Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Screen Games

One thing I really, really like about coaching within collegiate rules (besides the OT rules and despite being down without contact) are the possibilities in the screen game. Here are some things to consider when putt in your screens:1.       If you’re in the WFA, go find some film on the Chicago Force, especially the 2013 WFA Championship game. It should still be up on the watchgamefilm.com site. The Force may be the best screen team I’ve ever seen. The sheer variety that they run is dazzling, and they execute pretty well also.

2.       Consider your personnel, and the types of DL that you face. Not all teams can run screens, not all teams are good to run screens against.

a.       Ideally, you would have an offensive line that can get out in space and block. If your OL is more of the “two shoves and stop” variety, then running screens will be quite an undertaking.

b.      If you are facing a DL that isn’t very active – i.e., they pretty much stay on the LOS, then traditional middle screens won’t be much help to you. One of those inactive DL may just luck into the play of their life and get a pick!

3.       Types of screens – please note, this is a very high overview of the screen game…..

a.       Middle Screens – might be the easiest to start with, just know that as I said above, the type of OL you have and the type of DL you are facing may have a bearing on how well it works for you. All you need to do is get a receiver over the middle, behind the LOS somehow….could be a TE from the LOS peeling back; could be a RB settling down as in pass pro, then turning around or it could be a WR coming in motion and being the receiver. There are all sorts of ways to make that happen.                     i.      The OL basically just “loses the first hit”, while possibly shoving or clubbing the DL upfield, then they head downfield for second level defenders. If a DL refuses to disengage with them, then I tell my OL to stay on them.                     ii.      As long as your OL can get a piece of the second level defenders, this play has a chance to be pretty good.

b.      Wide Receiver Screens – these work pretty well, and don’t depend necessarily on your OL being mobile or the DL being aggressive.                     i.      These can be either Bubble Screens, or Jailbreak Screens –                                1.       On the Bubble, a receiver (can be inside WR, motion WR or RB) arcs to the outside. The RB part of that can be especially deadly against teams who don’t adjust well to motion.                                2.       On the Jailbreak, the outer WR is coming in towards the ball. While it still works better if your OL can get up on the second level (NOTE: pretty much everything works better if your OL can move), the receiver can cut it up a bit more vertically if there is too much traffic further inside.                     ii.      However, at least one of your WR’s had better be a beast when it comes to blocking, and it would be nice if the playside tackle can move a bit. Failing that, she needs to make sure the DE doesn’t get too far upfield and disrupt your throwing lane.

c.       “Traditional” left or right RB screens – these I think are the hardest to implement, just because I think they do take more time, although if you happen to play under NFL rules (and maybe high school – I’ve lost track of what they do), they may be your best option.                     i.      The way I taught this to the OL was as follows:                                 1.       Playside tackle, set deep and drive the defender inside to clear the lane. Alternative was to club and drive upfield. Anything except let the DE sit there.                                  2.       Playside guard/center: Whoever of the two is uncovered goes first and either takes “first force” or if they see a man-to-man LB following the RB, that LB.                                  3.       Playside guard/center: Whoever is covered goes second and takes the alley defender (SS/OLB if #1 takes man LB or ILB if #1 takes first force). Basically, #2 reads #1’s block and does the opposite.                                  4.       Backside guard: Is always #3 and goes last. Their job is to circle around and pick off the “first smart DL”. They would go pretty much flat down the line to about the playside B gap, and look back for the first DL to read and react to the screen. It should give an opportunity for a great block!                                  5.       My overall rule for #’s 1, 2 and 3 is “win the first (hit), lose the second”. Using NFL rules, this will keep your OL within the normal boundaries allowed by the referees and not too far downfield. Coupled with a more lateral release due to the direction of the play, you should be fine.

4.       When you install screens, make sure that as an OC you let your position coaches know in advance that it is going to happen that day. They should then drill the essential skills in their Indy period. Sure, there will be some minor timing issues when you come together as a group or team, but they will be minimal compared to if the individual positions have never even performed the blocks/schemes.
Screens are fun to run. They can be demoralizing to a defense, and really take their aggression out of the game. Funny story from last year….we were on the road against a team that had us (me and a coach from the other team) sharing a rather large pressbox. There was probably 15 or so feet in between us, so while we couldn’t hear each other in normal conversation, we certainly could if one or the other got excited. We were facing a 4th and 10 from their 27, and I called for a middle screen (in our terminology, it wouldn’t have been obvious to the other coach even if he heard it). Five seconds later, I could hear him say, “Bring pressure – bring everyone!” I just silently thought to myself, “YES!” The result? It went from a 4th and 10 situation to a touchdown.
OK….I think I’m gonna take Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve off. Over those two weeks, I would love to get some requests about issues/problems/questions you may have that you’d like to see addressed. You can either comment in the blog comment section, or hit me up directly via my Facebook page or at kmring@gmail.com. Have a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and I’ll talk to you again on January 7th!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Offensive Thoughts

A little bit of this, that and the other……

I was recently watching a DVD by Jim McNally, widely considered the Godfather of the modern zone run game. In this particular one, from this year’s COOL Clinic in Cincinnati, he is espousing a fundamental difference in everything I’ve been taught about run blocking. It is a bit unsettling to consider that what you’ve been teaching as base concepts may need to be reworked and rethought. I’ve been used to tweaks here and there for awhile, and in my offensive coordinator thinking I’ve made quite a few changes over the years. But the one thing that has remained constant has been the base technique, the base posture in drive blocking. I’ve had it confirmed over and over again by different coaches, outstanding ones, in clinics and practice sessions. The change that McInally is promoting would take a big rethinking, but it does make some sense. When I look back on my film over the years, I can see what he is saying the weakness is, happening. And so now I have to wonder if it is time to change. Coach McNally is speaking at the Las Vegas Glazier clinic in February, so I can certainly listen to him then but if I’m going to make the change I should probably do it earlier than that. So back to the DVD’s I go…..

Now, just last night, I see (on the same DVD) former NFL OL and now OL consultant Scott Peters start to challenge what I thought was “locked in stone” about pass pro punches and hip movement. His stuff made a whole lot of sense right away though, so it’ll be implemented for sure. He also explained how to counter a problem I’ve searched for a good answer to for quite some time – how to regain the advantage as a center when the NT/1-Tech is trying to attack your snap hand. Goes back to what both he and Coach McNally talked about – getting depth and hip placement.

Watching the San Diego Charger game Sunday night, and watched as Coach Mike McCoy, who has done an overall great job with the team I think, choose to punt the ball away. The only problem with that is that he was at midfield, with 4 yards to go for a first down with about 6:30 minutes left in the game and down by 9. If he didn’t think the chances were good to get the 4 yards (and I must say that they probably weren’t), then how did he expect his team to score twice in less time and with potentially worse field position?

Fortunately with the Surge we don’t have that problem much (to punt or not to punt). Not only are we not usually in a 4th down situation, but when we are, 90% of the time the decision is to go for it. As a playcaller it makes it much easier knowing that you more than likely will have four downs to work with. On typical 3rd and long situations, I may not feel like I have to get all of it back on 3rd down. Most defenses however, just reflexively play to stop the deeper plays, and it really opens up the rest of the field.

I also think that the College Football Playoff Committee got it right. Baylor made a terrific case for getting in over TCU, but Oklahoma losing to Okie State apparently hurt both the Texas teams. I’m not at all sold on the notion that the B1G0 is a better conference than the Big XII, but Ohio State is playing really well. That they did it last week with their 3rd string QB, a true Freshman is quite remarkable and a testament to Urban Meyer’s teaching ability and technique.

Just as a reminder if you need anything tuned up offensively or from a special teams standpoint, I can help with that. We don’t start practice until February, so if there is anything you’d like to install or get taught, hit me up and we can work something out. The best part is that everything would be specific to your team – your terminology, your schemes (unless that is something you want to change), with your personnel.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Mental Musings

I mentioned last week what a great sport football is, in part because it demands so much physically AND mentally. Sometimes, even the most talented player cannot thrive or even compete if their mental make-up isn’t up to par. We’ve all seen instances where a more talented team will fall to a team that is more technique-driven, more disciplined and better focused.

I remember coaching against Los Angeles Loyola High School back in 1995 when I was with Fountain Valley. We had the misfortune of playing them in the preseason, and then ended up meeting them again in the playoffs. They were ridiculously easy to game plan against; they sat in the most vanilla 3-4 alignment I’ve ever seen and their blitzes were also very basic. They did not have more than one or two players that had NCAA D-I talent, although I’m sure some of them went to the Ivy League or one of the Academies. They had flawless technique, relentless effort and pretty close to zero penalties. We went 0-2 that year against them.

You can also look no further than the team from the recent movie (and even better book), “When the Game Stands Tall” – Concord De La Salle. Although now they have an abundance of talent, back in the days during the movie and before, they had relatively few players making the jump to D-I ball. But when I watched them, I couldn’t help but say, “Wow!” As an OL coach I’m not a big fan of the Wing-T, but man…..the way they fired off the ball and their precision in doing so, and their effort – it just had me wondering why I sucked so badly. They beat Long Beach Poly, probably the most talent-driven high school in the country, twice. At the time, Poly had almost 5000 kids in the school. In their history, they’ve put over 60 (six-zero!) players into the NFL, and 16 in the last 20 years. We played them in 1997, and they beat us handily. The talent gap was just way too much for us to overcome. So why did they ever lose?

You see that in the women’s game as well. There are a couple of teams over the years that you look at their talent and think “wow….how do they lose?” I’m sure that a couple of coaches have thought the same thing about us, so it’s all good. But what I think happens in many cases is that coaches don’t push their talented players to be truly elite. Maybe they’re afraid of losing their star players by being too tough on them. Or maybe their players are “playing slow” because either they don’t put enough effort in to learning the playbook (which goes back to not being demanding enough) or because the system they’re playing in isn’t clear about what is supposed to happen.

Please note that I’m not putting all of this on coaches – certainly there are plenty of players who believe that their talent is enough to get by. And for 80% of the season that may be true. But champions are made in the other 20%, and the coach can do whatever s/he wants to as far as discipline but until the player herself buys into the fact that if she wants to get a ring she has to do more – expect more – from herself and her teammates, it isn’t going to happen.

What can be put on coaches are the following: 1) Demand excellence from your entire team, including your star players. They should be pushed harder than anyone, not only because they are expected to *be* more, but also because the rest of the team needs to see that no one is above correction and coaching. Needless to say, that also applies to team rules.

2) The system/terminology/communication on both sides of the ball has to allow your players to play “fast”. The trend by many teams is to try and eliminate as many words as possible in the play call, especially on offense. But what I’m finding is that the teams who are truly successful with that are also those who practice more than the twice a week that is typical of teams at our level. We as coaches need to be careful of not trying to mimic too much teams and systems that are successful at the high school or collegiate level, simply because of the advantage in practice time that they have over us.

I do believe that you can play fast at our level, and I believe that you can communicate effectively the play and responsibilities to your offense even when going in a no-huddle mode. I just don’t think you can have a full playbook using a single word system. I used to think that, but in looking around and seeing how much the game has evolved, I now believe that to counter what is being done to you, the calls need to be expanded. This means not only more words for words sake, but a system that also includes the formation, motion and snap count. Now, many teams have decided to go only on “one” and that is fine. It certainly keeps the verbiage down! But if your OL is struggling against a physically superior DL, you’re going to wish that you had some counter that you can use.

So, for me, I would have a “split” call…..first series of calls include snap count, formation and motion. Everyone would go and get into position. The next series of calls would be the snap count and the play itself and then the play is run. That keeps the memorization down – they don’t have to remember the formation, as they’re already in it, and then the snap count is being repeated again to them. So all they have to remember is the motion, and then listen for the play.

Sorry this got a little wordy…sort of ironic, given the topic, huh? But this is the sort of thing I think about each off-season, and I hope each coach out there re-examines what they do each year as well. The women’s game is growing in ability by leaps and bounds. Never has the old adage, “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse” been truer. Even though some teams have already started practices, this is the time to make changes. Doing the same things will probably only get you the same results. Do you want to be good for 80% of the season, or the final 20%?