or Smash Concept

We say the smash route pattern is a vertical pass pattern because it stretches the defense between the corner and safety mainly. When a single route (like a drag, in or dig) stretches from the backside or the backfield, it becomes a horizontal stretch as well. This is because your attacking more areas of the defense (specifically the hook to curl zone). This defender can usually help defend the hook or curl, but with the drag coming across, he can only occupy one or the other. If the drag route identifies a hole in the zone, he should slow down and settle in that area for the QB. He should keep moving however.

smash route smash concept 2x1 slot i formationThe #1 receiver runs a quick hitch route. A number of people run this hitch route differently, sometimes even depending on where they are on the field. The idea is the same though, someone to occupy the flat with the #1 receiver. I like to have the receiver try to force an outside release because that tends to scare clouded corners. This makes them forget about sinking with the #2 receiver’s vertical route. By attacking the corner, we make his life harder. In the worst case scenario, we get an easier outside release and a fairly easy catch.

The #2 receiver should work vertically to a distance of 10-12 yards before breaking to the corner (ironically, this is called a corner route). For added enhancement, if this player is athletic, a double move at the top of the route can be effective. One step or even a head jab to the post can get a safety flat footed. This player needs to be athletic to do this however. If the safety fails to fall inside, he should be prepared for the throw to be flatter from the QB in-case the corner doesn’t sink, almost like a dig route, but to the outside. It is up to the receiver to find the ball on the smash route and adjust his route.

To make the play most effective, someone should occupy the hook to curl or curl to flat defender. That could be a play action pass, or a receiver from the backside.

Formations for the Smash Route or Smash Concept

The smash route can be run from many types of formations. For instance, the Smash route can be run from 2×1 receiver 21 personnel sets, like the I formation. The smash concept can be run from 2×2 receiver 11, 10 and 12 personnel sets as well. Finally, the most interesting use, in my opinion, is running the smash route out of trips sets, regardless of the personnel and specific variation. For those curious, trips would be a 3×1 receiver set and potentially a 10, 11 or 12 personnel set.

Trips Variations for the Smash Route or Smash Concept

When running the smash route out of trips sets, you can do it a number of ways. My favorite is a vertical stretch with the #3 receiver, especially if that player is an athletic tight end who is closed to the trips side, however it can be run out of any of these sets.

Smash Route or Smash Concept out of 2x1

Smash Route out of 2×1

The #1 and #2 receiver would follow their same basic rules for the normal smash route concept, a hitch and a corner respectively.

The #3 receiver can run a go or streak route. He should use his hands and not get knocked off his route. He should fight pressure with anticipated pressure and stay in the seam. If the middle of the field is open, he should take that area and bend inside slightly. If the middle of the field is closed, he should lock eyes with the middle third defender and force him to be covered. If the tight end is an athletic target, or a tall target, this could be a great mismatch.

QB Reads on the Smash Route or Smash Concept

I like the R4 system. I would look for pre-snap “caps” to accelerate the read. If any receiver is re-routed, I would accelerate the read again past that receiver.

The rhythm route would be the #2 receiver. The Read route would be the hitch. Rush route would be the drag.

In the R4 system, two rhythm’s make a read. So for the trips variation, you would go corner as the rhythm, vertical as the read, and hitch as the rush route. Thanks to Coach Thompson and Coach Maddox for the assistance with regards to that.

Conclusions on the Smash Route Or Smash Pattern Football Passing Play

The smash route is a great concept overall. The smash concept is utilized in a variety of forms, plenty of which I have not described here. I encourage you to take a look at other resources as well on the topic.

Running the Option to Keep Defenses Gap Sound and Stable

As a coach, I don’t like non-gap sound defenses. By that, I mean defenses that send two guys to the same gap. One’s that over-shift the safeties to one side. I like them from the stand point that we can get big plays on them. I don’t like them because typically it creates confusion after the initial time or too. Some defenses choose to be a little less strict on their gaps when they identify a tendency or when they think a pass is coming. It’s at these points that having a little bit of an option running game can get big plays for the offense, or in the least, prevent these exotic looks. Running the option will keep defenses stable.

Running the Option: Arc Option

Courtesy of

Running the option also keeps defenses from blitzing or doing some stunts. Having a problem with a backside linebacker run through? Run an option play and kill their backside pursuit by gashing them. A defensive end sometimes spilling power, but sometimes boxing it out? Run load option and win every time by kicking him or logging him and optioning the next guy.

Running the Option: The Excuses

Some teams will say they don’t have time to run the option, because it takes too long to install. They have some… elaborate passing game and don’t have the time to dedicate to the option. Or they don’t want their QB to get hurt. Or he’s too slow. Teams that use these excuses are avoiding a major solution. The bottom line is your QB doesn’t have to be a terrific athlete to make it work. He’s in just as much danger dropping back 30 times a game being protected by a 16-18 year old left tackle.

Don’t believe you have the time to be running the option or teaching the reads? Pre-call the silly thing, or call it from the sideline with a check with me type of deal. OR, spend pre-practice just going over your reads. Trust me, reading the option should be easier than reading 3-4 defenders on a passing play. Finally, the fear of turning the ball over is the other excuse. Personally, this is the worst one. You can run plays like the shovel option to make any dropped pitch an incomplete pass.

Running the Option: Two-man Option

I like the idea of the two-man option or double option when you don’t have a lot of time to install it. Really, you can use whatever your outside zone or veer blocking looks like.

Milt Tenopir, legendary Nebraska o-line coach, used the outside zone scheme for all his double options, which many times included a fake to the fullback to give the illusion of the triple option. He would change up the block of the offensive end man on the line of scrimmage, usually having them combo block with their inside teammate to the nearest linebacker, but everything else was the same. Using the outside zone scheme will eliminate confusion on the offensive line by recycling, as they should know your outside play already. It also only involves reading one defensive linemen, even if it sometimes looks like you’re reading two. This will help keep that defense gap sound. It makes running the option a lot easier as well.

Running the Option: Triple Option

The triple option takes more time to install, but the reward can be greater. If you don’t focus on the option, just install one version of this play. Usually, that version is outside veer or mid-line, depending on what the offense typically sees defensively. I like outside veer better, which can really be blocked using the outside zone blocking scheme (but having the offensive end man on the line of scrimmage combo with his inside teammate to the nearest linebacker). From here, you essentially are just reading the last man on the line of scrimmage.

Again, don’t make this more intimidating than it should be. Once you clear that guy, you’re reading the second man, typically the force player for your pitch key. Again, if your QB can read the flat player to the hook to curl player, then you can execute the triple option. It comes down to how well you teach both concepts.

Running the Option: Coaching it Up

I highly encourage you to Google for the specific option play you want to install. Once you have an understanding of it, go talk to another staff you think has experience with the play and get the nitty gritty details on it. See if you can borrow game film or practice film of a high school team running the option play to see what their difficulties are. Don’t just draw it up and try to do it on your own without knowledge of the play. There are some minor tweaks that may need to happen. Some of you may think this is daunting, but really, whenever you install new plays, not just when running the option, you should be doing this level of research.

Running the Option: Conclusions

Running the option is only daunting when you make it that way as a coach. We’ve used it this year, sparringly, but enough to keep defenses honest. When they start trying some exotic stuff, we typically get a big play out of our option running game. Again, running the option is not a major time investment. It’s worthwhile though, and can really help you offense get moving. Power-O in the Spread Offense

I know I’ve been slow here during the season, and I apologize (well, I’m focused on our team, so not so much!). I did want to give you guys a post I never mentioned here that is over on Power-O in the Spread Offense discusses the famous play we all know I love so much being utilized in the spread. It includes some clips and plenty of new innovations to help make Power-O work from shotgun sets.

It also discusses how to deal with defensive ends who spill the guard to stop the QB dive and linebackers that aggressively flow outside to stop the sweep.

I do have some new posts coming soon, they just need some images, so make sure you keep coming back to Strong Football!

NFL Offensive Play Calling Terminology: Simplify and Minimize

NFL Play Calling Terminology

I was once a proponent of systematic play calling terminology like the NFL. This included formation adjustments, the play and tags. I even had an equation for it. It’s can be very flexible.

For this, Steve Jobs would beat me with his “simple stick”. Over and over again. Why? It’s flexible but it’s complex. It’s not simple.

The Future of NFL Play Calling and Terminology

The NFL will eventually meet an offensive coach who is a much better coach when it comes to communicating. With the way college coaches are calling plays, be them hand signals, 3-5 word max calls or boards with pictures, it’s truly only a matter of time. The big difference is that college football needs these systems, where NFL has the coordinator talking through a headset. So for this moment, let’s start with the actual play call in words and why they’re inefficient and how they can be simplified.

Flexibility Versus Complexity

Flexibility only matters if it’s truly understood quickly. Let’s face it, the game of football is faster than ever before. To understand something quickly, it must be succinct and simple. 8-12 word play calls take time to process. That doesn’t include snap count or anything like that either. If we could cut that in half, we not only save a split second or two on the clock, we save our players processing power for more important things, like the defensive adjustments or remembering the snap count.

What’s the Solution for NFL Play Calling Terminology

I’m not an NFL coach. I didn’t play college football. But if Apple can change the wording for MP3 players from what it technically was, specifically a “four inch, sixty gigabyte hard drive with a USB port” to “1000 songs in your pocket”… then the NFL can change “Brown Right Over 73 Chicago F arrow X curl” to “Rex Chicago Calf”.

How can this be done? Make your most used tags, motions or other adjustments and tie them together as much as possible. “F arrow x curl” is a curl/flat concept tag that is tied to the original play call (“73 Chicago” in this case), so why not make it one word, aka “calf”.

You may be thinking, okay smart guy, but what about pass protections? In the NFL, the center sets them in a lot of offenses. Heck, the Bears took over 20 into some games last year. The center can call them with the appropriate play. The center knows Chicago is a 5 step drop, he can call a five step protection. While your HS center may not know this, hopefully a full time NFL player will.

What about the formation? “Brown right over” became “Rex”. I dropped 2 words. Because of the extra time NFL players have, learning formations could become part of the meetings and be rep’d without the contact for 5 minutes before or after practice. If someone signs in the middle of the season and needs to get caught up to speed quick, his teammates could help him out. Regardless, I could argue learning an extra 20-40 formations would be easier than trying to figure out how each slight adjustment to a formation could affect a receiver. This is probably where my philosophy has changed the most since a few years ago, where I used to believe that receivers/fullbacks should adjust the formation. Quite frankly, this is something we should just make easy because while formations are important, they aren’t as important as the play. I’d rather have them thinking about the play then making sure they adjust the formation correctly.

I know Trent Dilfer would say that a formation is one thing, but personnel is another. That is the added benefit of the NFL system, so they can get personnel matchups. Or wait… can’t I just use a word like a brand of car? Maybe say it before the play? Or use a signal? Or maybe a board? This way I can have slot and flanker switch positions. That seems easier than “Brown Right Over Flip” doesn’t it? I could say “Rex Mustang” instead of all that. On Mustang, slots and flankers flip. Doesn’t matter what the call is. They flip.

You may ask about shifts and motions. That’s easy. Some NFL teams already use this method so it should be even easier. “Rex zac” means the z moves across the formation to Rex. Or vice versa (moves from his spot in Rex to somewhere across the formation).

So, if we take a sample full NFL play call, with my slot and flanker flipped now, like “Brown Right Over Flip Zac 73 Chicago F arrow X curl” (11 words), I could easily make it “Rex Mustang Zac Chicago Calf” (5 words). This has cut 6 words out of the play call, and can easily mean the same thing. Heck, if we just yelled “Mustang” to the players or used a signal (because NFL stadiums are so loud) for that after the huddle, I can cut that word out. So now we’re at 4 words, “Rex Zac Chicago Calf”. Wait… I could probably use a signal for the motion too… since we’re motioning into the called formation anyway so it ultimately doesn’t matter to anyone besides that receiver or the QB. So… “Rex Chicago Calf”…3 words. Mustang and Zac can come separate if the need arises.

So what have we learned? By simply packaging tags and simplifying formations, you can suddenly and drastically impact the simplicity of a play call. But… OUCH… Steve Jobs hit me with the “simple stick” again…

Why Signals and Boards are Still Useful in the NFL

Why did Steve Jobs hit me again? He would look at my process. The offensive coordinator/QB relationship through their headset specifically. Despite the occasional glitch, it’s inefficient for play calling reasons. Why is it inefficient? I’ve added an unnecessary user interaction. My other 10 players on the field have eyes and ears, don’t they? They can see signals from the sideline. They can see a board, or whatever the next cool looking thing will be.

If my play call can be 5 words, then I can easily use 5 quick hand signals. Defensive coordinators, for the longest time at the NFL level, would use more than that and maybe even boards to signal information. So I know us offensive guys, because we are supposedly smarter after all, could do the same thing. And all 11 guys could see it, get lined up, and run the play. Some NFL teams may already be using this in no huddle situations. So why not use it all the time and just line up at the line of scrimmage, skipping the huddle all the time? I’d save my offensive linemen from running 5-10 yards after each play (maybe more even). I’d give myself more time, as the play caller, to give my QB tips through the headset as we watch the defense setup because we’re already aligned. We could easily analyze the play and do it before my “timer” runs out on the headset, if I wanted to do that kind of thing. And if we want to control the clock, we could always huddle again, as useless as that may now seem.

I know, the logical argument would be why did the defensive coordinators want a headset if the signals were so great? I think the logical reason is it’s easier… for the coordinator. Which it most definitely is. I get to make some elaborate call. Let my players decipher it. They’re being paid to do just that, aren’t they? Or, maybe the less cynical person thinks it’s so they defensive coordinator could point out tendencies and such during his allotted time, just like the offensive coordinator could do. Either way, it doesn’t really matter.

Calling plays through the headset is terribly inefficient because it slows down the process and adds an extra step. In this process, you rely on (1) a coordinator to call the play and (2) the quarterback to call the play again and (3) the other players to hear the play. In the signal system, I can (1) call the play and (2) all the players can see the play call. I mean, if you don’t believe me that eliminating user interactions is important, did you ever play that telephone game in elementary school? In it, one person would sit and say “Mr. Teacher is Awesome” and by the last person in class, 20 people later, it would be “Mr. Teacher was caught making out with Ms. Other Teacher at the Movies”. While that exaggerates the problem, it’s the truth. The more interactions you have, the more chances for error. Let’s streamline the terminology and the process NFL.

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Concluding thoughts on NFL Offensive Play Calling Terminology

Some coach, probably pretty soon, will revolutionize play calling in the NFL. You may not think it’s a big deal. However, the NFL is entrenched in this position, so it may seem doubtful that it will change. They were entrenched with playbooks. Now teams like the Packers and Broncos are using iPad apps for their playbooks. It adds video in real time pretty much. Just more efficient process.

Everything can be minimized and reinvented, no matter how entrentched they are. Ask Microsoft about complexity versus simplicity… and how Apple showed how awesome simplicity could be (and how flexible it could be too). You can ask Hudl‘s competitors too the same question. Simplicity, especially flexible simplicity, always wins. It will win the NFL soon as well.

The Logic and Science of Offensive Play Calling and Tempo

Guest Football Coaching Blog Post

This is a guest blog post on offensive tempo and play calling by the Coach Kurt Earl, offensive coordinator at Lincoln Christian School and publisher of Compete4Christ, a football blog. You can follow him on his Twitter Handle, KurtEarl14.

As a man of deep faith in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ I try to live my life intentionally. I do my best as a husband, teacher and coach to live with a purpose and to make intentional decisions. As the Offensive Coordinator at Lincoln Christian School I have designed our offensive strategies and schemes with the same intentionality.

Lincoln Christian is a small school (averaging about 40 students per grade) and we rarely have more than 35 boys out for football. Of those 35 or fewer boys roughly 6-10 are linemen. Thus, nearly every starter starts both ways and we are always making linemen out of young men who are probably better suited for fullback. Furthermore, our skill players tend to be very skillful and quick, but often lack the sheer strength needed to pound out yardage between the tackles.

A few years ago we realized we were wasting our time trying to develop our young men into your prototypical football players. Like Brad Pitt’s character Billy Beane in the movie Moneyball we embraced the fact that we simply could not compete with the New York Yankees of our district by trying to match them man for man. Also, like Beane we did not and would not have players that fit into the classic molds and systems. As a result we have adopted an offensive strategy intentionally structured around two specific slogans.

Slogan #1: We got science

Slogan #2: We got answers

We Got Science – Biology Behind the Tempo

“We got science” means that we operate in a no huddle, full throttle offense because it does not allow the defense to recover between plays. The lack of recovery between plays forces our opponent to operate in what is commonly referred to as the Lactic Acid Energy System. Defending us is more like running an 800 meter sprint and less like throwing the shot or running a 40 yard dash. Our strength and conditioning program, practice tempo and overall mentality prepare our players to compete in their Lactic Acid Energy System.

As a result, we have the advantage every time we step onto the field. Our intentional effort to operate in a different energy system than our opponent gives us a leg up from the opening kickoff. The vast majority of teams, even those who run a no huddle offense, do not move from play to play fast enough to force their opponent out of the ATP-PT Energy System. The ATP-PT Energy System provides the necessary energy for intense bouts of exercise that last 6-8 seconds. Sounds like a football play, right? The key to “we got science” is to transition quickly from play to play.

We Got Answers – Logic Behind the Play Calling

We do several things to help us transition from one play to another quickly, but the biggest key to our quick transition is “We got answers.” Slogan number two, “we got answers,” means that our offense is a collection of series not a collection of plays. Each series features a base concept. The base concept is then complimented by a number of plays designed to provide answers to the defense’s potential adjustments to the base concept. Using the feedback the other coaches are giving me in the headsets I call THE play that is THE response to THE adjustment the defense is making. This means that I can call plays in a split second. As the play caller I roam the sidelines with a chart that outlines our series and plays. The chart is structured so that I can easily find THE play we need based on the information I have.

“We got answers” makes play calling a systematic, intentional response to the defenses’ attempts to stop our base concepts. We do not have a collection of plays thrown together in a play book. We have 5-8 base concepts that are complimented by dozens of “answers” to potential defensive adjustments. As players grow and mature in the system they begin to understand it and actually anticipate play calls. When we are hitting on all cylinders, I watch everyone nod their heads in agreement with the call as they line up for the next play.
I recognize that everyone is calling plays based on the information the defense is giving them. At the same time, however, I think our offense is unique in that every call I make is a counter punch. We don’t really have a “bread and butter” play. We take what the defense is giving us. We wait for the defense to show their hand and then respond.

Simple, Exciting, Fun

When everyone in the game is on the same page like this it creates an environment in which operating at a fast tempo is simple, exciting and fun. We take great pride in eight play drives that cover less than two minutes of game clock and make defensive linemen feel like they just ran an 800 meter while stopping to push a car every 20 seconds.

I would like to conclude by recognizing that there is more than way to score points in football. One of the greatest things about football is the diversity it allows. No two offenses are exactly alike. Thus, my goal here is not to convince you to run a no huddle, spread offense. Rather, my goal is to encourage you to embrace your circumstances, your players and your opportunities and to adapt an offensive strategy that is intentionally designed to fit your needs. Don’t identify excuses, create answers.

Finally, if you’d like to know more about how competing in athletics can be a tremendous aspect of a person’s walk with Christ take a minute to check out my blog Compete4Christ at

Side note, make sure you checkout for interesting play calling information.