Change of Direction-A Football Must



As every football team across the country gets ready for a new season, the one question burning in every coach's mind is How Good Was Our Off Season Program?  We are all so excited to see our returning players on the field anticipating the tremendous improvements in speed, strength, conditioning and agility.   The beginning of every new season is our first real chance to evaluate the effectiveness of our off season program and more importantly, figure out where we need to make improvements in our program to maximize our efforts and returns on investment.  A lot of coaches go into the off season with specific goals in mind.  Some teams need to focus on speed, some teams need to focus on strength, some may want to focus on conditioning and mental toughness. The obvious answer is the program that can achieve all these things is the one we want to use, but just like in football, there is no "magic bullet" in strength and conditioning.  To be honest I think the effort of the player is way more critical to the success of the program than the actual program itself.

The one thing I will say for sure though is we have to make sure all the gains we are making can be applied to the football field.  We have to make functional improvements.  One thing I always keep in mind is a piece of information I learned at a clinic 10 years ago.  THE AVERAGE FOOTBALL PLAYER CHANGES DIRECTION 3-5 TIMES ON ANY GIVEN PLAY.  Now, obviously that will change based on the nature of the position and the nature of the play but you can be sure your players are going to constantly be changing directions.  I have been a client of SPEED TRACS for 3 years now, and we incorporate their speed and agility equipment and ideas into our off season program.  Loren Seagrave is a consultant and advisor for Speed Tracs and he gained his national fame for the dynasty he built with the LSU LADY TIGERS track program. He has also worked with several NFL teams and is the Director of Speed and Movement at the IMG Performance Institute.  He believes that the strength and power developed in the weight room is useless unless it can be transferred onto the field of play. Through the speed trac system it is his goal to integrate plyometric regimens with resisted running drills and technical running drills that capture the power developed in the weight room and apply it to not only straight ahead speed but also multi-planar movements used in the game itself.

What Speed Tracs has done, is given the Head Football Coach at the Pop Warner, Junior High, and High School ranks the ability to train multiple athletes at the same time while also providing software that has a curriculum for your programs and the ability to track and monitor the progress of your athletes in your program.  One of the challenges I am faced with all the time is having 45-65 athletes and 2 or 3 coaches to train them.  We also have to figure out during different times of the year the availability of fields and gym or weight room space.  Speed Tracs has created some interesting solutions to those problems with portable stations that can be moved very easily.

I have video taped some of my defensive backs doing standard footwork and transition drills, and then also some of the speed trac drills we use with them to assist with the functional movements of a defensive back.  If you are interested in changing some of your agility drills, or adding to your agility drills I suggest you give speed tracs a look.  The end goal will always be the same, we want to PLAY FASTER so lets TRAIN FASTER.  As coaches we can accomplish these goals by coaching and training smarter.


Helping Your QB Process Coverages

The Eye in The Sky Does Not Lie

One of the best lessons I learned in college as a player was that the film never lies.  In high school in the late 80's the films and the angles of the films were so bad you could get away with some stuff the coaches never saw, unless they saw it live.  When I got to college i learned real quick that with multiple films and angles there was no way i could give an excuse to the coach about a route or my effort on a blocking assignment. Today, in 2013, almost every high school has quality film and with programs like Hudl the sharing and feedback on those films is almost immediate.  What that makes for is an extremely effective way to evaluate players, but an even more effective way to teach them.

I like to use film when I teach my Quarterbacks how to identify coverages pre snap, so they have a faster post snap processing method which will speed up their reads.  When you have two different angles to show a QB and you can pause and slow motion film, you can really start to emphasize things like depth and leverage that usually are a defenses "tells" in their coverage.  That is why a lot of your best defensive teams start in the same "2 Shell" structure and then spin to their assignments.  The game of football has turned into a 20 second poker game between the two coordinators.  The days of trying to fool the QB are over, now you are trying to fool the guy calling the plays.  If you are a no huddle coach you or you are a check with me coach, you are trying to get a picture of the defense so you can call the best possible play into that look.  The one thing that has not changed is the fact that you have to get your QB to see the game the way you are seeing it.  As soon as you figure out it's not what you know but what you can get your kids to know the better a coach you will become.

Using Pictures to Teach
 We need to be able to use as many visuals as possible when teaching the QB to understand coverages.  Now when looking at a still shot photo you can't truly understand what the defense is doing, but at least you can use some deductive reasoning to try and crack the code.  In the picture above it appears to be a defense playing with standard 4-3 personnel to a 2x1 slot set.  Now, let us look at a couple of things you can try to decipher from the picture.  First of all it is a 2 high middle of the field open concept.  The overhang or Apex backer is to the slot, and inside of him.  The top safety is 2-3 yards deeper than the bottom safety.  The bottom corner appears to be playing outside leverage.  The ILB to the bottom stays inside the box.  Those are all indications of what they may be trying to do schematically.  This is a start to teaching your QB how to identify certain coverages.  Again these are all pre snap, and the post snap defense could be 100% different. But it is a start for your QB to gain an understanding of what they like to do.  

Completely Different Picture
Now as we take a look at the picture above it gives us a completely different set of parameters.  It is a 1 High middle of the field closed concept.  There are overhang backers to each side of the formation.  The corners are much deeper and further outside of the #1 WR.  Again, not a true indication of what they will play post snap but it is definitely a way to speed the process up for your QB.

I am going to go through on the white board some simple things you can look at to help your QB identify things and in turn speed up his read process which hopefully gets the ball out of his hand on time and to the right spot.  Remember one important thing when throwing the ball, the defense determines where we want to throw the ball.  The QB will make the decision on where he throws the ball, but in actuality it was the defense that made the determination for him.


Planning For Effective Practices

Consider All Factors

If you want to run a successful football program, one of the most important aspects of your job will be practice planning.  Every school and program are different and each program has certain factors to consider when developing a practice plan.  What time does school let out?  Are your coaches on campus? Do your kids play both ways? Is there mandatory study hall? Those and several other factors will play a huge role in developing the appropriate practice plan.The only thing I will say that is a standard for me is never stay on the field longer than 2 hours and 15 minutes.  I have found through experience that the attention span of your players starts to deteriorate and things go downhill mentally and physically.  There are however some base things that need to be in every plan to give your team the best chance for success on game nights.

For the blog today I will focus on an offensive practice plan for an up tempo team that has players playing both ways.  We start every practice off with 50 minutes worth of meetings, with special teams meetings everyday.  I think special teams play a huge roll in high school football and needs to be given appropriate attention.  If I had to lean towards favoring any I would say Punt Team and Kickoff Team can get you hurt the quickest and change the momentum of a game quickly so pay a lot of attention to those two teams.  After our 25 minute special teams meeting we will have a 25 minute offensive meeting.  We will either be installing new concepts or cleaning up old concepts.  We may be watching practice or game film, or possibly opponents film.  I still believe that coaching is teaching so I want to make sure we are giving our kids every chance to succeed before just throwing them to the wolves.  Our practice will always start with 10 minutes of pre practice drills, which gives position coaches a little extra indy time.  We are a shotgun team so we like getting extra snaps during this time while also letting the QB'S warm their arms up and the receivers get extra reps catching passes.  The running backs are either catching passes or working on ball security.  The oline generally will be walking through blocking assignments, or doing extra indy work like stances and starts or footwork drills.

We open up every practice with 10 minutes of dynamic stretching and form running drills.  After that I generally like to do some form of live team 11 on 11 drill.  It might be goal line or short yardage, or it may be 5 plays to get 25 yards, anything that is competitive and live to get practice started right.  I found through experience that when I start the actual practice with indy drills the tempo never picks up.  That is one of the reasons we started doing some pre practice work to get extra reps and kids loosened up.  Now we can go straight from dynamic stretching to competitive live work to get the practice charged up.  We usually go back to Indy periods after that.  Depending on the time of year and day of the week, Indy will normally be 20 minutes.  After Indy we will go to Skeleton with the skills, while the Oline works pass protection and screen game.  Sometimes we will put some RB'S and QB'S with the Oline to work blitz pick up.  In skeleton we are throwing all of our routes against the coverages/blitzes we think we will see that week.

After Skeleton we will go to a team run period 11 on 11.  For what we do I like team run with receivers blocking the perimeter a little more than inside run.  We have a good amount of perimeter runs so I want my receivers involved in the run periods.  It also helps us with our no huddle up tempo communication.  With increased reps we should be able to play faster and communicate better.  If there is time in the plan we like doing screen/draw periods.  This allows us to get extra reps on our screens and draws without having to put as many in the team period.  Screens and draws scripted in the team period cuts down on the reps you get on base runs and passes.  Next we will go to a team period that is 11 on 11 with runs and passes mixed in.  Now we are working on the entire offense including schemes, tempo, and communication.

We almost always end our offensive segments with a 10 minute tempo drill on air.  We are focusing on the communication of our system, personnel changes, and tempo changes.  We spot the ball up and down the field while moving the ball hash, middle, hash so our players get used to the ball being spotted and getting lined up as quick as possible.  I like using a stop watch during this period to try and figure out how fast we are able to execute our offensive system.

Because our players play both ways we always end an offensive day with a defensive team period.  This way our defensive plan and scheme stays fresh in our players minds and we are touching upon it everyday.  Special Teams periods will be mixed in throughout the practice everyday regardless of what side of the ball we are focusing on.


Man Free VS. Zone Pressure


The word pressure as a verb means to persuade or coerce someone into doing something. It can also be seen as a state of physical or mental distress. When applying pressure as a defense, we are trying to do both.  We would like to persuade the offense into a state of mental or physical duress.  When I say that I don't just mean the QB, but the entire offensive system. The thing about applying pressure is it becomes a risk/reward type situation.  Sometimes depending on the coverage structure you play behind the pressure you may be putting pressure on YOUR players as well.

Most people understand that if you can harass the QB you can slow down an offense.  The problem is not how to harass the QB or the run game, the problem is how can you be solid and sound behind the harassment.  Blitzing just to blitz is a bad bad idea.  All blitzes should be thought out and calculated based on personnel, field position, tendencies, and flow of the game.  Blitzing in general should not be your first course of action because if it does not work, then what do you fall back on?

First I think we must define what a zone blitz is.  For today's blog we are talking about sending a 5th rusher and playing zone coverage behind it, with only 6 players in coverage.  That means we are short a player in our zone coverage so we must adapt the coverage a little bit to account for that.  The picture above is a simple version of a 3 under 3 deep zone blitz coverage.  The underneath coverage has 2 Seam Curl Flat defenders and a middle hole or hook 3 player.  The back end of the coverage is playing deep thirds.  This is a much better look vs. the run game because it is essentially an 8 man front with a force defender to each side and zone players are in better positions to support the run because of where their eyes can look.  The issue becomes the coverage aspect of the pressure and making sure you can match the coverage to the formation you are seeing.  In this diagram the Hook 3 defender is on the same side as the #3 receiver and that receiver is in the backfield.  If that #3 was a wide out and lined up opposite the Hook 3 defender you will now need to make some adjustments in the coverage.


In the diagram above you are now looking at a 5 man, man free blitz which means the coverage will be man to man with a Safety free in the deep middle of the field.  Now that the coverage has become man to man it makes defending the run a little more difficult.  In today's wide open spread style offense's you are going to see a lot of 2x2 and 3x1 sets which means those 4 wides can run guys off in man coverage very easily.  For us at my high school if we play man we look exclusively at our man because I don't want my guys "peeking" in the backfield and giving up an easy 6 points on play action passes.  That will slow down their run fits if those are wide receivers they are covering.  So now we have to make sure the outside edge rushers become the force players in the run game.  What we gain though is the ability to line up and play faster and more aggressive because we are not as concerned with getting out formationed or having to check our coverages to certain formations.

Each 5 man pressure comes with it's own set of strengths and weaknesses and you must decide which works best for you and your players.  The ideal scenario would be the ability to do both.  We have opted to not do both versions because our players play both sides of the ball and we felt like we did not have enough time to teach both. Remember when blitzing its not the actual blitzes you draw up that's important but making sure you are sound in coverage and run support behind it.  The amount of blitzes you could draw on paper is endless, but the structure you play behind it is the most important thing.  Keep in mind the goal is to make the opponent have to beat you, don't beat yourself and do it for them.  Whatever you can teach best and your kids can play best should be the determining factor in making your decision.