By Toriano Morgan, Virginia State University Offensive Coordinator
A great deal of Virginia State’s recent success and resurgence can be attributed to the emphasis they have placed on improving their passing game. That emphasis paid off this season as the Virginia State Trojans finished 8-2 and made drastic improvements from 2018.
When installing a new offense, we looked to become more explosive and put a concentrated effort on moving the chains and being efficient in our passing game. We installed our Rocket Concept, and with its inception, it allowed us to accomplish both goals and improve our overall offensive production.
The Rocket concept is a simple concept that we use out of our 3 X 1 set. This concept involves a 15-yard stop route by the No. 1 receiver, a 12-yard option route by the No. 2 receiver, and a 12-yard sit route by No. 3 receiver (as shown in diagram 1). We have experienced a lot of success with this concept as it allows us to attack the defense vertically and gives us unlimited options vs. blitzing defenses and quarters coverage. We have found that this concept is a very compatible to our quick game and has a direct effect on defenses when it’s time to stretch the field vertically.
Coaching the Stop Route
We require that the receiver use a speed release off the football. We coach our guys against a soft corner to attack the defenders technique splitting the midline of his chest while quickly closing his cushion. Once he feels he has created a two way go he should step on the defenders toes, causing him to open his hips. Once he has opened the defenders hips, he is coached to continue to push the route to 15 yards. He will make his break opening his hips 45 degrees expecting the throw to be on his up field shoulder, providing him the opportunity to run after he makes the catch.
Coaching the Option Route
Once the No. 2 receiver has defeated the invert defender, he will push his route 12 yards and depending on the coverage he will hook up away from pressure. The key coaching point in this route is the alignment of the No. 2 receiver and the ability to work to their landmark. We have found that aligning the No. 2 receiver one yard inside the hash and having him work to a landmark of two yards outside the hash creates a natural horizontal stretch on most defenses. This stretch allows the quarterback to get through his progressions much easier and instantly opens up throwing lanes.
Coaching the Sit Route
Our philosophy in the pass game is that if they didn’t blitz you on first down be prepared for it on the next down. In embodying this philosophy we ensure that all of our route concepts have built in blitz beaters. The Rocket concept is no different. Our No. 3 receiver is coached to take a track to his landmark that will automatically replace any blitzing defender on the way to his landmark of hitching up 12 yards over the center. It is important that he gets to this landmark as he is key in holding the safety vs Cover 3, and is an immediate option as the coverage lifts vs quarters coverage.
Quarterback/Read and Progression
We consider Rocket to be part of our base passing game which is predicated primarily on timing. In our base pass game we utilize formations and pre-snap movement to create favorable matchups. We often run Rocket out of some form of a 3 x 1 formation because we believe it gives our backside X receiver a favorable matchup that we instill he must win. After our QB has gone through his pre-snap read if he determines he has a one on one matchup, that will be his primary read in his progression. After the QB receives the snap we coach our quarterbacks to take a three step drop, a quick gather, and throw. We emphasize to our quarterbacks the importance of ball placement in the success of this concept, so we are critical of their mechanics as they go through their progressions. We coach our quarterbacks to place the ball on the outside shoulder of the receiver, throwing him open and away from pressure.
In this concept we will vary the protection using both a 5 and 6 man protection. If we find that defenses are attempting to get the WLB underneath the X receiver’s route, we will then move to a 5-man protection and swing the RB to open the throwing lane.
Vs. Quarters Coverage
The Rocket Concept has become a very explosive play for us vs quarters coverage (Diagram 3). It allows us now to tag our No. 2 receiver’s route and further put the defense in conflict. Tagging the No. 2 receiver gives the play a completely different look however it still keeps an element of simplicity that allows the concept to be productive. We will often tag the No. 2 receiver on a corner route. We coach our No. 2 receiver to push the corner route to 12 yards and stay high on the break as we are looking to remove the safety and high low the corner simultaneously. This allows for a very explosive play as the CB is put in immediate conflict and when completed delivers a big play downfield.
We also love this concept against quarter’s coverage because it gives us a favorable matchup backside that we look to exploit. This helps us continue to move the chains while working to set up the defense for us to take a calculated shot with the deep ball.
When to run Rocket
We feel rocket is a great concept against any defense. We will run Rocket against a hard or soft corner as we feel it is very effective against both. We see a lot of quarters coverage so being able to execute this concept out of various formations and personnel l groupings has played a very big part in our execution of this success. We have made this play a staple in our offense as it also marries well with down and distance and moving the chains which we utilize to our advantage.
In closing we have had great success throwing the ball and I believe it is attributed to several key points. We like to make sure our concepts are simple enough that our athletes understand where they are going and why. This will make a much more confident athlete that will produce big gains. While the Rocket concept is simple enough to teach at any level it also is flexible enough to attack any defense and gives your QB clear cut options.