Trent Dilfer’s 7 Tips for Breaking Down Film

Breaking down film of an opponent is the key to installing a successful game plan. With the restrictions on practice time each week, coaches have to make sure they’re processing game film efficiently so that they can practice that particular week’s game plan. Make the most of the time you spend in the film room.

Former Super Bowl winning quarterback and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer accepted the head coaching position at Lipscomb Academy (Tenn.) in Jan. of 2019, determined to turn the private school into one of the elite programs in the country.

With 14 years of experience as an NFL quarterback and nine as an ESPN analyst, Dilfer figured breaking down game film would be the easiest part of the job. He quickly learned otherwise.

“The biggest thing is the angles and film quality,” Dilfer said. “In the NFL, it’s obviously the best video possible. Plus, there’s a better understanding of who you’re watching because you have rosters and information on players. The challenge in high school is you’re getting pieces of the puzzle through HUDL, and you have to fill in the rest.”

Through five games of his coaching career, Dilfer has compiled a list of tips for breaking down film.

Get a Head Start.

Dilfer spends 90 minutes each Friday breaking down film of the next week’s opponent. “I like to stay a week ahead,” Dilfer said.

Crunch Film on Saturday and Sunday.

“We install on Sunday nights,” Dilfer said. “We want to have the game plan refined enough to teach it cleanly a 2-hour meeting. We talk about life for a half hour, then football for 90 minutes.”

Find the “Game Wreckers.”

The first thing Dilfer looks for when breaking down film is the other team’s star players. “Do they have any game-wreckers?” Dilfer said. “If they do, how many and at what positions?”

Identify the Base Schemes.

“Do they have a 4-man front or a 3-man front?” Dilfer said. “Do they have an in-line tight end or a spread offense? Are they a wrap team or a zone team? It’s a 30,000-foot view of who they are.”

Identify the Purpose Plays.

“We make sure to identify the plays that show who our players need to prepare for,” Dilfer said. “We find the plays the show the types of things they need to see.”

Collect Data.

Lipscomb Academy is a HUDL franchise partner, so the coaching staff is supplied with data showing other teams’ tendencies on certain downs and distances. Dilfer takes it a step further with his own research. “I want to know what they do on third-and-5 from the right hash mark inside the 40. I’m a big situational guy, so we’re very specific.”

Use New Technology.

Dilfer and his assistants use Just Play, which provides drawing playbook software. He can add HUDL video to the play designs, along with quizzes. “I send our guys about 14 drawings a week with video of them doing it in practice or cut-ups of the opponent. Then I attach quizzes for reinforcement.”


School: Lipscomb Academy (Tenn.)

Experience: Hired in Jan. of 2019

Playing experience: Starting quarterback for the Super Bowl XXXV champion Baltimore Ravens

Previous coaching experience: Served as a coach for the Elite 11 Premier Quarterback Competition for high school seniors, founded QBEpic, a developmental program for young quarterbacks and wide receivers

Professional experience: Studied film as NFL analyst for ESPN