Installing R4 for the first time

Football season doesn’t end in November/December for me.  I do almost as much work in the off season as I do in season.  Like most coaches I attend clinics, watch videos, research online, and just try to talk to as many coaches as I can.  I am like a sponge and I try to absorb as much information as I can, doesn’t matter to me what it is about, I just like to learn about football.

One of the biggest things I researched this off season was the R4 system created by Darin Slack and Dub Maddox.  I feel like I am getting to this party a little late but as they say “it’s better late than never”.
When reflecting back on last season I was probably most disappointed in our drop back pass game.  We ran the ball well most of the time, we sprinted out well, but we just could not complete passes consistently from the pocket.  We could not stretch the field vertically in any way.  Eventually teams stopped defending vertical passes, loaded the box, and we couldn’t do much.  I knew I had to find a way to hurt teams in the air.  I have owned the R4 DVDs for over a year but didn’t feel I understood it well enough to install it last year.  I knew that devoting a lot of time and energy yo the R4 system would be the best thing for us.

So I watched my R4 videos over and over until it sunk in.  I bought the iBook “From headset to helmet” to further my understanding of the system.  After reading it twice, and watching the videos three times I felt I had a good enough understanding to teach it, install it, and make it our system.

The first thing I had to do was dissect our playbook.  I had my ideas of what concepts I liked best and wanted to run, but now I had to put everything in to R4 terms.  This meant some concepts had to be adjusted just slightly, I had to change some route DNA to fit into R4.  I had to adjust our teaching from yards for WR routes into steps, to time things up better.

Once I had our concepts properly aligned with R4, I had to begin teaching our players and coaches.

This is what I have started doing and will continue to do until spring ball.

Right now we are all about our lifting program, we are saving anything football related until spring ball.  However in my mind R4 has a lot material that has to be understood before you begin installing plays.  I felt that our QBs would need a head start on everyone else.  Installing R4 requires a lot of work upfront but once the kids understand the concept of what R4 is, it can be applied to the entire playbook.

2 weeks ago I began meeting with the QBs every Monday night after weight lifting/baseball practice.  Each night I have had 2 QBs from each grade level there.  We go at night because 2 of our QBs are on the baseball team and that is the only time they can make it.

The first thing I did was buy each QB a spiral notebook.  I got them for a buck each and I feel that they are more likely to learn the system and retain information if they are the ones writing things down and drawing it up rather than if I printed them off my powerpoints or diagrams.

I began by drawing and explaining all of the necessary terms and information for R4.  We discussed the 5 vertical tubes, hard deck, pre snap cap.  We discusses the ideas of cushion and collision.  We discussed the timing of Rhythm, Read, and Rush routes and how it matches up with their footwork.  We discussed why certain plays fail and what defenses do to stop us.  We discussed how to read coverage.  We discussed their timeline vs man and zone.  We discussed a lot.

I didn’t throw all of this at them at once, we went slow, I encouraged them to ask as many questions as they could, and believe me they did.

Now we are at a place where the kids have at least an elementary understanding of how R4 works, how they will use it, and how their decision making is sped up by using it.

Last week we installed our first play on the board…SNAG.  I think by now everyone knows that Snag is my favorite play, so of course it would be the first that I install.  We went through the play over and over again and how the R4 elements apply to it.  Every kid left this past Monday with an understanding of the Snag concept that was light years ahead of how we were reading it last year.  My 2 returning varsity QBs (both were backups but got game snaps last year) left the room saying, ‘Coach, we really like this”.

Now we will continue to install 1-2 concepts each Monday night until we get to spring ball.  I have my schedule set up so we are installing similar plays to help in the learning process.  I am excited, the kid’s are excited and I KNOW we will be a much better passing team than we were last season.

Using an H back to enhance your Inside Zone Package

For most Spread teams Inside Zone is the bread and butter of their run game.  It is one scheme that can be installed and run vs any front.  It is a safe play that you can count on to eat up yardage consistently and then BOOM RB squirts up the gut or cuts back and hits the home run.  It was our best, most consistent run play last season.
I feel that I have become better at coaching it this off season through research into what others do and reflection in to what worked and didn’t work for us with IZ last year.  I have decided that our entire first week of Spring Ball will be devoted to IZ.  I am getting rid of my 3 day install plan I used a year ago, and the only run play we are going to use for the first 4 days is IZ.  I want to emphasize it’s importance as well as make sure my kids have at least a basic understanding of the play before adding anything.  Much of our offense relies on our ability to run IZ.
There are various styles of IZ, I won’t get in to that now… whatever your style is… if it works for you, keep doing it.  I believe our style works for us so I will keep refining/improving it.
I am writing this article to shed some brief light on some popular concepts and simple tags off of Inside Zone that I think are worth investing in and plan on running this season.
The core concept here is INSIDE ZONE…. for the sake of the drawings I put up the same front so you could see the differences in each.  This is against a 6 man box and using a true “Read” of the Backside DE as the base way of running IZ.
Each formation I have drawn up has the RB on the left and the H back (he is Y in our offense) on the right side.  I teach an outside the tackle alignment so put the DE in more conflict as now he can be blocked both from the inside and the outside. Some teams prefer directly behind OT, or even more inside for a better position to kick out on power… if that is what you do, wonderful… all of these concepts apply to any position you align your H back.
1. Standard IZ Right
The beauty of IZ is that you can run it from any personnel grouping.  It should be the same for the OL whether you are in a 4 wide environment, or begin adding TEs, H backs, Full backs whatever to the formation.  My goal as an OC, but more importantly as the OL coach is to make life easiest on the 5 Offensive Linemen.  I want to reduce how much they have to think at all times.  To keep their rules the same when we add our Y to the formation, likely he brings another defender into the box with him (likely the defender over him when he is spread out in the slot).  Just like he would spread out in Ace, our Y is responsible for blocking that OLB/Overhang.  He will condense some… could play at true LB depth, could walk up on the LOS, could play somewhere in between, either way our Y is responsible for him. This is just our base IZ RT call and if we are having success there is no need to deviate.

Now if we need to throw something else at the opponent we can begin to use tags to slightly alter the blocking scheme and/or give us a numerical advantage.

2. Slice
I love the idea of the slice tag.  We block IZ RT and rather than read the BSDE we kick him out with the Y. Just like Darin Slack talks about defeating the man advantage in the pass game using routes that cross the center line, I think there is a tremendous advantage in the run game in borrowing blockers from across the center line.  By bringing the Y at the snap on a sharp angle to kick out the DE we set up the potential for a huge cutback lane by the back.  The back must stick with his “chase the center’s butt” read and press the heels of the OL, but he knows when this is called that the cutback has big play potential.  The defense gets almost lulled to sleep by pounding IZ strong over and over, and this cutback catches them off guard. Our best IZ runs last year were on cutbacks and that was without a true kick out on the DE, we only influenced him wide and up field with the QB pull threat.

There are 2 ways to teach this kick out block…

  • A. Aim for kick out on DE every time (log as last resort when beat)
  • B. Have Y Aim for Kick out and read the DE… if the DE flies up field for QB no need to kick him out, instead turn up and be an extra lead blocker for the RB (49ers began killing teams with his when Kap took over)

Some call the Kick vs the bluff kick and lead backside as 2 separate plays, I like reading it instead to “always be right”.

I am leaning toward the latter for our install purposes simply because the way it should time up… if that Y runs a hard angle for kick out, and the DE goes up field far enough where the Y can not touch him… I do not think that DE can come back and get into the play… no need to waste a potential blocker.  Y should be taught a path to kick out… if he has no opportunity to collision the DE, get square and up the field.

3. IZ Iso Strong

If the LB who condenses with the Y is still playing soft or you feel he is not a threat in the run game (you can bang it up inside or cut back before he can make a play) then I feel that a strong side ISO is an excellent tag.  In this example the RT base blocks the DE out like on IZ.  The Y is responsible for the Play side LB or “first LB in the box”  (we number our LBs when talking run scheme… starting from play side box, working back).

Y would fold under the tackle (potentially would fold through A gap vs a 3 tech and RG would base the 3 out)

Since Y has the Right ILB… it allows the OL to work their combos not rotating play side to front side backer, but rotating to backside backer… which should allow a longer double IMO. The key to making this strategy work is making sure the OL understands that 1 LB has been taken away so they are working up to LB differently.  The BST can be taught to either use his base zone steps and work with BSG to cut off 3 tech and any backside LB pursuing from outside the box or if you prefer to take the read aspect away from it he can hinge on the DE.

4. IZ Iso Weak
Once the concept of Y being responsible for a backer, and how that effects the OL sinks in, you know have the ability to run Iso week off of zone principles.  You provide a cutback same side play for the Rb (an important key breaker for gun teams who don’t have great run threats at Qb) and again pulling the Y gives the offense an advantage as they can now borrow a blocker from across the center line.

OL blocks IZ Left but leaves the Left Inside LB for Y.  Same rules would apply as strong side ISO for the OL, we are just pulling Y to lead block weak rather than fold him strong.  Again he would be pulling and leading (SQUARE!) up through the A or B gap bubble depending on the front.

5. Bootleg

The last play I want to explore in this series is a Bootleg off of the IZ look.  I can not take credit for the details of this concept as I got it directly from Coach Grabowski’s iBook (if you haven’t bought this yet you are hurting yourself, go buy it now).If I had our H WR on the left side I would just run him on a deep out, I just drew it this way to show how the drag should be run, under OLB and over the MLB.

The OL and RB are selling IZ Right.  OL will take their zone steps and if they have color in their gap will base block it but not go more than 2 yards down field, if they do not see color/feel pressure they will get their eyes up and look for work/help.

The OL HAS to block it the exact same as the run play to fool the defense.  Play side SE (X) attacks inside then gets to the corner.  H runs either the deep cross route or deep out depending on if it is too his side or away.  Y in this case would attack the DE (just like in Slice) and chip off into the Flat.

These are just some examples of what I feel are core plays in a spread offense that bases around Inside Zone.  Each of these concepts could very easily be run from Pistol.  Again the alignment of your H back position could be moved to whatever best suits your needs.

Game Planning

Recently I was asked by multiple Twitter Followers to talk about game planning and setting up game/call sheets for opponents.

Here is my process… I am by no means some game planning expert… I have had almost no mentorship to grow from in this aspect of coaching but I have applied the few “good ideas” I was taught and I have reflected, learned, and evolved over the last 7 years coaching football, especially the last 3 in which I have had a specific hand in calling the plays (JV OC, then Assistant to the Varsity OC, and finally this year Varsity OC).  These “good ideas” that were passed down to me I will refer to as “KEYS”, as in KEY things to being successful.

Some might dislike what/how I do, some might like it.

This is how I think I look:

This is how I probably look:
Game Planning:
Our Game Planning process starts Saturday afternoon in a typical week.  We played the night before, watch review, meet with our kids all on Saturday morning.  Late morning/Early afternoon we will trade film with our opponent for the following week.  Almost everyone has HUDL so it goes pretty quick.  I can usually be back home by 1:00 and ready to watch opponent film.  This is where the process begins.
I watch a lot of film.  I would guess on average I watch each opponent’s game film at least 10x during the week.  When I first get it I will make sure it is properly ODK’d and just give it a run through.  I will watch the whole thing one time through.  Since I only coach Offense , after that I focus on the opponent’s defense.  I will filter only their defensive snaps and watch them a few times through, noting the fronts and coverages on notepaper (I should be doing this on HUDL and it is my goal to use HUDL better this year).  Along with their base looks I will make any player notes that I observe… A superior player, a weak player, a kid with bad technique, or one who is “cheating” to make plays.
KEY #1: Find out a defense’s rules
It seems simple but I think it is overlooked.  The most important thing I am looking for when watching film is trying to become fluent in the opponent’s defensive rules.  Every GOOD defense (bad defense’s are usually just kids doing their own thing entirely) has a set of rules.  Players are taught alignment and assignment and with a game or two of film you should be able to figure out their base rules.
Where do they line up?
How do they call strength?
What coverage is their base? Change ups?
How do they cover trips?
How do they handle motion/shifts?
etc.
Once you get an understanding of what their rules are, they become more predictable and then YOU can begin to control THEM.  For example we live in trips.  The ball is on a hash so often it just makes sense.  One team we played last year ALWAYS brought their LB over from the weak side against trips to create a 3 on 3 match up to trips side.  I was able to quickly see that this must be his “rule”.  I knew I could get rid of that LB simply by going trips.  We went trips to the short side and would run sweep to the wide side and there was no force player.  We were able to control their alignment because we knew their rules.  That same team ALWAYS played in a stack against 2×2, but would bump over and walk someone down vs trips.  Gave us the front we wanted to run our counter play.  They allowed us to dictate what front they were in simply by formation.  This is just an example of using a defense’s rules against them.
*It is important to note that deciphering a defense’s rules doesn’t stop before kick off, this is going on throughout the game.  They might have something special saved for the game or make a change to THEIR game plan.  It is important to get a verification of, or find the change in their defensive rules in the first series.  I once heard a coach explain it like this, “I am willing to essentially give up my first possession of the game, if it allows me to figure out the defense’s rules that I can use against them for the rest of the game.”  That same coach always told me within his first series he wanted to show the defense something balanced, trips, motion, and empty all in their first 3 plays in some way.  From there he would base his play calling off of what was either confirmed/verified or what new information was learned as to the defense’s rules.
Key #2:
Draw up every single play.  I got this from a late great DC I used to work with.  He did this from a defensive perspective but I have copied it for offense.  He would get 3×5 cards and draw up every single play the offense ran in every piece of film he had.  He would go through this cards over and over again, drawing his defensive looks up against them and looking at their strengths/weaknesses.
For our offense I draw up every blitz/stunt I see on film.  I draw up every coverage I see on film.
My OL is going to have multiple days of Blitz PU against every blitz you have ever shown.  My QB will have thrown against every coverage you have shown.  We practice against a number of looks throughout the year so the kids pick up things fairly quickly but as an OL coach I have more confidence in my guys when I know they know how to pick up everything the defense can throw at them.
Sunday:
I do most of this work Saturday night.  We meet as a staff at one of our coach’s house on Sunday morning.  Each coach is responsible for watching film on their own and coming with notes prepared.  We watch the game as a staff one time through, bringing up any points we want to make about a specific play or player.  We share the ideas of what we each saw on film.  Coordinators will bring up what they want to focus on for the week and seek input from position coaches if there was anything they saw on film that the coordinator did not address.  Sometimes we are all on the same page, sometimes they bring something up, an idea I might have missed, sometimes they bring something up, I disagree and then shut them down.  Sometimes our Sundays are calm, sometimes we get heated up and things get a little more intense but I think the important thing is after Sunday’s meeting, it is over.. we have a plan, let’s implement it.
Our general practice plan is fairly consistent but we will make changes or focus on certain areas if it is a focus for us.  If I know a team likes to play man, our WRs will do more press get off technique that week.  If my OL will see slanting, we will work more against that.
I do not script our team practice time.  I call plays.  I give our DC the fronts, coverages, and blitzes that I would like to see and tell him to have at it.  I don’t want to see my perfect play call against the perfect defensive look because how often do you get that in the game.  I want to run a bunch of plays, fast, against the various predicted looks so I can get a sense of what is working and what we aren’t running well.
I don’t think of myself as an OC that is going to call the perfect play at the perfect time and fool the whole world.  I am trying to become the OC that gets so good at teaching his offense and packaging it together that even when I am an absolutely terrible, stupid, idiotic play call… the kids do their assignments and we pick up 4 yards and the first down.
Setting up Game Day sheet:
 
I look at Call Sheets different than most.  I HATE the situational call sheets most coaches use.  I just can’t see myself knowing ahead of time what the perfect call will be on 3rd&short, or 3rd&medium or any other situation coaches list on their laminated call sheets attached to their hip.
I feel like whatever call you make in a given situation has so many variables effecting it you can’t make the decision until that moment.  How much time is left?  Score? What has or hasn’t been working for you? Injuries? Momentum? I know most coaches prefer this method but it just isn’t for me.  I know it is designed to speed up the play calling process but I have seen coaches just stare into their call sheets like they’re waiting for it to speak to them or send some divine message of the right play call.  In my opinion “the right play” is constantly evolving, changing throughout the game.  There is no way to know what the best few options on 2nd &5 are until you actually get there.
I know what play I want to run in a given moment, I just need to be able to find it quickly to send it in.  This is a call sheet I used 2 years ago.
I have everything grouped by concept.  I memorized the layout so I could find the play I wanted right away.  Dropbacks in one location, screens in another, runs in another.  It is laid out in a way that works best for ME.  Our OC that year had a completely different game day call sheet that he had grouped by situations.  I think you have to know yourself and go with whatever way your brain is wired.