The midline option is often forgotten in today’s days of the spread offense. The Zone read, the triple option, etc… all still thrive, even when the team is in the gun.
But what happened to the Midline option? There are a few exceptions, for instance, Oregon has been known to run it – must notably getting it blown up by Auburn’s defensive tackles in their national championship game a few years ago.
But unless you’re going up against first round picks with freakish like athleticism every play, midline option is still a good concept.
This is the second part of a guest blog post on the Triple Option Quarterback’s Mechanics and Reads by Levi Steier. You can follow him on his Twitter Handle, OptionFootball. If you’re interested in guest posting for Strong Football, email CoachCP at editor[at]strongfootballcoach.com.
The option quarterback needs to be keenly aware of the defense when running the triple option
In Part 1, Breaking Down the Option Quarterback’s Responsibilities, we discussed the option quarterback’s responsibilities and thought processes from the time he breaks the huddle, through the mesh, and up until the first read. We will now move on to the read phases of the triple and progress through to the whistle.
The Quarterback’s Reads: The Dive Read
Once the option quarterback has gotten the snap, located his Dive Read, taken his steps, and pushed his arms back to begin the mesh he is ready to make his first read. While in the mesh the quarterback decides whether or not he is going to give the ball to the fullback, or pull the ball and move into the next phase of the triple option. His decision is based on the action of the Dive Read player (#1 in the count shown in the diagram to below) and it is essential for him to be decisive and confident in his reads.
Numbered Option Quarterback Reads
The option quarterback has learned to think in terms of a “one way” process. He knows that the Dive Read will react in one of four basic ways. He also knows that three of them result in a give-read and a subsequent handoff to the fullback. Therefore he will think to himself, “Give unless the Dive Read makes me pull.”
In response to the triple option blocking scheme, the Dive Read will typically respond by (1) crash stunting, (2) squatting, (3) going up field, or (4) charging the mesh.
1. Crash stunting involves the Dive Read crashing toward the mesh, but re-directing late for the QB. Give-Read.
2. The Dive Read squats, or sits, attempting to react to both the give and the pull. Give-Read.
3. The Dive Read attacks up field, taking away the quarterbacks path. Give-Read.
4. The Dive Read charges the mesh or runs flat down the line to take away the FB’s path. Pull-Read.
As the option quarterback rides the mesh, he is watching the Dive Read’s reaction and deciding on his course of action. If he sees the Dive Read crash stunt, squat, or move up field, he gives the ball to the fullback. He then disengages and runs out his option fake. The crash stunt is the most difficult reaction to read as it looks like a mesh charge but turns into a move up field late. The key with this is to be patient in the mesh and see the DE make his move up field. Each of these reactions from the Dive Read give the quarterback a give-read. If a misread occurs, the quarterback should tuck the ball away and get behind his fullback.
Alternatively, if he reads a mesh charge, he pulls the ball, snaps his eyes to the Pitch Read and attacks the defenders outside hip. The option quarterback cannot guess, and cannot be hesitant.
Hesitation and doubt are primary causes of mesh fumbles.
If the quarterback has any doubt as the ball reaches his front foot/hip, he gives the ball to the fullback and lives with the decision.
The option quarterback must make his decision before the ball/mesh pass the threshold of his front hip.
It is far better to take a loss on the play, and avoid the turnover. Conversely, the quarterback knows if he pulls the ball on a give-read, he never makes it worse by pitching off of the Dive Read. His only course of action is to tuck the football and get behind the fullback. The quarterback knows this is the safe play because the fullback’s responsibility is to collision the Dive Read when the ball is pulled. Again, the option quarterback never pitches the ball after misreading the dive phase of the triple option.
Prior to the snap, the quarterback had taken note of the defensive front as well as any other indicators that would help him make the correct read. One of these factors would have been the alignment of #1. If the defensive end was in a wide 5 technique, or even shaded on or outside the play side slot back, the quarterback would be aware that the Dive Read must make a more definitive move inside to indicate a pull read. Alternatively, if the Dive Read is aligned as a hard 5 technique and tilted to the inside, the quarterback has a pre-snap read indicating a quick pull might be necessary. He must be proficient with his reads. He is prepared because he has developed a feel for the mesh and his read through thousands of repetitions.
Along with the pre-snap indicators, the option quarterback needs to develop an ability to focus on the Dive Read while maintaining an awareness of the Pitch Read. If he is capable of this, he improves his ability to run the triple option effectively and makes the offense extremely explosive. Defenses will attempt to make his reads more difficult by moving people around and bringing pressure. Because he is able to simultaneously read both players, also known as “reading the stack,” he is able to handle the various stunts and is less likely put the ball on the deck.
In the YouTube videos below we see how a couple of these reads look as executed by Josh Nesbitt at Georgia Tech. The first video is an example of crash stunt. Nesbitt displays excellent patience in his ride, holds the mesh, and gives at the last second just as the Dive Read slows his charge and gets up field to take the quarterback. The result is a long gain for Jonathan Dwyer.
The second video shows a mesh charge and Nesbitt reads it well again. He pulls the ball and attacks his pitch key. Again, the result is solid gain.
The Option Quarterback’s Mechanics and Reads: Breaking Down the Mesh Mechanics
Once the quarterback’s decision is made, he must respond accordingly and either give the ball to the fullback, or pull the ball and attack the pitch key. Both of these responses require a certain set of mechanics that will help to make the mesh more efficient and reduce the likelihood of turning the ball over. To perfect the Ride and Decide mesh method, the quarterback and fullback must develop a cohesive feel for these techniques and practice them extensively.
Option Quarterback Mechanics: The Give
During the mesh, the quarterback has his eyes on the Dive Read and is thinking to himself, “Give the ball unless the Dive Read makes me pull.” As the mesh is occurring the quarterback sees the Dive Read squat and he knows he will be giving the ball to the fullback. To initiate the give, he stops the forward momentum of the ball with his front hand and slides his back hand out from in between the ball and the fullback. As the back hand is removed and ball’s momentum stops, the quarterback creates pressure on the fullback’s stomach. The pressure is the fullback’s indication that he will be the ball carrier. The quarterback keeps his front hand on the ball until he feels the fullback’s grip tighten on the ball.
Once the fullback has the ball, the quarterback will pull his front hand out and explode off the mesh at full speed with his eyes focusing completely on the Pitch Read. He must “take the air out” of the space behind the fullback, but be careful not to make contact with any part of the ball carrier. Once the fullback clears, the quarterback carries out his fake and continues until he is tackled or the whistle is blown. He knows this is essential to ensure the defense honors the perimeter phase of the triple option. He also knows he must always maintain awareness of defenders, especially the Pitch Read, to avoid taking a big hit. Being consistent with the give and fake is a critical aspect of the quarterback’s mechanics, and should be an essential coaching point.
When executing a give read, the option quarterback will stop the forward momentum of his front hand and slide his back hand. This will create pressure on the fullbacks belly indicating he will be getting the ball.
Option Quarterback Mechanics: The Pull
Conversely, when the quarterback sees the Dive Read charge the mesh or come down inside off the tackles veer release he knows he has a pull-read. During the Ride and Decide, he has seen the “unless” contingency of his one way thought process and he knows he must pull the ball. This is the most critical technical aspect of the triple option due to the potential of having a football on the deck. To reduce the risk, the quarterback must ensure that the pull is clean and does not place any pressure on the fullback’s belly. He must always remember that his fullback does not see the Dive Read and reacts to the pressure in his gut. The quarterback’s mechanics on the pull are essential.
To pull the ball, the option quarterback dips his back shoulder slightly and bends his back elbow while snapping his elbows and wrists back to his chest. He knows this will help to disengage the ball cleanly while also keeping him from coming into contact with the fullback. Once the ball is disengaged, the quarterback seats the ball slightly away from his body at chest level and flares his elbows slightly. Always ready to pitch, he explodes off the mesh, and attacks the #2 defender. He is now ready to make his next read.
After disengaging the mesh, the quarterback should have the ball at his chest, ready to pitch
The Option Quarterback’s Read: The Pitch Read
As previously stated, during the ride of the mesh, the quarterback should have the Pitch Read (the #2 player in the diagram on the right) in his peripheral vision as he is making his first read. This will help him find his read more quickly and assist in making quicker adjustments if the defense stunts or does something unexpected. After exploding off the mesh, the quarterback is ready to attack his Pitch Read defender and make his read.
The quarterback will focus on the Pitch Read’s outside hip and attack it downhill. He knows attacking the outside hip forces the defender to declare his option responsibility sooner and widens the quarterback running lane if the defender dictates a keep-read. This allows the quarterback to utilize his speed in space. Speed in space is always a good football play. The quarterback also knows attacking the Pitch Read’s outside shoulder will allow the pitch back to out-leverage the Pitch Read more quickly. Leverage on the Pitch Read leads to a huge running lane for the pitch back and often keeps the quarterback from taking a big hit.
As the quarterback attacks the Pitch Read, he will wait for the defender to show his responsibility or for the pitch back to gain leverage to the outside of the Dive Read. Again, he has a “one way” decision to make, and thinks to himself, “Keep the ball until the Pitch Read makes me pitch.” If the defender commits to the quarterback or the pitch back gains leverage, the option quarterback will sit and fall back as he pitches the ball. This will soften the impending hit and will help reduce the risk of injury. When this happens, the quarterback’s responsibilities in the play are complete and he should go down easily after the pitch is made.
The YouTube video below shows how the pitch portion of the triple option looks.
If the defender feathers to the outside or commits to the pitch back, the quarterback has gotten a keep read. His reaction is to stick his backside foot into the ground and cut inside the Pitch Read. Once he has cleared the defender he will tuck the football, using three-points of contact, and run the ladder to get on the pylon path. He knows that once he is in the grasp of a defender he will never pitch the ball. This is another major cause of turnovers when running the triple option. Again, another important quarterback mechanic is discipline. Knowing when to pitch and throttle down and when to keep the ball, forgoing the pitch, is important.
The YouTube video below shows keep reads from a pistol Flexbone set. We see the Pitch Read commit to the pitch back and the quarterback stick his foot in the ground and cut up field.
Option Quarterback Mechanics on the Pitch
Once the quarterback sees that the Pitch Read is responsible for him, commits inside, or is out-leveraged by the pitch back he knows it is time to get rid of the football. To pitch the ball he stops his forward momentum and points the toe of his back foot at his target. He sits low, and pushes back off his front foot as he drives his thumb down and through the ball. His aiming point is slightly in front of the pitch back who is running at a 4×1 pitch relationship (4 yards wide and 1 yard back). The ball should lead the back slightly and travel through the air with an end over end rotation. The key is to deliver a soft, catchable ball that allows the back to make the catch at full speed. Once again, the quarterback knows the pitch back will be in good pitch relationship as they have practiced the timing thousands of times. Option football is about consistency and timing. Both of which are predicated by repetition.
In the video below, Ty Detmer explains some of the mechanics of the option pitch.
Final Thoughts on the Option Quarterback
The development of the option quarterback is integral to the success of an option offense and requires a great deal of time and effort from both the coach and the player. Coaching the option quarterback’s mechanics well is of pivotal importance. Coaching the option quarterback’s reads thoroughly is also critical. This series only touches on some of the intricacies of the play and how the option quarterback functions within its concepts. Additionally, there are several different schools of thought on how to best accomplish the goals of option football. For instance, some coaches prefer the Ride and Decide mesh method discussed in this article while others prefer the Point method. Some coaches also prefer to use a basketball style pitch as opposed to the thumb down approach I discussed, or might count out to 3 or 4 with their pre-snap count.
This is why football is such a great game. Individuals take schemes and techniques and modify them to fit their needs and philosophies. The fun part is trying to figure out what the other guys are doing on Friday nights and coaching your kids up to execute your scheme more effectively than they can. If you are successful, that’s great. If not, you go back to the drawing board the next week and do it again. It is an exercise in dealing with adversity and presents those of us who take part with many life lessons.
Thanks for reading and feel free to visit my website at OptionFootball.net and contact me at optionfootball[at]optionfootball.net if you want to discuss the game of football.
This is the first part of a guest blog post on the Triple Option Quarterback’s Responsibilities by Levi Steier. You can follow him on his Twitter Handle, OptionFootball. If you’re interested in guest posting for Strong Football, email CoachCP at editor[at]strongfootballcoach.com.
Developing the option quarterback is an essential aspect of most offenses, and this is certainly true for option football. In an option football scheme it is the single most important element of success. The reality is an option football play can be blocked perfectly, but if the option quarterback makes an incorrect read, the result will likely be a loss, or worse, a turnover. In light of this, lets break down exactly what the option quarterback does in the triple option from the time he breaks the huddle to when the whistle is blown.
For the first portion of this article we will take an in depth look at what the option quarterback’s responsibilities are after the huddle is broken up until he needs to make his first read.
The Option Quarterback: Approaching the Line of Scrimmage
After the huddle break, the option quarterback moves to the line of scrimmage (LOS) with urgency but without rushing. It is important to set the tone but also to stay calm and capable of analyzing any pre-snap information that might help him make good decisions while executing the play.
One of the first steps in this process is getting a sense of what the defense is doing. As the quarterback approaches the LOS, he looks at how the defense is responding to the formation. The option quarterback determines the defensive front and coverage. If they do not correspond correctly, (e.g. 4-3 Cover 2, or 4-4 Cover 3) he will take a mental note of it and try to understand why.
With this information the option quarterback can more easily identify the two read players necessary to run the triple option.
Knowing the front and the coverage shell will usually give clues as to how the defense will respond to the play. At this point the option quarterback is thinking about the play call and how the defense might react to it. The option quarterback, through thousands of practice and game time reps, garners an ability to pick up on little things that will help him with his decisions long before they need to be made. He develops a feel for it. It becomes second nature.
The Option Quarterback: Pre-Snap Considerations
While at the line of scrimmage, the option quarterback first ensures his players are set and in the correct formation. As the quarterback, he is an extension of the coach and understands where every player on the offense needs to be and what they will do once the ball is snapped. Now, the quarterback looks left, then right, and then left again. This occurs on every play, regardless of the call or the snap count. This ensures the option quarterback sees the entire defense, and helps to eliminate any unintentional cues for the defense.
During the left, right, left check, the quarterback goes through a mental count to determine the read players. In this count he determines a #1 player and a #2 player. (Note – Systems often count out to 3 and 4, however, I have limited the scope of this article in the interest of simplicity and brevity.)
The first player identified is the Dive Read and is labeled #1. This is the player that determines if the quarterback gives the ball to the dive back, or keeps the ball and continues on to the second read.
There are many different variations on how to determine these players, but for the purposes of this article, the rules are:
Rule 1 – The first down lineman outside of the play side B-Gap is the Dive Read. He is #1.
Rule 2 – The next primary run defender behind or outside of #1 is the Pitch Read. He is #2.
The diagrams below illustrate what the counts are against four common fronts.
The Option Quarterback: Count Diagram 1
The Option Quarterback: Count Diagram 2
The Option Quarterback: Count Diagram 3
The Option Quarterback: Count Diagram 4
After determining the count, the option quarterback makes note of anything that might help him make his read more effectively. He should be aware of a stacked playside linebacker, or that the five-technique defensive end has cheated his alignment to the inside eye of the tackle. He is actively thinking about what could happen and therefore increases his chances of making the proper decision when there is adversity.
For example, against the 4-3 defense, the quarterback must always read #1 and #2 simultaneously because of the high probability of a cross charge. The video below illustrates this nicely. The linebacker comes inside of the DE, becoming #1. The quarterback needs to recognize this and read the DE as #2. This will usually result in a quick pull-pitch and is one of the most difficult option reads to make. If you would like to read more about the intricacies of the option read, go to Dissecting the Option Football Read .
The Option Quarterback: Getting to the Mesh Point
The option quarterback has made his pre-snap analysis and is ready to get under center and begin his cadence. His primary responsibility now is to get the ball cleanly without fumbling. He sets his feet just underneath his armpits and bends his knees slightly. He places his hands under the center’s backside, aligning his middle finger with the midline. He keeps his wrists firmly together and rides the center’s momentum forward slightly as the ball is placed into his hands. To accomplish this, he applies pressure from his bottom hand, pushes up into the center’s backside and extends his arms out as the center steps away.
Once the quarterback has the ball in his hands he must simultaneously adjust his grip on the ball, seat it near his stomach, and take his first step. All while keeping his eyes on the Dive Read.
For the grip, the quarterback adjusts his hands so his thumbs and pointer fingers are near the top stripe of the football. He “chokes” the ball and has his pitching hand on the laces or seam. He knows high hands through the mesh are important for improving his ability to pull the ball without fumbling.
While adjusting his grip on the ball, the quarterback will take his first step. Footwork is important and he has spent a lot of practice time perfecting this technique.
When the quarterback is under center he is facing at 12 o’clock and can go either direction with his feet straddling the midline. When running the Inside Veer, the quarterback will step to either 4 or 8 o’clock with his play side foot while keeping it parallel to the LOS. He will then bring his second step and get his feet parallel to the fullback’s path. This path is also referred to as the “Crease Line.”
Football coaches use a variety of teaching methods to ensure the proper steps are taken. A common teaching tool in this regard is the Clock method. Below is a series of diagrams illustrating the quarterback’s steps as they would look on the face of a clock.
The option quarterback’s stance
The option quarterback’s first step
The second option quarterback step
As the first step occurs, he brings the ball to his midsection and extends it through his back hip toward the fullback. It is important to not swing the ball, but to push it back while keeping the eyes on the Dive Read.
The option quarterback’s eyes are positioned on the Dive Read and the arms extended back fully.
The quarterback takes his second step and gets parallel to the crease line while keeping the ball fully extended back and his eyes on the Dive Read. At this point, the chin is on the front shoulder and the fullback is making contact with the ball.
The option quarterback and fullback begin the ride. The option QB keeps the ball slightly ahead of the fullback through the mesh while keeping his chin on the front shoulder. The option QB never takes his eyes off of the Dive Read until after the disconnect.
The quarterback keeps his eyes on the Dive Read and moves the ball slightly ahead of the fullback on the crease line. He feels the fullback wrap his arms around the football in a soft seal and shifts his weight from his back foot to his front foot as the fullback runs the crease line. The option quarterback is focused in on the Dive Read and is ready to separate from the mesh and attack the pitch key at any time.
The option quarterback’s read is based on the action of the Dive Read and he must decide whether or not he is going to give the ball to the fullback, or pull the ball and move into the next phase of the triple option. This must be decided before the mesh passes the quarterbacks front hip.
In part two of this article we will go over the quarterback’s responsibilities through the two reads of the triple option and what needs to be done through the whistle. We will take a look at the mechanics involved and a “one way” process of decision making.
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.
Courtesy of http://zeaocre.blogspot.com/2011/10/return-of-option.html
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.