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.