Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tempo - A Total Commitment

Much of the talk these days around different teams by the network analysts centers around “tempo”, or in some cases (Arkansas), the lack of it. In college ball teams like Oregon, Texas A&M, Baylor and Auburn all go at a pretty frenetic speed, looking to snap the ball within 10 seconds or so after it is marked ready for play. In the NFL, the Eagles are the example, with the Patriots, Broncos and Chargers all close behind. The benefits to this style of play are apparent: more plays per game equal more chances to score points. Because pass rushing is perhaps the most physically taxing thing a defender does during a game, keeping tired defensive linemen out on the field because your pace doesn’t allow for substitution is a definite advantage. Your practices become much more efficient by necessity – you run more plays during practice and you don’t have to set aside special 2:00 drills. But it is the practice element that will be the focus of this article.

First of all, I’d like to recommend three resources for anyone wanting to implement an uptempo scheme: a book by Mark McElroy of Saddleback College (Amazon link here), a book by Auburn coach Gus Malzahn (Amazon link here) and a book by Chicago Force coach John Konecki (Amazon link here). Looking at all three of their approaches and melding it into your own is probably the best way to go. For me personally, Coach McElroy had the most influence.

So, if you are thinking about implementing a no-huddle or up-tempo offense this year, here are some things you might want to think about:

Terminology – I wrote about play terminology here and that is something that definitely needs to be considered. If your current terminology isn’t no-huddle compatible, that is the first thing you may want to change. Changing both terminology and tempo in one season may be tough, depending on how often you practice.

Signaling – You have to have some way of getting the plays in to your team. If your terminology is no-huddle compatible already, then you could just yell out the play to your QB who can then relay it to the rest of the team. But if that isn’t the case, and you don’t already have a signaling system in place, it is time to devise one. Whether it is hand signals, wrist coaches, play boards or what have you, there has to be a system in place to communicate what the play is.

Practice Mechanics – Moving to an up-tempo offense involves every coach on the staff. There should probably be two types of team periods, teaching and tempo. During the teaching period, which is meant for the practicing of new plays or concepts, or those plays in which you’ve identified that need to be fixed. During this phase of team, the pace isn’t as important as the teaching, but there should still be a sense of urgency among the staff, otherwise what was planned as a 10-play period taking (maybe) 15 minutes ends up being a 7-play period lasting 20.

During a tempo session is where the work is! You want to go as quickly as possible through your script, and you need the defense to keep up. So before practice even starts, there are things that need to happen:

Your script has to be well-thought out, to cover the plays you need work on for that practice. The script needs to include the scout team’s front and coverage so that you as the OC can ensure you’re getting the looks you need from the defense.

You need to include practice cards for the scout team defense. These cards should be numbered and the numbers included on your script. Each card should also have the offensive formation drawn on it, so that the scout team can see where they are supposed to be quickly. A copy of the script is given to the defensive coaches. Whoever is in charge of the scout team (and there should be a coach designated in that role) holds up the card for the front seven, and the DB coach calls out the coverage for the secondary, along with alerting a corner or safety of any blitz on that play. The secondary doesn’t need to huddle – just go get lined up. The defensive coaches definitely need to hurry the scout teams along – the offense cannot wait for them!

During the period, an offensive coach needs to be designated as the “Umpire”, to whom the player with the ball runs to and hands them the ball at the end of the play. They do NOT throw it or toss it to the official! If they miss, it wastes valuable time retrieving the ball and setting it ready for play. So they hand it to the official. Every time. Get in the habit.

If there is any coaching going on during this period, it had better be “on the run” or after the player in question is out, or after the period. Coaches can add notes to the script for this (and the OC can include a notes column in the script). What can NOT happen is the rest of the offense is lined up ready to go, and there is one player who a coach is talking to who is supposed to be in. This tempo period isn’t the time for that. Even worse would be a defensive player being talked to, but that should go without saying.

Finally, after the period is over, you may want to schedule a five minute Indy period so that the coaches can go over the mistakes they noted during the tempo period. This is a better option than meeting after the final talk at the end of practice because the players will still be in practice mode and have their pads on. It’s only five minutes, and that should be strictly enforced. 

Basically, when you are coaching in a no-huddle environment, everyone needs to learn to operate at that pace, with a definite sense of urgency in everything they do.

Again, I really recommend getting at least one of the resources I talked about before. The depth involved with moving to a no-huddle system is not done justice by this brief article.


Once again, here are the basic details for our camp in November. We’re getting a ton of interest and lots of excitement. The cost is only $20 – 1/10th of what USA Football is charging for their weekend in January, and I promise that there will be more teaching and skill development going on in ours (no game to get ready for in two days)! So here’s the basic info link, and then here is the link to the Facebook event.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

More Truisms

Saw some other “nuggets of knowledge” in action this past weekend of watching ball at all levels:
    Know and understand your options!
First in the college game. Texas was playing UCLA. UCLA won the toss and deferred their decision to the second half. Texas elected to kick……I have no idea what went through the captain’s mind, and I don’t know if the ref said, “Are you sure?” But this brings back in focus the need for reminders, no matter how many times things may have been done in the past. The Texas captain who made that call could have easily been more focused on his upcoming game responsibilities than the seemingly mundane issue of the coin toss. Or maybe there was a supermodel out there doing the toss. Who knows? The fact remains that Texas kicked off to start both halves, giving up a possession during a 20-17 loss. I’m sure that Charlie Strong or the ST Coordinator, or both, are kicking themselves today.

   Know the mechanics.
I was watching a youth game this weekend. It got down to the point of where the team I was rooting for was trying to milk the clock to ice the game with a 2-point lead. I know the coach was telling the QB to take his time. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a great understanding of who on the officiating crew had the play clock signal, and a delay penalty ensued. Now, in this particular case, I saw the back judge/umpire hold his hand out straight to the side which is the normal indicator for five seconds left, but the referee threw the flag one second later. So this may easily have been a case of the officiating crew not having a great understanding of who had the clock as well.

My point in this case is that the pre-game meeting with the officials is important for things like that. Especially if you don’t know the crew, you want to ask them how they do things like the play clock, or where (if you use NFL or college hashes on a high school marked field) they will mark the ball on wide plays. I’ve been surprised a couple of times the first time we run a play to the sideline and then think we’ll have enough room to go back the same way, only to find out we’re ALL the way out on the high school hash.

Also, don’t forget to talk about your weird formations or trick plays. You don’t want an illegal formation or an illegal man downfield penalty because you surprised the officials as much as you did the other team. Same thing with your trick plays. Just let the crew know that you call them and to be easy on the whistle.

Finally talk about your tempo. If you’re no huddle you’ll really need their help in keeping the pace you want. With that, make sure you coach up your chain crew! Nothing worse than being at home and having to wait for them to stroll down the field. That is something you can control, so reward those guys/gals for doing a good job for you.

   The Passing game starts with protection.
I know from first-hand experience about the fascination with nice, clean, long routes in the passing game. But I’m also constantly reminded of my first mentor, Coach Mike Barry (then with USC) who said way back in 1992: “Just remember that for every inch of route that the QB coach or OC draws out on paper that it is 1 second of pass protection.”

I wrote about the pass pro schemes I’ve used in the past here (Part 1) and here (Part 2), but the above truism was painfully (for Colin Kaepernick) driven home Monday night with San Francisco and Indianapolis. The Colt defensive end was just teeing off on the 49’er RT. It was pretty bad. The RT was standing in as tough as he could, I think, but it was just a physical mismatch.

On Sunday, I saw the Chargers’ rising star of a RT, DJ Fluker, get beat pretty quickly by a Seattle DE. DJ’s mistake certainly wasn’t in a physical mismatch – it’ll be a rare DE that just physically overpowers him, but in Fluker’s footwork. He opened up right away and gave the DE a straight shot to Philip Rivers. This is a very common error – maybe the most common for a tackle, and it just goes to show that it can happen at any level of play. I know for certain he wasn’t coached to do that!

The teaching point here is that as an OL coach, you need to develop a library of pass protection drills and hammer those correct movements into your OL. Many people look at holding penalties as being drive killers – well, at least then you get to replay the down. A sack loses the distance, the down and potentially your QB’s confidence and/or health!

We’ve had some great responses to our camp in November. Keep the dates open – November 15 and 16. Camp details are here and the Facebook event is here.

We just added a kicking coach to our roster , so will have something for them as well. If your kicker also plays another position, then she can go between positions as she wishes. If she is solely a kicker, then she could potentially get a full day’s worth of semi-private instruction.

I would encourage you all to seriously consider attending. The WFA has added two teams that will be well represented at the camp, both with players and instructing coaches: the Dallas Elite and the Utah Falconz. Both of those teams will immediately contend for supremacy in the American Conference.

Remember, the camp is for both players and coaches. Coaches can treat it like a 3D coaching clinic! You are welcome to be out on the field during drills and in the huddle during team or 7-on-7 times. Film whatever you want. Just don’t get run over!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Football is Football

First of all, I just realized that it was exactly a year ago today that I wrote my first post. Thanks to any of you who happened to read each of them. I really do appreciate it!

Watching the NFL games this weekend reinforced some truisms we see at all levels of play:
      1.Quarterback/Center – the snap is the most important part of the play. Doing it perfectly only      allows you to continue. Getting it wrong can cost you the game. Ask Philip Rivers and the Chargers.

On that note, remember that when your center or QB get injured, they should go down. Let the trainer come out, even if it is a hand injury (one exception: less than about 30 seconds left in half with no time outs, where the 10 second run-off would hurt you even more). Have the trainer go out while the backup QB or center get some snaps in on the sideline. The absolute only thing that can make this situation worse is a botched snap on the next play.

2.       Keep it simple, relative to your level of play. Watching Eli Manning try and communicate to his receivers with small hand signals was painful. There seemed to be several instances of miscommunication. Hand signals are one thing, but “finger” sized ones are another. Keep it basic and clear.

3.     2. Be mindful of how much you ask your QB to check at the line, again relative to your level. Several times last night, Rivers with the Chargers seemed to be in an awful hurry towards the end of the play clock. Much has been made here in the San Diego media about him being allowed the freedom to change things up, but it is clear that it isn’t smooth sailing yet.

You as an OC or QB coach need to understand how comfortable your QB actually is with their reads and ability to change things into a better play. Don’t give them more options than they can process in the allotted time. I try and use an “if this, then that” type of process where the QB has a defined change to go to if they see a defined look.

The other option would be liberal use of a “look” cadence where you see what the defense is lined up in, and your cadence goes on something other than “one” and the offense looks to the sideline for a new play.

4.     3. Have fun! Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital was asked why he allowed each of his backup QB’s to take shots down the field as their first plays in a 73-3 rout over Lamar this weekend. “Because it is fun!” Great answer.

5.     4. Do what you do. In the same vein, while A&M was dismantling #9 South Carolina IN South Carolina in Week 1, Kenny Hill was throwing the ball all over the place. Some A&M fans probably would have preferred to see the Aggies pound the rock a bit to take some time off the clock. The way Hill was throwing it around, that was the safest course to take! It was clear that he was comfortable, in command and was completely inside the heads of the South Carolina defense. Why take them off the hook, or take your foot off the gas? Against Lamar, sure….but against SEC foe the Gamecocks? Nope……

6.     5. Package, package, package…. I wrote about making plays look alike here and Seattle did that to perfection the other night, running variants of the fly sweep action to Percy Harvin.

Whenever you put in a new play, you really need to have an idea how many times a game you’re going to run it. If it is more than twice a game, then you’d better have something else that looks like it to start and then….isn’t.


Hey, there’s getting to be a ton of interest in the camp! We’re getting to the point on the calendar where flight prices are hitting their sweet spot and remember, the hotel with the best rates in the area only has 47 rooms. Camp details here and the Facebook event is here. Be sure and check the Facebook event for some food-related updates!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Turning Weakness Into Strength

Hopefully all of us as players or coaches want to think that we are at the top of our game. The difference between those who think that but are just standing still and those that are truly moving towards that goal is that the latter group engages in a honest self-critique often. Now, that doesn’t mean that you beat yourself up and say “Woe is me – I’m pathetic”, but it DOES mean undertaking steps to turn your weakness into a strength. And that’s what I’m doing this offseason, as I do almost every offseason – except this time I really have an offseason!

Instead of jumping into a men’s team this fall, I was really looking forward to some true time away from running a team, an offense, or an OL. This is a change from any time since 2010. Coaching year around for that long can get to you, if you’re also obsessing with getting better. Continually coaching teams doesn’t always afford you the ability to undertake large projects, because the immediate weekly needs of the team take precedence.

The past couple of years I’d really tried to find new ways to teach run blocking because I wasn’t really satisfied with the results I was getting from my teams, men or women. So whether it was technique tweaks, new drills, or scheme adjustments, that is what I was focused on. I’m not done with that just yet, but I do feel like I made some progress.

This time it’s a bit bigger project, mainly because I don’t have 24 years experience in doing it like I do with blocking schemes and techniques. Learning how to better attack pass coverages is the project. What I’m learning is that, per the popular saying, “There’s levels to this s**t.”

I’d allowed myself to get a bit intellectually lazy while calling games over the past few years. I relied on other coaches or sometimes my quarterback to let me know which pass plays would work. And I knew which route combinations would likely work against the deep defenders, but I didn’t really understand how the underneath coverage worked or how to attack it. What is scary is that the last few years of offense have been pretty good!

At this point, I’d like to highly recommend Coach Steve Axman’s book, “Attacking Coverages With the Passing Game”. I picked it up earlier this year at a coaches clinic and now dove headfirst into it. Funny side story, as I was looking up the link info on Amazon, I saw that there was a review from my friend and competitor John Konecki of the Chicago Force. This is the second time that I’m aware of that we’ve been using the same source material for our teams.

Anyway, the challenge then, as with anytime you are looking at new or different concepts, is how do you make this fit into your current terminology and system? Coach Axman shows a ton of ways to attack different coverages, many of which we don’t currently employ and which might have been useful against Seattle (who did a great job against our passing game) and certainly Boston. But then it comes back to “how do we integrate this?”

When coaching men (and now sometimes with the women as well) you get all the time, “Coach, why don’t we do this, or that?” My answer is always the same – if you bring me a play, you also have to tell me how we can fit it in to what we already do, from a terminology standpoint. And there better be more than just some new play – what are the counters, the play-actions, the variants off of it? If you don’t consider all that, then you don’t have a system, you have a collection of plays.

I’ve had players do that too – they’ve sat down with me and said, “OK, if we add this, then we can do this and this, and this is what we’ll call it and this is how we’ll teach it” and one of those sessions has resulted in me keeping the package (my 4 vertical plays) in my playbook for a few years now.

So, this offseason has already been a productive one and it’s still early! I can confidently say I’m better now than I was on August 2. Hopefully everyone reading this will become better as well, whenever your offseason is. All it takes is admitting to yourself what you don’t already know.
Here's the details on the San Diego Football Camp in November. You might want to get your hotel reserved soon!
Basic details here and the Facebook event is here.