By Dan Gonzalez
An offensive system should represent a toolbox from which a coaching staff can pull out answers to to given defensive problems.
While having the ability to adjust to both internal (personnel) and external (opposition) factors year in and year out, the system should provide a solid infrastructure from which all procedures in the offense begin.
It all begins here. When I look at different aspects of the offense, I monitor in terms of different characteristics that have been identified throughout the years, going way back to when I did the passing game quality control at my alma mater.
Back then, there were 64 different categories that we tracked then graded based on championship, outstanding and reasonable. While some things have obviously changed, others remain the same.
Axioms for turnovers, drops, sacks and other negative plays have all held true in regard to success. Further, certain statistical standards have changed very little in the last 10 years.
For example, a 400-yard per game average will put a team soundly in a top-25 finish in total offense, while 450 yards per game will garner a top-10 ranking in any given year (based on the geographic sample that has been tracked).
So, in setting goals for a system such as ours, where the offense is designed to be multiple and attacks by spreading touches across the offense, play distribution drills down to something like this:
In order to meet these goals, every element of the offense must be examined in order to set teaching modules for the following season. Each component above is examined, and a determination is used in gathering best practices to mold all these inter-related portions of the offense.
Reorganizing without changing
One of my first clients had just graduated a three-year starting QB who excelled in the ACTS reading system and the QB running game. This was a loss of a 10,000-yard, 100-toucdown producer.
The successor was going to be a senior, which means the development of the quarterback position needed to be accelerated. Along the way, certain aspects of the running game had to be examined. Despite incredible success in while “rebuilding” the QB position, play calls were not distributed as efficiently as they could have been. An extensive study led to certain conclusions, detailed here:
From this rose a cleaner, more effective way of classifying – and thus teaching – the running game as schemes were now classified on one of three levels:
- Foundation runs
- Adjustment runs
- Opportunity runs
This seemingly simple adjustment, without a single change in verbiage to the players, allows for a structure that maximize practice time and implementation. Moreover, this reclassification gives the entire staff a focused idea of what schemes are the ones that must, at all cost, be protected for the integrity of the offense.
Here are playbook examples for the primary scheme in the offense, which is combined with an automatic blocking scheme adjustment that is taught as companion from the first day of installation:
No one is immune to injuries, attrition and graduation so it is critical that the teaching carries from the highest level to the lowest in a given system. Consistency is the key to winning on the practice field.
Many teams waste reps in this regard, because the teaching at lower levels is so far removed from what will be required as a varsity player. These requirements should never be ignored, as the goal is to build a program.
Ultimately, it has been proven that sophistication, particularly in the passing game, can be taught. Here is a quick glimpse of things that can be taught even at the junior high level:
Tempo vs. attacking
Many coaches believe that verbiage can impede tempo. However, scrutiny reveals that a well-designed communication system can make up for any extra verbiage while reducing learning burden across the board.
There is a distinct difference in teaching as opposed to how information gets into a game. Many high-profile coordinators have proven this. What this allows for is more reps and more technical emphasis across levels of a football program.
On a Friday night, what this means is that a wider variety of means can be used while keeping concepts minimal and still operating at a high tempo. Often at the high school level, study of up-tempo menus reveal a vanilla method of attacking. As spread offenses have become common, defenses can now adjust to speed. It is therefore important to have multiple answers to defense rather than simply running the same handful of plays as fast as possible.
This is not to say that one-word attack codes are not used. Quite the opposite. However, attacking a specific weakness cannot be forgotten, even at the expense of three to five seconds in between plays.
For example, the derivatives of “Match” or “Banjo” coverage vs. 3-by-1 sets require an offense to revamp some 3-by-1 calls in the dropback game or force adjustments during game week. This is best done in the planning stages of the offense.
Some of this teaching can simply be an adjustment in technique. For instance, one adjustment might simply be to the inside-most receiver running a double in combination:
The slight adjustment here to the inside receiver running a speed cut in helps provide separation so the passer has more time to scan from the inside-out.
Situational football also must not be forgotten. Clearly, there is an emphasis on third downs and scoring zone calls. The approach should be mapped out based on not only past performance but current trends as well.
In-game approaches should also be mapped as a staff so that the respective installation in the spring or summer will be reflected. Here is an example of notations on the game board, a shared document that can be referenced by any member of the staff.
The notations above are a mere example: the first two third-and-mediums of the plan are centered on rhythm (avoiding a sack) while the next two will feature the potential to flip the field (perhaps a double move), and the last two are to take advantage of the anticipated defensive adjustment. The logic here is that the latter will be towards the end of the game, and in a critical situation.
Base vs. game plan
At the center of it all the is teaching the quarterback, a position for whom training has gained exponentially over the years. QB schools are now common, and year-round throwing programs can be found.
The next step, then is to go beyond the basic constructs of classical training. Teaching of coverage recognition is a must, but these should now be expectations at the junior high level. High school coaching has become so advanced that there is a necessity to teach beyond the base in the spring and summer. The primary driver here is that teams often advance their game plans beyond their base during the season. By definition, more advanced learning requires more time for assimilation.
Teaching a system in its entirety also has its benefits. It assures continuity. It is the reason why one of the schools using this system, Gooding High School in Idaho, has had two consecutive one-year starters (2015 and 2016 seasons) at quarterback earn first-team all-state honors. Going into 2017, they were reloading with a sophomore, but because of their approach, the young man had effectively been running the whole system since the eighth grade. Obviously, the youngster is talented, but the fact that he had so many reps for such a long period of time contributed to a third-straight first-team all-state quarterback for the program.
Growth cannot be gleaned simply from a coach’s personal philosophy. Competition is a major propellant as well. The great news is that there are many resources, and this is a great time of the year for coaches as they are able to share with each other, grow as coaches and as men and work to help realize next year’s potential. It doesn’t just happen in the weight room. Improvement can be gained by taking an honest look at strengths and weaknesses, then working to build at all levels of teaching.
And, as we have shown, much of this improvement can occur without wholesale changes for the kids.
Having worked and played within some of college and pro football’s most vaunted aerial attacks, Dan Gonzalez’s offenses blend quick rhythm passing with adjustable patterns throughout his years as a college coach. Now a consultant working with schools across the nation, he teaches at clinics and through his website at: gonzalezpassinggame.weebly.com.