Before I begin, I should point out that I coach 8th graders, so if you have kids substantially younger than that, some of this may not apply or may need to be modified for the younger kids.
We mostly run four receiver routes where the RB stays in to block, although we do have a few five receiver routes. The absolute key (the secret as you put it) is the QB moreso than the line. The QB has to know exactly what he’s doing, have good footwork that has him ready to throw the ball on schedule, and then he has to make a decision and THROW THE BALL ON SCHEDULE. Most youth QBs stand back waiting for a guy to break wide open and hold the ball for four or five seconds, and, of course, they are going to get sacked. We have thrown the ball over 100 times in five games and have only given up four sacks – most of which were my QB’s fault for not throwing the ball on time.
As far as the line goes, we slide away from the RB – the RB picks up the edge defender (typically a DE in youth ball) on his side and the opposite OT picks up the edge defender on his side. Everyone else steps in the direction of the slide and picks up whoever shows. It is an area blocking scheme, not a man scheme, so you have to drill it to get them out of the mindset of having a man to block. Once they get it down (typically within a handful of practices), it will generally pick up any inside blitzes or stunts. The QB is then responsible for any blitzes coming off the edge, because we cannot block those, so if he sees them coming, he has to recognize it and know exactly where he is going with the ball and get rid of it immediately. We do some 5-step concepts, but each has a rush route (i.e. hot route) built in that the QB knows to throw immediately if he sees a blitz coming from the edge. Over half our passing game is quick game (3-step). In quick game out of shotgun, the QB’s footwork (for a right hander) should be step back with the left foot (he should actually start this step while the snap is on its way), plant the right foot and throw – he has to make his read and decide where he’s going with the ball in that 2-step time frame. If he does this properly (and it is not nearly as challenging as it probably sounds), the defense can have an unblocked defender come through the A-gap and not be able to get there in time. Yes, that is correct – if you get your QB to do his footwork properly and throw the ball on schedule, your line blocking is almost irrelevant for quick game passes.
For the handful of plays where we send out the RB (five receiver concepts), we call BOB (Big on Big) blocking, in which case they do man up. Now, the QB is responsible for recognizing any blitz threats and getting rid of the ball accordingly.
In working with your QB, for the 3-step game, just focus on the footwork and throwing on schedule. For the 5-step game, get a stopwatch and make sure your QB can hit the following benchmarks. Hitting the top of the drop (the 5th step): 1.8 seconds. This may be a bit of challenge form under center, although most 12-13 year old players should be able to do it after working at it for a while. From gun (which will be the snap plus 3 steps) it should be pretty easy. Release time (the amount of time from when the QB begins his throw until the ball is out of his hand): 0.4 seconds. This will be a huge challenge for any kid with poor mechanics. QB throwing mechanics is a whole other discussion, but if your QB is not coming close to a 0.4 second release, you need to invest some time and effort in learning that part of the game. So, if the QB throws on rhythm (no hitch steps), the ball should be out in 2.2 seconds. If the QB needs to hitch step (this is where we have him make his read and decide if his “rhythm” route isn’t open), he should be able to make that hitch step in 0.4 seconds, so with a single hitch, the ball will be out in 2.6 seconds. If he has to hitch a second time, I tell him that if he does not know for sure he has someone open, go ahead and pull the ball down and run (we work on where the release lanes should be so he knows where to look to get out of there). If he sees a receiver on the first hitch that he knows is going to come open, but he just needs a little time, he can throw to that guy off the second hitch (and the ball will be out by 3.0 seconds), but most of the time, a second hitch means the QB is taking off running.
Most offensive lines, even poor ones, can generally keep the defense at bay for 2.6 or even 3.0 seconds, so sacks should not be too much of a problem if you train your QB properly. Of course, all of this presumes that you have route concepts that match up with the QB’s footwork so that the QB can make a decision on the “rhythm” route by the top of his drop, and that the “read” routes will be coming open during the hitch. The concepts should put one or more defenders in conflict, giving the QB a clear read. If you just package together a bunch of random routes and tell the QB to find the open receiver, you are doomed. All this stuff – throwing mechanics, timing, footwork, pattern design, protection, QB decision progressions, etc. – works together in the passing game. You can not just do part of it and expect it all to work. Everything is intertwined. When you get it all working together, it is a thing of beauty, but if you can not or will not learn how to make it all work together, you are probably better off not trying to throw the ball much.
BTW, I like to give credit where credit is due – most of what I have learned about this stuff comes from Darin Slack and Dub Maddox of Quarterback Academy.
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