Thursday, December 22, 2011

Empty Quads

Put the Defense in a Quandary with Quads by: Steve Heck

October 2011 Copyright

American Football Monthly

Using a four-vertical attack is a way of bringing a new look to an empty set offense.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of coaching offensive football is having a playbook with a blank canvas. Sure, every “new” idea has been re-tooled and re-named like the ‘Wildcat’. But putting your imagination to work and finding the best way to deploy your people is a challenging and exciting aspect of being an offensive coach.

Recently, we have seen two positions all but dry up on the recruiting trail. It has been harder to find quality fullbacks and tight ends at our level. However, we have been fortunate to attract both quality and quantity at the wide receiver position. So, rather than throwing out our entire playbook and installing a new offense, we looked at ways to incorporate some of our base concepts into an empty offense. Having some flexibility within your system is critical for long term success during lean years or a weak recruiting class.

We have three passing game concepts that are sprinkled throughout our offense. They span many personnel groups, formations and protections. The three base concepts we re-tooled to fit our empty attack are four verticals, spacing, and curl-flat. Spacing and curl-flat are closely related, yet have their own distinctive purpose. We found that by keeping the assignments the same, we can increase the volume of our playbook without overloading the players with “new” techniques.

The first question we had was what was the best way to deploy our personnel? We settled on a bunch quad alignment (See Diagram 1). The quads bunch formations was a natural fit because we originated many concepts from three-receiver bunch formations. Adding a fourth receiver necessitated only minor changes to our playbook.

The first concept we installed was four verticals (See Diagram 2). In our normal alignment, we run four verticals and we release the back on an angle, or hide route as the verticals clear. The big teaching point with the verticals concept is getting everyone a landmark. The number-one receiver pushes for width and his landmark is bottom of the numbers. Number-two receiver is the adjuster. He has some freedom to hug the near hash or adjust to a skinny post. Number-three receiver is working to the opposite hash and we call his route, auto hash. In the quads bunch alignment, our number-four receiver assumes the role of the angle/hide route. However, we teach it more of an option route at six yards.

Diagram 2: Four Verticals Concept

The progression for the quarterback on the verticals is to pre-snap a look at the single- receiver side to determine if there is a positive match-up. From there, the QB scans across the field, working the auto hash by number-three, adjuster by two, to the option by number-four. We will “alert” the vertical running to the numbers by number one if we want the QB to start his progression with that route. If we alert number-one, the QB still pre-snaps the single-receiver side, but then begins his progression with the alerted route to the adjuster, auto hash to option.

Four verticals out of a quads bunch creates problems for the defense. It forces possible single coverage to the single receiver side. Also, defenses get wrapped up trying to play the pattern recognition game with bunch sets and quite often a corner or a safety flat-foots a route and lets one of the verticals get on top of him. To give the defense another look, we employ a switch call with our number-one and number-two receivers. They now exchange landmarks (See Diagram 3).

Diagram 3: Switch Call

The second pass concept that we carried over to our quads bunch package was spacing. The spacing concept has become a staple of both spread and West Coast offenses over the years. We employ spacing in a variety of packages, so it was natural to include it into our empty sets. The basic idea behind spacing is to deploy three receivers running short to intermediate routes in one given area quickly. We put a receiver in the flat, a receiver in the hook/curl area at eight yards, and a receiver working over the ball at six yards. In the quads package, we simply add a vertical route by the number one receiver to soften the reception area (See Diagram 4).

Diagram 4: Spacing Concept

Like our vertical concept, we use a switch tag to diversify the spacing concept in quads. In the spacing switch, number-two and number-three exchange assignments. They key coaching point with spacing, and spacing switch, is to assign an order of release to each receiver. The worst thing that could happen with the compressed formations is the receivers bumping into each other at the snap. It is important to give each receiver his release priority. For example, on the spacing switch, the number-two receiver, who is on the ball, is followed by number-three receiver.The flat route is what we call “shake” flat. He goes last to prevent collisions and this becomes a longer throw for the quarterback (See Diagram 5).

Diagram 5: Flat Route

An important aspect of the spacing concept is the backside route. The quarterback starts his progression on the backside with a quick game route called at the line. We can call slant, hitch, out or even fade. If the quarterback likes the quick throw, we take what they give us. The quarterback starts his eyes at the quick throw, but if he is unsure, he works the middle spot route to the curl, and finally to the flat. The progression happens quickly because the routes are shorter, intermediate routes. It is important to start on the single receiver side first to time all the spacing routes and to keep all the underneath defenders from flying to the 4-receiver side.

We have found that the four verticals and spacing concepts complement each other very well. It is important to utilize them both to keep the defense off balance. The spacing concept is an all-purpose play that has been effective vs. a multitude of coverages. The verticals concept helps generate explosive plays and ultimately provides us with a nice counter to the spacing concept.

The curl-flat concept (See Diagram 6) is the final idea we carried over from the quads bunch package. It is actually a combination of verticals and spacing. Our curl-flat concept pushes the routes a bit deeper and allows our number-two receiver some freedom to find an open area. We call the get open route the void route. The void route pushes the vertical for 12 yards but then has the option of continuing vertical in beating man coverage or a nosy safety, or the void can bend inside a dropping linebacker and find an open zone window. The void route has freedom to work between the hashes. The key coaching point is to execute a great take-off, get your eyes high, see the big picture and finally be decisive. Do not fool the quarterback. We use a lot of read/option routes and it is important that the receiver and quarterback are on the same page

Diagram 6: Curl-Flat Concept

While the void route has emerged as the central focus of this concept, the other routes that are built around the void are critical to the success of the entire structure. The number-one receiver pushes an outside release and runs his vertical to soften the perimeter and/or flat defender. He has no adjustment, except to fight for an outside release vs. a hard corner. We call this ‘Auto 9.’ You can put a fast back at this spot and not worry about over-loading him with technical jargon and reads.

It is important to have an experienced receiver running the void route. Receivers who can execute a good take-off and can recognize coverage structures and quickly diagnose where to adjust the route make the void route tough to defend. Number three is the shake flat. He will be the last player to release. Number four has a curl route. He will push some width on his release and be trailing the void route initially. At about 8-10 yards, he will hook up in an open area. Unlike the option route on the verticals concept, we don’t want him working to far inside because the void route has priority clearance between the hashes.

The single receiver route runs a curl route vs. a soft corner and has the freedom to convert his route to an outside release vertical vs. a hard corner. The progression for the quarterback will be pre-snap, number one running the vertical, void, curl, flat. If the void route gets bottled up, we need to know who is taking it away. If the linebackers are squeezing the void inside, the curl-flat combo should be available.

All three of these concepts are main staples in our “traditional” passing game. For our players and coaches, integrating them into an unusual formation and perhaps a unique personnel group is not a big departure from our normal mode of operation. The bunch quads formation is not something we will use for 40-50 snaps a game, but since we are already comfortable with the concepts, the new formation gives us a way to keep some of our effective ideas fresh.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Empty Quads 4X1 .."The Satellite Express"

Archie Cooley, Jerry Rice, and the "Satellite Express"

I've often detailed the history of the spread, but an unsung innovator was Mississippi Valley State's Archie Cooley. In the '80s, Cooley installed a wide-open, no-huddle, five-wide attack that saw parallel in ingenuity for at least another decade. As an article at the time described. Cooley, 45, is head coach at Mississippi Valley State University, a little school with an enormous passing attack. In the last two years, his Delta Devils - assembled with a recruiting budget of $3,500 a year - won 17 of 21 games, averaging 51 points a game.They did it with no huddle.They did it with 55 passes a game.They did it with something called the Satellite Express, an imaginative, freaky offense designed by Cooley and named presumably for quarterback Willie "The Satellite" Totten, a senior who has replaced Neil Lomax as the most devastating college football passer ever.Using Cooley's Satellite Express, Mississippi Valley State has broken virtually every NCAA Division I-AA passing record. Willie "The Satellite" Totten was the triggerman, but on the receiving end of his passes, roughly 300 of them, was Jerry Rice. Yeah, 49ers-Hall-of-Fame-Dancing-with-the-Stars Jerry Rice. And Rice's incredible talent led Cooley to the most natural evolution of his five-wide attack: put four guys to one side of the field, and put Jerry Rice -- nicknamed "World" because there "wasn't a pass in the world he couldn't catch" -- to the other.Totten would signal a route to Rice backside (much like the run and shoot "choice" concept) and then the four receivers to the other side would run some dizzying array of combinations, usually with at least one guy in a sort of "trail" position who could catch a dump-off if the defense retreated.By doing this Cooley was able to put the defense in an impossible bind: no one in D I-AA could cover Rice (in his college career he set then NCAA records in catches, with 301, yards, with 4,693, and touchdowns, with 50), but if the defense double- or triple-teamed him then they gave up numbers and leverage to the four receiver side.As you can imagine, footage of Mississippi Valley State is, well, scarce. So I was delighted to stumble on this old gamefilm (apparently filmed on some kind of pre-Victorian camera).In the clip, notice how many guys Louisiana Tech lines up on Rice: always two, sometimes even three. But if you wait until near the end of the clip, around the 4:30 mark, the defense finally singles him up. Totten then calls Rice's number and throws him a fade for an inevitable touchdown. Time for the defense to rethink things.