By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
It’s official. We’ve begun our journey into the hallowed halls of football by presenting the first of what will be many reports on the double/triple option series.
We’ve always had a great deal of respect for the true option scheme. We feel like it is the cornerstone or foundation of all football concepts that have derived since. Think about it. Where would Urban Meyer be without the triple option? Would Rich Rodriquez still be at Glenville State? Many of these spread coaches developed their schemes off the structure of the midline or veer option where you read off one defender and pitch off another.
What we also respect is the camaraderie of the coaches that teach this scheme. Similar to the Wing T, these guys are a clan; a gang of football purists who travel the country and preach the world of the triple. You can find them everywhere, but once a year they gather at the Mecca of option football – Annapolis, Maryland – to watch The Naval Academy work through spring drills.
When X&O Labs started to piece together this report, we decided to focus on one specific area to research and study. Anytime you explore a topic that is close to 100 years old, you will find pages and pages of information and some terrific coaches who will tell you everything you want to know. But as we started to unravel all of this information, one common thread kept appearing…many coaches (even the veterans) wanted to know the best ways to run their midline schemes against an odd stack or 3-3-5 defense.
It seemed the odd stack presented some concerns offensively against double or triple option schemes.
For clarification purposes, the midline option is presented in two distinct ways in this report:
Researcher’s Note: Because these two schemes are so similar in nature, we will be referring to both in this report.
With all of these problems, one would think that the midline scheme isn’t a suitable call against odd stack defenses, but we found otherwise. Sure, there were some purists this weekend at the clinic that felt there are too many likely circumstances (like the ones mentioned above) that would prevent success. But when we researched the topic thoroughly, we found that those who "run their stuff," "run their stuff," regardless of what a defense does. Now, there are some aspects of the play that may be tweaked – which is the purpose of this report.
Case 1: Proper Mesh of the QB/FB (B-Back)
Contrary to the veer scheme, the midline veer scheme hits tighter and faster. The QB will usually have to open up on the midline of the center (thus the name of the play) and seat the ball to the fullback or B-back as option guys call him. If you’re playing an odd front, like an odd stack, many times the five-technique would be the dive read because he’s the next defensive lineman past the center. Because he’s closing from the C gap, (or B gap if he’s a 4i technique), chances are a give can be at least a three yard gain before the B-back is touched.
Lusardi teaches his QB to "pull unless" against odd schemes. In other words, the QB should pull the ball unless he feels the dive player can’t tackle the full back in which case he would give it. He teaches this by using a one-two-five finger read drill to make sure the QB’s eyes are up and on the read key. He’ll flash a number at the QB, in which he will have to recite just to make sure his eyes are up. "When we first put in the read, we will make him hand the ball off every time, but still have him reading my fingers," said Lusardi. "We do this just to keep him honest, because when teams start to twist, his reads will change. But we want to get him in the mindset of giving the football because that is where the bubble is."
The first thing Lusardi will do is have the QB check the play to the largest (or widest) technique. His first step will be a drop step with the foot opposite the play – seven o’clock when going right and five o’clock when going left. His play side foot should come slightly off the ground to allow his hips to open. This is to make sure the cylinder is cleared for the B-back.
Lusardi teaches his QB NOT to seat the ball (meaning keep the ball in front of him without moving it, much like spread option teams do, mainly because those teams teach the running back to be responsible for the mesh), and this differed from some other coaches we spoke with. Instead, he’ll force the ball back as far as possible with the weight on the back foot and chin on the front shoulder. As the QB rides the fullback, he must transfer his weight to his front foot and cannot allow the read to go beyond the front foot.
Lou Cella, the founder of the Flex Bone Association, an organization devoted to option fanatics, has a different approach when teaching the the QB/FB mesh. He teaches the QB to seat the ball. Cella, who tutors thousands of players every year on the intricacies of the Navy offense at his clinics across the country, teaches a "point method" to identify whether to give or pull the ball on midline option. Cella tells his QBs that once he takes the ball from center, his feet better go back fast. The opposite foot pushes away, and the ball must be on the mid-point of the center – in other words, right up his crack. The play side foot pushes back into the back-side A gap, and the opposite foot steps with it. Essentially, the ball is pointed at the mid-point of the center while the QB ends up in the back-side A gap.
"It’s the easiest way to get the ball from QB to B-back," says Cella. "All you do is take the snap, seat the ball six inches from chest and fully extend arms. The body is limp. The B-back runs his path. If the QB believes the read key can make the tackle, he can reseat the ball, replaces the read, and runs. It’s a mesh and a soft squeeze on the ball. By nature, it’s a far superior method. It’s a much simpler way of teaching it, but many guys who have been running the ride-and-decide just don’t want to change."
Our report wouldn’t be complete without addressing some of the shotgun spread midline schemes that are slowly infiltrating the football landscape. We didn’t want to spend too much time on this topic because we are currently conducting the largest ever study on the zone read principle (results of this study will be released this summer), in which the gun midline will be addressed. Primarily because old school option guys like Cella, feel this version of the midline can be considered a minor form of option Communism. Despite what Cella and some other coaches at the clinic this week thought (61.2 percent of coaches feel that under center is the best way to run the midline) we are about appeasing our readers, so we spoke with Brian Sheehan, the offensive coordinator of Thomas Moore College (KY) who has had two straight undefeated regular seasons. Sheehan runs the midline scheme out of the pistol, because it helps his quick passing game.
"We’re in pistol the entire time," says Sheehan. "We tell the QB to step off the midline. Our B-back’s aiming point is the front side leg of the center. The QB pivots. He’s at 4 yards but he cheats up half a step. Our deep back is always heels at 6 yards. He steps off the midline, snaps the ball back and rides him through. We call it stab, ride and replace the outside number of the dive key. He stabs the ball into the belly of the B-back while riding and deciding. If the dive key crashes, he replaces him with his feet.
Case 2: Controlling the Entry Point – the A Gap
Of course, the nose guard could present a problem against the midline scheme, which is why Rick Coles, the offensive coordinator at Ripon College (WI), makes sure his best lineman every year is his center. "Our best offensive lineman is always the center, mainly because we know that we will see a ton of odd fronts during the course of the season for what we do," said Coles. "We’re the only college program in our area of the Midwest that runs the scheme. The center has to be able to handle that nose and the FB cuts off of the center’s block."
We’ve found that option teams handle the nose in one of two ways – a slanting nose (or one gap nose) or a two gap nose. When facing a slanting center, you would need to train the FB how to cut off the center’s block. The center will take the nose where he wants to go. "When the nose beats the center across the face you have to make the adjustment with the fullback," says Sheehan. "The B-back has to cut it back. When the nose stunts hard and Mike LB fills the back-side A, you’re a guy short on the back-side so the fullback should be able to split them. We tell our fullback that it’s a first level read – we just jump cut it back-side (Diagram 2). We usually stay on our track of staying in the front side A gap against four down fronts, but against odd structures, the fullback has the green light to always cut it back.
According to our research, 62.1 percent of coaches have their B-back run at the butt of the center. A disciple of Navy’s schemes, it used to be the same way that Lusardi taught it to his kids, but now he tells his fullback to run at the play side hip of the center. "It gives the FB better vision," says Lusardi. "If something crosses his face he cuts it back. In an odd stack, the nose usually beats our center, so it’s a natural thing for the fullback to do. His rule in all our triple options is to zone run off the first DL inside the read key – which would be the center."
Cella said he wouldn’t run the midline scheme against a two-gap nose. It’s too difficult for the center to block. "If you got a slanting center, then you’ve got a play," says Cella. "If you have a nose who two gaps, you need to make sure your center can rip though his outside pad to get him out of the front side A gap so it clears way for the fullback. But in the odd stack, the backers can come from two different ways." Cella teaches his tackle to "high pressure control" the 5-technique out. This means that the tackle blocks the five out and works vertical. As soon as his heels can get to the heels of the 5-tech he turns his hips out and walls that out defender. It’s a block that he learned from Navy.
Now, the front side A gap may be accounted for, but what about the back-side A gap? There are so many games an odd stack front can play, mainly by swapping responsibilities with the Nose and the Mike linebacker. If the nose slants back-side, Sheehan will have the back-side guard be what he calls a "control player" to make sure that nose can’t blow up the back-side A gap. He’ll tell his center to get his hat on the play side number of the nose. Coles, however, tells his back-side guard to come off the ball with his inside foot, and eye the Mike LB to see if he blitzes the back-side A gap. If he does, he’s got him. If not, he works to pick up the stacked linebacker. Lusardi coaches a traditional double team. "Normally, the guard on midline will block the play side backer to back-side backer in a 3-4 or okie front," said Lusardi. "Verses a stack front, the center and guard must double team nose guard to the middle backer."
Case 3: Front Side Blocking at the Point of Attack
Because there are different blitz varieties in the odd stack, it’s important for players to recognize their assignment post-snap. Defenses can cloud the line of scrimmage and send the outside backer and safety through the B and C gaps. Lusardi teaches his play side tackle to never release inside the read key in midline. If he gets a 4i, he will release outside for the safety (Diagram 3). He’s not worried about any B gap run-through, he feels the QB has plenty of time to get the read right. "If that outside backer stunts into the B gap, he has a long way to go. The assignment of the tackle is to block the first guy outside the read key. We will double team the nose guard into the Mike with the front side guard and center. If the nose goes away from play, the center handles him. If he comes play side the guard picks him up. The play side tackle will turn out on the strong safety. The hip backer in an odd stack has too far to play the B gap to make the play. But once Lusardi sees that outside linebacker cheating tight into the B gap pre-snap, he will often check to the midline triple option.
"Our QB reads man on tackle," says Lusardi. "If the LB is closer to make the play we would check out and run the midline triple so the play side tackle can area block. We don’t area block the midline, we man block it. The play side halfback will have a hard time coming off the hip of the tackle’s block. He never comes inside the read key. The FB runs off the play side hip of the center. It becomes an arm tackle by that defensive end which we’ll take every time. Our play side half back comes off the tail of tackle. He blocks for the QB on the pull and not the fullback. Our guard blocks for the fullback."
If Cole’s gets an A and B gap stunt he handles it by angle blocking the play side guard and tackle (Diagram 4). "If we get an A gap and B gap stunt, our play side guard will go directly to whoever is blitzing in the A gap – whether it be the Mike or outside linebacker. Our play side tackle will find a way to get to the B gap blitzer. It becomes an automatic give read for the QB because the five-technique is taking the C gap. We tell our FB to split both those guys. Again, we have three foot splits across the board and a 4.5 foot split for the tackle, so it makes it a bit easier to read." Of the coaches we surveyed, 44.8 percent average at least three yard splits across their offensive line. Now if Cole gets a 4i, he’ll run what he calls a "slip release." "If they reduce to give us a 4i-technique, we assume he’s playing the fullback so we do what we call a ‘slip release’ which is a vertical C gap release by the tackle. The tackle runs for the free safety immediately and the QB pulls and runs free."
Researchers’ Note: You are reading the summary version of this Research Report. To access the full version of this report – including the corresponding Statistical Analysis Report featuring the raw coaching data from our research – please CLICK HERE.
So our first installment of option football is complete. We realize there is a whole other world of football coaches who teach the option. The way that was presented here is really just a small microcosm of the different ways coaches are teaching the midline and midline triple.
Copyright 2011 – X&O Labs
This is very good information and it provides a great look at the varying perspectives and methods of execution. The reason we run Triple from the Diamond Formation is because it creates advantages for all of the issues stated. As long as our QB understands the count, and our linemen take their power step as they've been taught (which encompasses area and numbers rules), the entire system and associated footwork of all personnel creates an adaptive advantage in the execution, and exploitation of the defense.
The footwork of the Dive Back provides inherent advantages to necessary directional changes. In addition, since he's in a two-point stance at the onset of the play, he can gain a greater visual advantage of defensive movement and visualize three different points of attack from the established dive track without changing his footwork and mesh-point. Regardless of whether you call it a mid-line, or inside or outside veer, if our dive back remembers his rules, he should always h...