This Indiana 5A State Championship winning coach shares how he uses motions and stems to comfuse and slow down opposing defenses.
By Rick Wimmer
Head FB Coach
Fishers HS (IN)
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Editor’s Note: Rick Wimmer has been the head football coach at Fishers High School (IN) since 2006 when the school opened. Despite going 1-10 in the schools inaugural season while playing a varsity schedule with no seniors, the Tigers have recorded a 54-29 record in 7 seasons including 2 conference championships, 2 sectional championships, and the 2010 Indiana 5A State Championship. Prior to arriving at Fishers, Wimmer also served as head coach at Greenwood, Merrillville, and Zionsville High Schools. In 30 years as a head coach, Wimmer's teams have compiled a 218-112 record earning 9 conference championships, 6 sectional championships, 3 regional championships, and 2 Indiana State Championships (2010, Fishers (5A); 1987, Zionsville (3A).
It seems many of the highly productive offenses today have gone in one of two directions. A very popular mode of offensive attack today calls for a no-huddle, fast-paced attack. Often, but not always, these offenses use a limited number of personnel groups and formations so they can get to the line of scrimmage quickly, align properly, and execute plays rapidly to put constant pressure on the defense. The other end of the spectrum is to use multiple personnel groupings, break from the huddle, and put pressure on the defense by giving them very little time to recognize and adjust to a variety of alignments by shifting to multiple formations. We have found using movement at the line of scrimmage to be an effective way to pressure the defense and add multiplicity to our offense.
We have three ways to change alignments at the line of scrimmage:
Shifts and stems will affect defenses differently depending on the scheme of the defense and how the opponent wishes to handle movement. There are several reasons we choose to use movement in our offense. Many times the advantage we can gain from a shift or a stem depends on how the defense chooses to react to our movement. Here are the reasons we may choose to use certain kinds of movement against an opponent:
Sometimes we think our opponent may be more likely to stay in balanced, generic fronts to reduce the need to make many adjustments. For example, a 30 front team may be more likely to stay in a balanced 30 front as opposed to reducing the defense to or away from a TE. Some defenses may be less likely to use stunts and blitzes as the shifting and stemming may require changes in the calls or at least some thinking and possible hesitation in their execution.
Getting the players to be able to execute different movements effectively and efficiently is very important. We have a variety of motions, shifts, and stems but we will generally go into a game with just a couple of those shifts and stems. However, by mid-season our opponent will have seen 6 or 7 different movement patterns. The opponent will have to practice against all of our motions, shifts, and stems while we are preparing 2 or 3 for a particular game. Also to add to the multiplicity for our opponent, most of our shifts and stems allow certain players to have a pre-shift alignment of their choosing. Our communication of a single shift or stem of our players may look like several different re-sets to our opponent that will need to be drawn on a scout card and practiced against their own defense. Also we choose to tie our movements to our snap count. We believe this also helps us with the efficiency of our movements. Some teams elect to use foot movements or hand movements by the QB to trigger motions and shifts. By tying our movements to the snap count, we are able to automatically vary the snap count and, we believe, it helps w/ the timing while not putting another responsibility on the QB at the line of scrimmage.
For example, with some kind of long motion (WR across ball or TE/FB across ball and back), we might want the ball snapped "on one." i.e. "Set – 2 (motion begins), 14 – 2, 14 – Hut" (ball snapped). With a short motion (FB/TE motion across ball or WR short motion toward ball), we might call for the snap count to be "on the numbers." i.e. "Set – 2 (motion begins), 14 – Hut." (ball snapped). Without divulging all of our various snap counts and specific movements that are coordinated with them, our various shifts, double shifts, shifts with motion, and stems all require specific snap counts and cadence mechanics that help us vary the snap count during the course of the game.
Of course, the QB and moving players must understand that shifting players must re-set for a full second before the snap or before another movement can be executed. This will, at times, require the QB to "hold" certain parts of the cadence with a pause before continuing. This adds a non-rhythmic aspect to the cadence for the opponent but, because it is expected by our players, it really creates a rhythmic advantage that helps us with our takeoff.
One factor that is important for players to understand and execute is the speed and purpose of their movements. Players must move quickly with certainty to their new alignments. We want to put pressure on the defenders to make any necessary adjustments quickly. Even if they make no alignment adjustment, there is likely to be some thinking and hesitancy as defenders work to recognize the new possibilities they are facing from a new alignment. In order to practice these movements and to help our players become confident so they can move quickly, we will generally work a 5-10 minute period on Tuesday and Wednesday to rep our movements against air.
Working movements against air allows us to move much faster getting more reps while not being slowed down by a scout defense that needs to get set. We also can execute quickly because we are not having to worry about blocking assignments. We simply will practice our cadence, time our movements, and work on coming off the ball in the run game with proper footwork or throw play-action passes.
We have five shifts that are easily executed and, because of the liberal alignment rules for certain players, may appear to be several different shifts to our opponents.
The first shift we call "Move." The words "Move to" are called in the huddle before the formation call to alert players of the shift. "Move" tells our R-back (could be our Fullback, 2nd TE, or a 3rd WR) to align in a position other than where he will end up. Below are two common "Move" shifts:
By creating a 4 man surface and adding 2 gaps to what was originally the weakside of the formation, the defense could be outflanked quickly. This is a great shift to help us gain the edge with zone or pin + pull principles. Sometimes inside gaps will be compromised with defensive adjustments. It is also great for play-action passes as we are presenting a strong running formation.
"Jump" is a way to change the strength without having the Y TE flip across the formation. We have sometimes changed how we do this from game to game or year to year. The Y TE will have a pre-shift alignment in a flexed position on the same side as he will end up after the shift. Below are a couple of examples of how we have used this shift:
This is another shift we like if we can get a personnel mismatch or if we can get an adjustment that forces several players to move causing confusion or loss of gap integrity. Again, we like Inside and outside zone, pin + pull concepts, gap scheme, and play-action passes off our best runs.
Our final shift is called "Tango." "Tango" tells an OT to Trade across the formation. Our Y TE will Trick if we are moving to an Over formation, coming back to form a 2-man surface but, of course, he is an eligible receiver. When we Tango to a Heavy set, the TE will Trade with the OT to the new position. The R-back again has freedom in his pre-shift alignment but will end up in the formation called. We use Tango to shift to Tackle Over and Heavy (unbalanced, 4 man surface) sets.
We have occasionally used it to go from Over or Heavy formations back to conventional alignments.
We like using Tango to Over formations to get 2 OTs on the same side of the ball. This can help us get the edge on the outside by putting 2 of our best linemen next to each other. We use all our same concepts in Over formations (zone, pin + pull, gap, play-action). Releasing the Y TE from the 2-man surface on a play-pass can be effective if protection is not compromised.
Using Tango to get to an unbalanced Heavy formation, forces the defense to make some decisions regarding moving the front and/or rolling the secondary. We still run our basic zone, gap, and play pass concepts.
One thing coaches need to come to grips with when using movement in practice is that it does reduce the number of plays you will be able to run in a given segment. This is another reason we like to practice our shifts and stems in a Speed segment (runs vs air) or Play-Action vs Air segment (no linemen). Then when we use a scout defense, we will minimize the number of times we will use movement in our practice scripts so we can play faster and get more reps.
The number of times we will use a shift or a stem in a given game will vary depending on how the defense reacts and what degree of advantage we believe we are getting from the use of movement. Sometimes, when the outcome of a game is decided relatively early, we may elect not to use many shifts. Although we did use a shift or a stem in every game this past season, there were 4 games in which we used these movements 3 times or fewer. However, it was not uncommon for us to use these movements 10-12 times in most of the remaining 9 games. This past season, we used shifts or stems 93 times in 13 games. This number does not include the snaps in which we used motion alone. We are now beginning to realize that even when we don’t recognize a specific advantage we are gaining in alignment or personnel matchups, we often gain the advantage of giving the defensive players a very short time of recognition as well as forcing the next few opponents who see us on film to take practice time to prepare for these movements. We hope to continue to find ways to improve the effectiveness of movement by studying how to better manipulate the defense, how to better incorporate movement into the game plan, and how to better teach it to our players and practice it effectively.