The Fives

Focus Your Off-season: A Program Building Exercise

The season has ended, the equipment is turned in, and already you are analyzing what your program can do to be better.  Depending on the size of your staff and program you could have between one to twelve different opinions on the impressions of the season and thoughts on the upcoming one.  I am going to share with you an exercise that helped my program and my teams get a little better each season It’s called 5-5-5.  

At the first meeting of the off-season I explain and hand out a form to each coach, trainer, equipment manager, team parent, who ever is involved.  The form has fifteen lines on it with the words, Keep, Remove, and Add.  

Keep – In this section I want to know what we are currently doing that you would like to keep.  This can be something small like the team wearing high socks at games to a coach wanting to keep our pre-game talk to under a minute.  This section is all about what is liked, worked and want to keep using. 

Remove – This is where you find out where your program stands.  You will likely be familiar with most suggestions of removal  The ones you have not thought about is what is going to help you get to another level. My first experience with this was a coach who wanted to remove snacks at half time as it distracted the players. Another wanted use to remove the entire offensive philosophy In this section you will see the most disparity and learn what is important to each staff member. 

Add – Your staff will most likely have the hardest time with this one as there are only five lines and most have more than five ideas. Having only five will filter out the least practical and put to the forefront what is most important to that team member.  From this we have bought field equipment, changed jerseys, decrease play sheet size, introduced personnel packages, and even removed individual awards – all leading to more successful seasons in the future. 

When you introduce this sheet to your program, do not have them complete it in the moment.  Explain that you want complete honesty as this is how “we will become a better program”. Have them take it home and give their sheet to you by whatever time you want to designate. I personally used a month.  

When you have all the responses collected you will see trends and similar ideas. Try to consolidate these.  At the next meeting present the finished product. If you have five staff members and 25 different Removes, go over each of them as a staff and brainstorm.  This meeting will likely take a while and will bring up great discussion, so plan accordingly. The goal is to leave with a consensus on each topic and new focuses going into the next season.

Good Luck!

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Referee and Coach Talking

Shouting at the Sky

Because it is raining makes little sense. You cannot control the weather, the rain is going to fall, the wind is going to blow. Why worry about things that you have no control over?

Guess what else we cannot control? The men in the striped shirts (or I guess in some cases, the women as well). They are going to call the game the way they see it, they are going to decide when to throw the flag and when they are going to keep it in their pocket…and guess what, you can’t control that either. So why in the world would you shout at a game official? Just like shouting at the sky won’t stop the rain from falling, shouting at an official is not going to make him see things your way. What it is likely to do is get him annoyed with you. 

We worry about the things we can control. And as a coach, the only thing I can control is what my team does. I guess I can also control what I do and how I react to situations that present themselves over the course of the game.  And I will very rarely yell at an official for what I consider a blown or missed call. I say rarely, because just like the officials, I am human, and I will make a mistake periodically (like every day).

So how do we deal with a bad or missed call? Well, I generally ask for an explanation. What did you see? Or didn’t you see that? Or is that tackle allowed to hang off the legs of my defensive end like a Christmas Tree ornament? Not once do I shout when asking these questions…but if I was polite and professional, hopefully he sees that I am reasonable and will watch a little closer for whatever “it” is next time.

I have learned a few things about dealing with officials. First, know the rules that you are playing under. It gives you credibility when dealing with the officials. Every pre-season I download the latest versions of the NCAA, Texas UIL, and my local league rule books. And I go through them looking for the changes and what they are considering “point of emphasis” rules. Oh, I forgot, when I first started coaching, my knowledge of rules was limited to what I saw on TV on Sunday…and when I would mention one of these Sunday rules the officials would dismiss me as being a knucklehead. And as I am not actually a knucklehead, I decided I needed to know the rules, so before going through and looking for the changes, I decided to read through them first. Now, it’s just looking for the changes.

Another thing to consider, how big is the crew? In most youth games, you have two linesmen and a referee, by my math that is 3, and they have to watch 22 players with only 6 eyeballs. A Friday Night or Saturday/Sunday afternoon crew has a few more striped shirts on the field, who have particular responsibilities. With only 3 officials, and 22 players, there is no way they are going to be able to do everyone’s job. Holding is going to be missed because they do not have an umpire on the field. Pass interference is going to be missed because they do not have back or side judges on the field. Generally they will get false starts, offsides and holding on the edge. And no mom, they don’t want to look at the pictures on your iPhone and see the way big number 56 just held your little snowflake. Set reasonable expectations for what the crew is going to be able to do, and you will likely not come away disappointed.

Arm your players with some knowledge of the rules as it pertains to what they play. Your OLB’s or defensive linemen, let them know if they are being held, they have to get separation from the lineman holding them, or it is never going to get called. Teach your offensive linemen that they must keep their feet moving once they latch on to the breast plate or else, they are going to get called for holding and if the bad guy is getting away from them, they have to let go. Teach your perimeter receivers that if they can read the other player’s name, they cannot block them. 

But what do you do when they are not calling ________? (fill in the blank). You as a coach must have an answer, just as you do in your offensive or defensive schemes. A few years back, my team was running Double Tight Double Wing, a contrarian offense. Very compressed, hard to see anything that happens in the middle of the field, especially if you are running wedge, and we loved to run wedge. The opposing teams hated us running wedge, because most of them couldn’t figure out how to stop it within the framework of the rules. So, they would teach their boys how to cheat in some manner. We played one team that taught their defensive line to just grab our offensive linemen’s legs and tackle them. When we figured out what they were doing, we asked the official to watch for the defensive holding. They said “Sorry coach, we can’t see it”…we had an answer, we ran something other than wedge, and it did two things…one we were able to move the football again, and two, it allowed the officials the space to see the holding by the defensive line, and they started calling it. The bad guys stopped holding and we were able to wedge again as well, so I guess it did three things.

If, like in my league, you are lucky enough to see the same crews on a consistent basis, learn what they are likely to call and what they are likely to ignore, and adjust to them. The other thing I like to do, because I am a “people guy” is chat with them in the pre-game, or post-game. Ask them about rules interpretations. If you are going to do something goofy, or off the beaten path, let them know about it in advance. A few seasons back, we had a team in punt formation, that would motion the gunner into the backfield, which made him not the gunner anymore, but the end man on the LOS was the gunner. It was a mechanism to confuse our punt return team. Well, because of the gunner’s alignment, he was eligible to be cut by my defensive line. Pre-game, I went to the officials and told them we intended to cut him down, the official said the cut had to be immediate while both players were still on the LOS. So I coached up my right tackle (I moved him to punt return for this game for this specific reason) and let him know he had to cut the gunner down as soon as the ball was snapped. He did, the other sideline came unglued because “you cannot cut in the open field on scrimmage kicks”. The officials did not flag it and explained the reasons to the other sideline. After the second time we did it, they aligned their gunner more traditionally. Would they have flagged it had I not talked to them about it pre-game? I don’t know, but I do know they didn’t flag it because we did. Get to know them, most of them are pretty good guys.

The last thing I do, and this I know is silly, because they are going to call what they see…but I try to help them see what I see…if the ball comes out, I always shout that’s our ball and point the way we are going…and I keep repeating “That’s ours! That’s ours!”. And if they don’t award us the ball, when our linesman comes back, I always ask him “didn’t you hear me? I said that it was our ball.” Generally speaking, that at least gets a smile out of him.

Okay, the real last thing…just a quick little story from last weekend’s game. We are currently playing eight-year old rookie tackle. Smaller field, fewer players on the field, special rules…anyway, the center for the team we were playing lines up offsides, his stance is terrible and his head is out in front of the ball. So they break their first huddle…and a linesman who has called a ton of my games is on our side. “Hey, their center is offsides”. He ignores me, second play “Hey, their center is still offsides”…he replies this time “It’s seven-year old football, I am not calling that.” I reply, “Actually, they are eight”. A couple of series later “Hey, the center is still offsides”….”I told you I am not calling that”. The next play, their guard is also lined up offsides, “Hey, number 84 is offsides, and he is not the center”. He ignores me again. We come out of the half…”Hey, the Center is still offsides even if you aren’t going to call it.” And that was the last time I was going to say it….I felt the gag had gotten old…as we get into the fourth quarter, game is in hand…he turns to me and says, “I better get a great evaluation from you, I called a good game”, and he did, the entire crew was pretty good (all three of them). I said “I dunno” with a big smile on my face…he says “what don’t you know?”….”I dunno if I can give you a good eval, the center was offsides the whole game and you wouldn’t call it”…at which point we both started laughing.

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The Secret of Pass Protection

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.

Editor’s Note: The original author of this post, coachdoug, is not currently active on the DumCoach forum.

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Be a Football Heretic – 5 Ways to Challenge Football Dogma


There are certain elements of football that have been accepted for so long that they have been accepted as gospel. Certain techniques, alignments, schemes, etc. are simply known to succeed or fail. Here are five ways I have bucked the tried and true and allowed my players to succeed.


A three or four point stance gets them off the ball faster and lower.

Everyone knows that a good three or four point stance is critical to winning the line of scrimmage and that low man wins, right? Years ago, I challenged both of those pillars of line play and haven’t looked back. I watch a great deal of film, probably more than most youth coaches. What I see on film tells a different story. 

A three or four point stance requires above average strength in the lower body, core and upper body to be of any advantage at all. Most youth players, especially bigger players lack all of the above. What I see play after play is a lineman who’s first move is to get out of that uncomfortable stance and stand straight up. Not only is this wasting precious time that could be used moving forward, it is putting a player in an immediate leverage disadvantage. Most often, I see linemen with their arms and legs shaking, necks twisted and far from football ready. This summer, I watched a varsity offensive line coach getting frustrated trying to get a good stance out of a third grader. He eventually came to the conclusion that the player’s helmet was too big. In reality, the high school coach failed to understand that the geometry and proportions of an eight year old are vastly different than a teenager. Short legs, short arms and long torsos make for difficult stances.

One season, I was running an offense from a manual that called for a three point stance. The manual prescribed focusing on stances for five minutes of every practice. It promised that by the end of the year, all players will have proper three point stances. Suffice to say, that is not the result that I experienced. One player had a passable stance and that young man did a lot of body weight exercises at home to train for another sport. For the other players, the stances were noticeably better at the end of the season, but on film, I didn’t see our guys gaining an advantage. It still came down to Jimmy’s vs Joe’s. We probably had around 50 practices that season and spending five minutes on stances cost us close to five hours over the course of a season. Based on past experience and observation, it was my opinion that a lineman (offense or defense) in a two point stance is more effective on Day One than the same player in a three or four point at the end of the season.

2-pt Stance Example
Two Point Stance

As far as low man wins, I believe that low man is simply lower. The following season, coaching a different team, I convinced the Head Coach to give up on three point stances and teach a solid two point. Get-off was vastly improved right off the bat. As far as pad level, we had issues, but ironically not as bad as from a three and four point. The eye opener was playing an opponent who had scouted us and had their six man front submarine us in order to be low man. Our line struggled at first, but we called a time out and showed them how place their far hand on near hip and roll the defender onto his back. After four straight big gains, our opponent called time out and killed the submarining. 

If you need more convincing, put a stopwatch on a lineman to see how long it takes for him to travel three yards from a proper three point, four point, then a two point stance.


A proper snap under center involves a sideways twist , and a proper shotgun snap is fast and spiraling.

I have coached the “Wyatt Snap” since 2009. I have been ridiculed for this until very recently when the NFL started using it and dubbed it the “dead snap”. If you’ve never heard of the Wyatt Snap, the snapper holds the ball by one point, while the other point is in the grass. To snap the ball, he simply racks himself with the ball with no lateral rotation. The QB holds his hands in the undercarriage with both thumbs aligned and touching their entire length and all four fingers extended and pushing up against the center’s crotch and thighs. Think of a bird shape with the hands.

Wyatt snap example
QB”s Hand Placement

But everyone knows that when the QB is under center, you twist the ball sideways to snap the ball, right? Let’s examine why that snap came to be. In the late 30’s and early 40’s, the forward pass was starting to take a more prominent role in pro football. The twisting snap allowed a passing quarterback to quickly get a pass friendly grip on the football. Footballs were much bigger and rounder back then, so fiddling with the ball to get it in a position to throw took longer. In modern youth football, 90% of your plays are runs, so it makes little sense twist the ball sideways, especially when a football is too long to pass sideways through a typical youth center’s legs. In addition, a two handed grip is much more accommodating to a young player’s hands.

Direct, or shotgun, snaps are becoming more popular in youth as the popularity of Spread and Wildcat offenses increases. Since the big boys on TV snap the ball hard with a tight spiral, we youth coaches should teach the same thing, right? This weekend, I watched a local JV team struggle with their direct snap. On average, every fourth snap was off target, either too high or to the side. In the 1st half, I counted six snaps that sailed past the QB, netting a total of minus 80 yards, including a safety from the offense’s 20 yard line. At halftime, I saw the offensive line coach teaching his center the dead snap. They learned an expensive lesson that an off-target hard snap is about 100 times worse than an off-target soft snap. A snap that is too short, while far from ideal is still workable. Our approach is the same as our under center Wyatt Snap. Grab the ball by the point, and swing it like a pendulum. Find a release point between the shin and mid-thigh and stress keeping the wrist firm and straight. Simply let go with the fingers with no flick of the wrist. This snap has been the source of a lot of ridicule over the years. Now that it’s a common technique in college and the NFL, it’s apparently okay to use it. I actually had a coach quit the team and take his son (our center) with him because my weird snap wasn’t preparing his 5th grade son for high school football.

Try both snaps with your players and see if your ball security doesn’t improve.


Tight Splits make an Offensive Lineman’s Job Easier

It makes sense, right? Less ground to cover means less space for defenders to run free into the backfield, right? Okay, this is a much harder sell because some of the vulnerabilities are obvious. Committing to huge splits requires the offense to go all in on the concept. By huge, I’m talking Mega Splits.

  • C to G – three feet
  • G to T – four feet
  • T to TE – five feet
  • If we are unbalanced, PT to TE – six feet
Mega Splits Example
Mega Splits

I’ll start by stating why Mega Splits work for us.  

  1. The obvious is that our RBs have more space. Smart running backs know how to use this space, and we find that we can have success with slower and smaller backs.
  2. We move defenders before the snap, instead of after the snap, so we move them without even touching them. The success of drive blocking a defender depends greatly on the star power of the blocker versus that of the defender. This is something we have little control over.
  3. All we ask of offensive linemen is that they get in the way and stay on their man until the whistle. That has proven to be much easier than asking them to move their man over there.
  4. We force the defensive line to play in space and over time have realized that typical defensive linemen are very poor at defending in space. How many huge players do you have on your kickoff team? Why is that? We like the odds of forcing big players to defend a kick return from scrimmage.

Now, I’ll address the obvious vulnerabilities and our countermeasures.

  1. More space for runners is also more space for defenders. While this is certainly true, we work hard on identifying blocks pre-snap at the line of scrimmage. We also work hard on teaching stalk techniques to linemen. Again, get in your man’s way, stay in his way, and be on him when the whistle blows. We work hard on hand fits, fast feet and staying balanced at the expense of power. We also almost never double team. A double team means a free defender somewhere.
  2. They just send the house through the A gaps. Okay, this one took a while to figure out. It starts with a very smart Center. He has to understand our philosophy of defending inside out and must direct his buddies to their blocks. We also make liberal use of blocks below the waist. We run a lot of team in practice and really throw the kitchen sink at the offensive line so they can learn how to adapt to various overloads.
  3. They blitz their stud LBs from depth. This is where we get far out of the box. Let them come. With Mega Splits, you have to be ready to accept a certain amount of penetration. You also have to accept a couple of tackles for loss in a series. You accept this because you know that a tiny adjustment by your running back means that the opponent’s best tackler misses by inches and within a split second is five yards from making a play. In one championship game, we had three drives that went -4, -5, -3, +44 (TD). 

To reiterate, Mega Splits requires a full commitment by the entire offense, coaches included. It takes time to learn the problems and their associated solutions, but we’ve averaged over 30 points per game over multiple seasons.

Use special teams to win the battle of field position.

Conventional Thinking: Kick the ball deep and pin them back. 

Heresy: Onside kick every play.

Logic: 

  1. There’s a reason that kid is back there on their kick return, and it isn’t because he sucks. He’s an athlete, and you’re about to put the ball in his hands in space amidst a storm of chaos. We only kick deep if we don’t care if they score.
  2. Field position is not often a factor in youth football. Very few teams move the ball with sustained drives. Youth offenses are big play offenses. When they score from 20 yards out, they may as well score from 80 yards out.
  3. Few teams spend enough time on special teams. If you work on your onside kick, it’s not unusual to recover half of them. One turnover is often worth the field position that you give up, especially when balanced by the threat of a long return.
Punt Fail
Murphy told you so.

Conventional Thinking: Punt to flip the field.

Heresy: Never punt (unless you have a punter with a consistent 40 yard leg)

Logic:

  1. As I stated earlier, I watch a lot of film. Punting the ball has a 30% chance in ending in disaster. 
  2. Field position is not often a factor in youth football. Very few teams move the ball with sustained drives. Youth offenses are big play”offenses. When they score from 20 yards out, they may as well score from 80 yards out.
  3. Assuming you have a talented running back, one more chance from scrimmage may very well be that big play. When you balance that against the 30% disaster scenario, it makes sense to go for it.

Wait until at least 4th grade before developing a passing game.


The challenges of passing the ball with young players are daunting. 

  1. Arm strength. Few young QBs can throw the ball from the center of the field to the sideline.
  2. Accuracy. Few young QBs can get within 3 yards of their target.
  3. Hands. Few young WRs can catch with their hands, which means the QB must place the ball within the frame of their body.
  4. Smarts. Few young QBs can progress through reads to find the open man.
  5. Protection. Few young offensive lines can pass protect long enough for the QB to find the open man.
Pass completion photo
Touchdown, baybee!

The Heretic approach to addressing these challenges:

  1. Arm Strength. Don’t sweat the arm strength. 10 yards is plenty of distance for most throws with young teams.
  2. Accuracy. You don’t need pinpoint accuracy. As hard as it is to pass the ball with young teams, it’s even harder to defend the pass, especially when your opponent spends so much time trying to defend the run. It’s still fairly common for youth coaches to play their worst players in the secondary. Why not take advantage of that? Also with practice, accuracy will improve. We like to pick a coach’s son for QB because that player will get extra work at home, along with “car talks”. We also use “easy ups” in our pre-practice. As soon as the QB shows up, he starts throwing easy routes to each player on the team. Use plenty of footballs and multiple lines for multiple QBs. Each QB can easily throw 50 footballs in the 10 minutes before practice. You can also get your C involved to get reps on your snaps.
  3. Hands. See above for “easy ups”. I reinforce trying to catch with the hands. I tell them I’d rather they drop a hands catch than make a body catch. This pays off as the season goes on and really expands the range of a receiver.
  4. Smarts. We don’t sweat this. We use a 100% “check with me” system where we call the receiver and route. The QB is trained during easy ups to count “One One Thousand, Two One Thousand, THROW!”. It’s our job to find the most likely open receiver pre-snap based on alignment and personnel. The QB doesn’t have to think.
  5. Protection. We use a simple “fan” approach. We man up from the inside out. If someone comes free, they will come from the edge. With our wide splits, they don’t get to the QB in time. He may take some hits, but he has time to throw. We treat walk up blitzers as D-linemen and identify them as such. We don’t sweat blitzes from depth because the ball is away in 2 seconds. 

Summary

The point is to question everything. “Why do we do this?” It’s rarely, if ever a good reason to do something because your high school or your favorite college/NFL team does it. Think outside the box and don’t be afraid to challenge institutionalized knowledge.

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