Coaching Quarterback Play out of the Shotgun Triple Option

By Tony DeMeo

The quarterback is the point guard of the fast-break offensive attack produced by the shotgun triple option.

As such, the quarterback is the offensive player who puts everything into motion.

In order to be successful in this crucial role, the quarterback must possess certain characteristics, including:

  • Size is not a factor, but mental and physical toughness is.
  • Speed is important, but quick feet and a quick mind are more crucial.
  • Be a student of the game and love to study videotape.
  • Be a great decision maker.
  • Be poised and be able to produce under pressure.
  • Be a man of character, which is the foundation of trust. A team must trust it’s QB.
  • Possess a great work ethic in order to capture the team.
  • Always put the team first.
  • Have great field awareness and always know the situation.
  • Always looking to improve and build upon abilities.
  • Be a competitor and rise to the challenge.
  • Lead by deeds, which are much louder than words.

Quarterback mechanics for the mesh                                  

The quarterback mechanics for running the shotgun triple is easier than those required for a quarterback playing under center.

When under center, the quarterback’s first step is the key to success. In the shotgun triple, the quarterback just has to open to the dive back.

By being off of the line of scrimmage, the shotgun quarterback has more of a comfort zone separating him from the defensive line and any penetration by the defenders.

Key factors for the quarterback include:

  • Get in a comfortable two-point stance four yards from the center.
  • Get the setback or setbacks properly aligned.
  • Scan the offensive line to make sure they are set prior to initiating the snap count or any motion.
  • Identify the hand-off key and the pitch key.
  • Initiate the cadence and motion.
  • Catch the snap. Catch the snap. Catch the snap.
  • Step to the dive backward and extend the ball.
  • Read the hand-off and accelerate to the pitch key, regardless of whether it’s a give or a keep.

Triple reads

The hand-off key should be identified presnap in the shotgun triple. This key is the first down lineman outside a 3 technique – outside shoulder of the playside guard.

Under center, the hand-off key is the first down defender outside of the fullback’s path. In the gun, however, the dive back’s path is the A gap, and ss a result, such a key would not be appropriate for the shotgun triple.


The thought process of a quarterback in the shotgun triple includes:

  • Give the ball every time unless the hand-off key comes down hard on the dive back.
  • If there is any doubt, give the ball to the dive back.
  • If the hand-off key is in B gap, that defender will be blocked down by the tackle. As a result, it is an automatic pull and becomes a double option.

Option mechanics

Once the quarterback pulls the ball, he holds it at his heart and accelerates to the perimeter. Attack the inside shoulder of the pitch key but watch the pitch key’s far shoulder. Expect to pitch and react to run. In this instance, the mindset of the quarterback is characterized by the following thoughts:

  • “I will run for a touchdown every time unless the far shoulder of the pitch key turns to me.”
  • “If the far shoulder turns to me, I’ll see my pitchman, step to him and pitch heart to heart.”
  • “If the pitch key feathers, I will accelerate at him and force him to freeze his feet. If he doesn’t, I will run for a touchdown.”
  • “If the pitch key crashes, I will stop, set my heels and pitch the ball.”

If the quarterback keeps the ball, he should tuck it away and run hash mark, numbers and sideline. Because the quarterback’s path is downhill, it is difficult to use a feather technique.

Irregardless, the quarterback must see the pitchman.

Tips for the quarterback

  • Make the read on the first step.
  • Never ride and decide.
  • Better a wrong read than a long read.
  • When in doubt, give the dive.
  • If the hand-off key is in B gap, it becomes a double option: no mesh.
  • Always make ball security the No. 1 consideration.
  • If in doubt, don’t pitch the ball.
  • Attack a soft-pitch key hard and a hard-pitch key soft.
  • If it’s a keep, run the hash mark, numbers and sideline.
  • If it’s a pitch, always pitch heart-to-heart.
  • See the pitchman and protect ball security.
  • Never pitch under stress or pitch in a mess.
  • Never second-guess. Any decision is better than indecision.

Reading defenses

The key to reading defenses is reps. The more reps a quarterback gets, the greater his intuitive feel will become.

In turn, the more intuitive the quarterback is, the more comfortable, poised and productive he’ll be.

There is no shortcut to developing a quarterback’s instincts. It takes reps, reps and more reps. No substitute exists.

Final thoughts

A quarterback in the shotgun triple and in an option offense has a lot of responsibility and must be coached to be able to handle that responsibility. Among the steps that coaches can take in that regard include:

  • Clearly explain his philosophy of offense to the quarterback, including what he wants to accomplish and how he wants to do it. \
  • Make sure that the quarterback understands down and distance, field zones and time management.
  • Clearly explain the quarterback’s role in the offense.
  • Inspire the quarterback to become a student of the game. Keep in mind that it’s not what the coach knows that counts, it’s what the quarterback knows. Use video, books, apps or anything that works to provide mental reps off the field.
  • Develop a specific teaching progression that enables the quarterback to master the mechanics of sound quarterback play, one that emphasizes details.
  • Provide the quarterback with a specific classroom teaching syllabus that helps teach the quarterback the reads he must make during a game so that he understands the reads before going to the practice field.
  • Work at building the confidence level and the leadership abilities of his quarterback.
  • Have the game plan for the upcoming game ready by Tuesday’s practice at the latest. Review all checks and audible packages with his quarterback daily.
  • Teach the quarterbacks about defenses – their strengths, weaknesses, tips, etc.
  • Use the preseason to familiarize the quarterbacks with the team’s standard checks and audibles. At all times, the quarterback must always be able to get out of a bad play.
  • Challenge the quarterbacks to grow, maximize his potential, and be the best he can be.

Tony DeMeo coached college football for a quarter century, compiling an overall record of 137-108-4 during four college stops. He retired as the head football coach at the University of Charleston (W.Va.) after successful stops at Richmond, Washburn, Murray State, Pace, Iona, Penn, Mercyhurst, Temple, Delaware, James Madison and Massachusetts.