Archive | March, 2016

Offensive Play: Bootleg

28 Mar

bootleg (combined).jpgA bootleg is schizophrenic or something.

For starters, it’s a misdirection play.  The Quarterback fakes a hand off in one direction then rolls out to the other.

It’s also a play-action pass in that it starts out looking like a running play.  The run fake does two things: it confuses the defense and it slows down any pass rush.

And, lastly, it’s an option play — sort of.  Depending upon how the defense’s backside reacts to the Quarterback’s sudden appearance with the ball, the Quarterback has the option to either run or pass.

The defense, in this case, is specifically the force defender.  He’s the lone wolf in a defense’s perimeter who’s entrusted with “forcing” a ballcarrier back into the pursuit.

When he sees the Quarterback with the ball to his side of the field, he has two choices: he can lay back and protect against the pass, in which case the Quarterback can run.  Or he can rush the Quarterback who will then throw to the open receiver.  When executed properly, a bootleg is basically a no-win situation for the defense.

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Blast from the Past: The Elmira Express

28 Mar

elmira commuter trainHe was hated for being black and loved for his gentleness.  He was admired for his athletic prowess and respected for his humility and compassion.  Sportswriters called him “The Elmira Express” but he was, as one coach described him, “like a puppy dog, friendly and warm and kind”.

Even on the football field where he was powerful and locomotive-like in blowing up opposing players who attempted to tackle him, he would, after knocking an opponent down, run back and help him up.  “We never had a kid so thoughtful and polite,” his college coach said of him.

ernie davis7The kid in question was Ernie Davis.  In a time when the struggle for civil rights dominated our daily lives and hatred spilled into the streets and into the football fields where Ernie played, he was the first black athlete to be awarded the Heisman Trophy.

Born on Dec. 14, 1939, in New Salem, Pa. Davis grew up in poverty in Uniontown, a coal-mining town 50 miles south of Pittsburgh, where he was raised by caring grandparents.  The honors came early and often, from the time he started with organized sports. He succeeded at every venue, a three-sport standout in high school.

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Great Coaches: Bud Wilkinson

22 Mar


Bud1Before he entered coaching, he briefly worked for his father’s mortgage company. But the lure of coaching football was too powerful, so Wilkinson became an assistant coach at Syracuse and then back at Minnesota. During World War II he served on an aircraft carrier with the U.S. Navy, and also coached a Navy football team at Iowa Preflight Academy, a school designed to prepare its students to enter Naval flight school.

faurot1 - at the  chalknoard

Dan Faurot at the chalkboard.

At Iowa Preflight, Wilkinson met and coached with Jim Tatum in 1946 where he learned the intricacies of Dan Faurot’s Split-T offense.  When Tatum was hired as the head football coach at the University of Oklahoma. Wilkinson followed Tatum to Norman, and after just one season, Tatum left the Sooners for Maryland. The 30-year-old Wilkinson was named head coach (and athletic director) and would soon make history with the option offense Farout had created and, with the aid of Gomer Jones,  his defensive coordinator, he would devise the 5-2 Defense, which became widely used by colleges and high schools and was simply known as the “Okie” defense.

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Offensive Tactic: Selling the Nine

22 Mar

action3 ( a pass play, receivers run along specific, predesigned paths that attack the “open grass” — or soft spots — in a defense.  These paths are called “routes” and a carefully crafted mixture of them is called a “pass pattern” or “concept”.

The “9” is football’s most basic and most important pass route and, yet, it’s nothing more than a race to the end zone – or at least as far as the quarterback can throw.

Selling the nine is convincing a defensive back that he’s in that race every time a receiver releases from the line of scrimmage.

The nine — also called a “Go” or “Fly” route — is basically a straight line.  As such, it serves as the stem for many other pass routes a receiver can run.  By stem, we refer to another straight line, the one a receiver runs when he escapes the line of scrimmage and races to the breakpoint of his assigned route.

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Offensive System: Air Raid

21 Mar

air raid - line splits

The Air Raid is a no-huddle, spread attack that turns all five of its eligible receivers into “go-to” guys. The objective is to get “the ball to the person who can score [the fastest].”1

The no-huddle approach dictates tempo. Defenses are forced out of their normal routine and can barely catch their breath, let alone substitute personnel to fit the situation.

Meanwhile, the various spread formations it uses stretch defenses horizontally, creating space in which the receivers can operate and, at the same time, isolating defenders – most especially the weak ones.

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Defensive Tactic: Backside Contain

21 Mar

backside contain1

The backside of any defense is where, initially, the ball isn’t going.  Backside contain is protection for those times when an offensive play – like a reverse, or counter, or bootleg – changes direction and attacks what was, initially, the defense’s backside.

Like containment on the frontside of a play, backside contain is about keeping the ball-carrier bottled up in the backfield and allowing the pursuit from the interior defenders to catch him before he breaks “outside” into the perimeter where the defense is weakest.

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Blast from the Past: How Theodore Roosevelt Changed Football

20 Mar

Article (1905)

Concussions weren’t a pressing issue in the early days of football.  Dying was.  So, after 19 players had been killed and 159 critically injured playing the game in 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt – no stranger himself to rugged play — gave the ruling powers of football a choice: change the game or see it abolished by Executive Order.

teddy roosevelt (as a player - 2x3)

Teddy as a player.

As much as he loved the toughness that football ingrained in America’s youth, Roosevelt — and much of eastern society — had wearied of its savagery.  It was, by numerous descriptions, no better than brawling and not only because of the numerous fist fights that routinely erupted at games, but mostly because of an offensive strategy called “mass-momentum plays.”

The concept of massing players into tightly woven formations to increase their power at the point of attack began in 1884, during a game between Princeton and Penn.  In an attempt to break a 0-0 deadlock, Princeton quarterback Richard Hodge devised a play in which the “rush-line” – an early version of an offensive line – jumped into a wedge or V-shaped formation at the snap of the ball and plowed forward like a tank through the Penn defense with the ballcarrier safely tucked in behind.  The men from Penn had no answer for the trick formation and were routed 31-0.

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