Football Fundamentals: Cover 2 Defense

Football Fundamentals: Cover 2 Defense

Submitted by Space Coyote on October 18th, 2016 at 4:10 PM

Don Brown is about the epitome of a "multiple defense" advocate as you can be. His base, or at least the foundation, of his defense is largely a two-high, "trap" coverage. He has lambasted a too frequent use of quarters coverage, while still incorporating many of the elements that make Cover 4 a favorite of many defensive coordinators across college football. And he runs single-high coverages like Cover 1 and Cover 3 as much as anything, and even in that area he's more multiple than his predecessor, as he incorporates a lot of different underneath coverage variations and backfield rotations that he's privy to because of the way he deploys personnel and the fact that he's so damn set in the fact that he's going to throw everything at you including the kitchen sink and the baby and the bath water and the Jabrill Peppers.

But he does all that, and as I said, maintains his two-high, Cover 2 base, relying heavily on his trap coverage (also used more and more frequently in the NFL, especially with how prevelent and dynamic the slot position is becoming). And he's that way because, out of a Cover 2, he's able to give the offense a ton of looks while maintaining the same base shell of a defense. It's the window dressing the Harbaugh uses with motions and shifts and formations, just on the defensive side.

All this to say: here's some of the many fundamental elements that Don Brown uses in his Cover 2 defense, including how he takes advantage of shifting personnel around pre and post snap in order to confuse the offense in combination with getting his guys in preferred positions.

(Note: this isn't a Don Brown-centric article, though it utilizes some of his diagrams, and he's really the only current DC in the B1G that uses Cover 2 as a base)


Defensive Alignment of Wormley and Henry Explained

Defensive Alignment of Wormley and Henry Explained

Submitted by Space Coyote on September 2nd, 2015 at 6:15 PM

Extended preview post of why Wormley and Henry are playing the positions they are, which includes the main reason. Full article can be found here.

Recently on MGoBlog, Brian wrote a piece previewing the defense as far as his expectations. In the past couple days, he's also discussed the Defensive Line and looked at the recently released Michigan depth chart. A question keeps arising, unknowingly getting answered, and then asked again. It's a common confusion, and an understandable one when looking at nomenclature of football.

AP Photo

In this post, I'm going to look at Michigan's DL and why Henry is playing 5-Tech (nominally, from now on called End) and Wormley is playing 3-Tech (nominally, from now on called Tackle).

What is Michigan Running?
I agree with Brian that this is a 4-3 Under. Michigan isn't going out there with a LOLB and a ROLB, and they aren't going out there and doing a lot of two gapping (though a 4-3 under will often two-gap somewhere). It's a 4-3 Under with a standup end sometimes. Furthermore, the defense will not consistently keep two guys in two-point stances and shift the DL every which way, like Wisconsin's one-gap 3-4.

This is a 4-3 Under all the way. Let's remind everyone of the gap assignments:

And let's take a look at what a nominal 4-3 Under looks like, the one most of you are familiar with from the early Mattison years.

Here, we're going to call the Weakside DE (WDE, 7-Tech) the Buck (it's Buck because "B" stands for Backer, like how MIKE is for Middle in middle LB), to keep with Durkin's terminology. He is, in fact, more DE than LB, but he will occasionally drop (see image below). The strongside DE (SDE, 5-Tech) we will simply call the End. The 3-Tech we are going to call a DT (or tackle). The 1-Tech we will call a NT (Nose).


This is close to what Michigan is running, but not quite. Actually, the image above is closer to what Michigan will now run than what Michigan nominally ran with Mattison as the DC. Notice how Beyer (the SAM LB at the top of the screen) is in a loose position. For Michigan fans, this is similar to how Greg Robinson deployed Stevie Brown in his 4-3 Under, when Stevie Brown managed to have a very good Senior year. This is what we call a "Loose" alignment, meaning he's 5-and-5 (5 yards off the LOS, 5 yards outside the offensive EMOL). Ross, the WILL in the picture above, is also playing a Loose technique (in this case, it is to allow the dropping DE to play an inside zone or spy and to allow the WILL to play the outside Flat Zone, where there is more likely to be an immediate threat in the pass game).

With Ross, an undersized SAM LB, Michigan will continue playing more of a 4-3 Under Loose.

Many 4-3 Under teams traditionally move the FS down into the box as the 8th man and rotate the SS to the center of the field. They do this because the Buck and DT generally protect the FS from having to face any wash, something the ILBs (WILL and MIKE) are more accustomed to. It'll look like this:

But Michigan won't be doing that as much this year. Instead, the SS (who always aligns to pass strength) will be the 8th man in the box. He can be inserted like this:

But more often he will align closer to this.

This essentially makes the SAM another ILB. He's protected a bit by the End, and the defense won't get out flanked because the SS holds the edge and the SAM can work over the top to provide additional support.

Wormley and Henry Primer
As a primer, Wormley is a guy that came in as a projected SDE. He was expected to be between 270 and 300 lbs. He has good straight line speed for his size and displays excellent burst when he's comfortable with what is in front of him. Unfortunately for him (and fortunately in some ways), he's also very long and tall. With hesitation sometimes coming when he has to take blocks from different angles, he often stands up. This leads to him struggling to handle doubles.

Henry on the other hand, was always a DT. He was projected as a slashing, penetrating 3-Tech that could also slide down and play the Nose if needed. He's more of a squaty player, but has the first step to beat OL to the spot he wants. This first step quickness gives him potential to be a two-gap player, and his squaty build also gives him the stout base to prevent him from getting clobbered when he's forced to choose one of two gaps. He also stands up too high at times, but has the strength to fight back against it.

Brian previewed these guys well in the DL articles linked above, and there is video there to demonstrate these traits in these players.

So Why The Position Switch

The Double Team
As I said, it's been explained, but never really answered. But the answer is quite obvious once it's pointed out. Wormley struggles more against doubles, and the 3-tech will almost never get doubled. The 5-tech will get doubled, possibly on about half the plays, especially with the way Michigan will align.

Notice the 3-tech isn't doubled on the run his direction.

This means that the 5-tech has to hold up to double teams quite often, it also means the 3-tech can simply be let loose to be a penetrating force on the interior. If you can get that out of your 3-tech, you cut off half the field and give the Buck a lot more options as a pass rusher, because he doesn't have to be as preoccupied with the rush.

Whether the SAM is in a Loose alignment or inside, initially, the 5-tech will often get doubled against zone based rushing attacks.

Here, the 3-tech is doubled, so he has to be able to handle that a bit, but the double likely doesn't last as long as the OL tries to get out to the WILL, and it is on the backside of the play.

Against man blocking schemes, he'll get doubled on essentially every strongside run (Power O and Counter F, for example)

He has to hold up at that position for the rush defense to have success. If he doesn't hold up, he gets washed into the ILB, and large creases in the defense form, particularly when the SAM is playing in a Loose alignmnet.

Again, if you want to read about the other main advantage to Henry lining up at End rather than 3-Tech, here's a link to a full post at my blog.


Football Fundamentals - backgrounders on Michigan offense and defense schemes

Football Fundamentals - backgrounders on Michigan offense and defense schemes

Submitted by Jacoby on August 22nd, 2015 at 8:53 PM

MGoBlog football gurus,

Because not every MGoReader is an expert in football schemes, it might be helpful before the season begins for some of us to brush up on the fundamentals, particularly with regard to the types of offensive and defensive schemes that the Michigan will most likely rely on this summer. So for all you experts on fat man chess, what sites/videos/resources would you recommend (bonus for Michigan/Harbaugh-centered backgrounders)? I’ll add a few to start:

1.     MGoBlog’s Hall of Fame page has a great set of basic primers (scroll to “Football Analysis”).

2.     Perhaps more pertinent to the coming season is Space Coyote’s three posts on the forthcoming Harbaughing of the Wolverines. Space Coyote is, of course, a great MGoResource. Here are his recent breakdown on Harbaugh’s teams:

a.     Harbaugh’s general coaching tendencies 

b.     Harbaugh’s offensive tendencies 

c.     Harbaugh’s rushing attack 

3.     Maize and Brew has written about what to expect on Michigan’s upcoming defensive line after the Spring Game

4.     “ISportsWeb” has a short bit on Durkin’s tendencies:

5. Chris Brown’s blog helps break down football strategy. His new book is now available on Amazon for a mere 99 cents.

a.     Breakdown of various defensive coverages


Bonus Space Coyote haiku:

Homer’s “Spirit Guide.”
Says to go find your soul mate. I
got dibs on Harbaugh.

FF410: 2012 Spring Game Breakdown - Bellomy Pass Plays - Day 4

FF410: 2012 Spring Game Breakdown - Bellomy Pass Plays - Day 4

Submitted by Space Coyote on July 12th, 2012 at 11:59 AM

[ED: Bump]

FF410: 2012 Spring Game Breakdown - RB Pass Plays - Day 4


In the past I broke down 13 of DG’s pass plays (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3).  This included my reaction about how DG and the offense performed, the idea or theory behind the offensive play, and how the defense performed. This helped me get a much better feel for how DG is actually improving and allowed me to evaluate his performance considering the performance of those around him.

Today, we will take a look at how Russell Bellomy performed.  Note that it is sometimes difficult to determine the routes and defense being run due to tight camera angles, but I will do my best to grasp what I think is happening.  I will once again be taking a look at all of the pass plays, and separate them into 2 separate days.  Today, we will take a gander at the first 5 pass plays.



Play 14 – 0:00

The defense appears to be running a cover 0 look out of a their normal over 4-3 look and a safety coming down to help against the run. 

Bellomy makes the right read (a fairly easy one), as he sees the DBs drop back into their soft coverage. His footwork looks good and he looks comfortable, and I think the short throw is really a matter of arm strength more so than any fundamental problem (he could get a little more push off his back foot, but that’s about it).

The design of the play and the theory behind it are going to look very familiar to readers of the previous days.  The slot is running a corner route and the outside receiver a dig with the idea or running a high low on the corner.  As the corner drops, Bellomy knows his play is to the dig route.

On the backside you see a post run.  This is designed to do a double move on the boundary corner and get behind the man and into the deep middle of the field. This is to take advantage of teams cheating on the corner route with their safety by hitting the area of the field they vacate.  You will seldom see the QB have the time/patience to go through his progression and hit this receiver, but that is the idea behind that route.  The route is run well.  Note that the boundary corner doesn’t bite hard on the initial slant as he sees the play running away from him (a QB won’t roll opposite a slant route).  When the WR sees that the corner didn’t bite and still is step for step with him, he breaks his post a bit more shallow to take advantage of the intermediate zone being open.

The SAM is a little late diagnosing the play.  His initial responsibility is leverage and FB coverage, but he could turn and get to the boundary quicker than he does.  The outcome of the play isn’t affected because of a poor pass, and the play would have picked up yards regardless due to the design of the defense, but you would like to see the SAM closer to the man as he catches the ball, and preferably that corner as well, though being out on an island the primary responsibility is not to get beat deep.

[More after the jump]

FF410: 2012 Spring Game Breakdown - DG Pass Plays - Day 3

FF410: 2012 Spring Game Breakdown - DG Pass Plays - Day 3

Submitted by Space Coyote on May 25th, 2012 at 11:16 AM

FF410: 2012 Spring Game Breakdown - DG Pass Plays - Day 3


Last time we looked at the second five pass plays from Devin Gardner and analyzed the results.  Today will be much of the same.  I'll also break down one defensive play.

Play 11 - 4:12

It’s really hard to tell what routes the WRs are running as the camera doesn’t give a good enough look.  Based on the down in distance I would assume it’s a verts play, either 3 or 4 verticle routes in an attempt to find an opening between the safeties downfield.  In all honesty, I can’t even really tell what the defense is running.  You can see that the two safeties are dropping.  My guess is that this is a very safe cover 4, in which case hitting any seem pass is going to be difficult.  If they were facing cover 3 or cover 2 the play would work very well, as the safety would have to essentially choose a side, however, against cover 4, the WRs are basically running directly at the defenders.  If every assumption I made is correct, than DG makes the correct read on the check down.

DG’s footwork here looks alright.  You can still see him thinking about his drop a little bit though once he gets set.  It’s clearly his natural tendency to escape backwards out of the pocket still (or simply to keep dropping/back peddling).  He hesitates and looks a little indecisive with his footwork as he attempts to at least maintain his position (or stand in the pocket).  I’d still like to see him actually step in and make his throw though.  He “arm throws” it again on the check down pass.  It was successful, but it’s still breaking form, which leads to bad habits which leads to bad mistakes.  DG looks like he does everything effortlessly (I mean that in a good way), but I think he needs to not be so lax on the shorter throws and stop trying to aim the ball and actually throw it properly.

The RB out of the backfield actually probably has an option route, either check to the outside, inside, or check back (in between gaps in the LB zones).  Smith makes the correct read and Ryan does a poor job of getting a body on him.  Typically, the LB in this case will essentially want to take away half the field by using his body.  If the RB tries to cross the LB, the LB needs to stop the RBs body.  If the LB is in the correct position, the RB will have no choice but to break this outside, where the LB’s body is facing and the LB can make a play.  Ryan wiffs and thus the RB picks up decent yards.  There is some confusion in the zone drops by the LBs as it appears Ryan and the MLB drop to the same point, rather than bracketing anyone coming out of the backfield/crossing the field.

A couple other things I’d like to point out: notice the nickel back over the slot toward the top of the screen.  He is lined up inside of his receiver to stop any quick slants to break into the next level.  He then forces the WR off of his path (though not exactly well) to disrupt the timing of the play and appears to let him through to the deep safety.  He is covering the short zone to the field side, but is dropping deep because of down and distance.


Play 12 - 4:33

Michigan in a pro set I and the defense in their typical 4-3 under look with a safety rolled down.  DG appears to almost drop the snap as he is really trying to bail out and get a good run fake.  Michigan is doing something that should look familiar, deep post to one side to take advantage of any single man coverage, and a levels concept to the short side to take advantage of any zone look.  The defense actually shows a wrinkle, which I can be seen below: a corner blitz.*  Note how they roll the DBs so that they are still running a cover 3/ shifted cover 2.

I believe here that the TE is open but DG can’t get him the ball because of the pressure.  The X receiver successfully takes the safety covering him out of the short zone.  He does so by attacking the safety, which he would do regardless if the corner was blitzing or if it was a typical cover 2.  He forces the safety to take him and take away the inside threat, before breaking to the corner.  Will bites hard on the PA and gets out of position and the TE is athletic enough to get behind him, which is why I believe he is open toward the sideline.  I believe DG was making the correct read as you see him look left when he sees the SS stay high (basically bracketing the Z receiver).  But he feels the pressure and can’t make his second read (the TE).  I think he actually had enough time to make the read if he stays in the pocket, but it would have been an uncomfortable throw.  This is because of the O-line.  The LT recognizes the corner blitzing very late but gets enough of a push on the corner to drive him deep.  The break down on the offensive line actually comes at LG, as he gives up too much depth which doesn’t give DG a solid pocket.  This forces DG to basically run and he makes some athletic plays to gain yards and use his center as a blocker.

The breakdown on defense comes from the WILL spot, as he slips when trying to contain DG.  That changes this from a 3 yard play to a big gain.

*As said, Michigan is corner blitzing and turning into a quasi- cover 3 or shifted cover 2.  It appears as if the FS is matched up on the X receiver, most likely to prevent any quick play like a quick WR pass so that he has the ball in space.  He then follows him deep, so I think it’s more of a cover 3.  It could also be a shifted cover 2 which is the second picture below.

Play 13 - 4:50

Slants with a play action fake to get the LBs to clear out from the underneath zones.  Very simple play.  I like it from the shotgun because it moves the LBs away from the single receiver side.  The tightend sells the play action by faking a run block on a power play or a QB read.  It also allows DG to see the play develop.  The first thing DG reads is the single high safety and single coverage on the X receiver.  This means that he is going to the X receiver pretty much all day as his initial read.  If the CB over the X receiver had safety help, he would look to the other side initially.  At the snap, the WR does a great job getting off the LOS cleanly.  He runs a great route until the end, when he starts to fade up field.  It doesn’t appear this is really his fault though.  Clearly, there is PI on the CB on this play.  But even before that it looks like he grabs the shoulder and pulls the WR into him.  I guess it’s a good play by the corner as it would have been a TD had he not interfered.  The problem begins with the WILL over committing to the run and not maintaining his underneath zone, which is intended to stop the slant.  Basically Michigan has two LBs covering one zone that no one on offense is threatening.

The backside is actually more open on this play, but DG can’t know that because he is accurately going through his progression, which reads that the first man is open (which he is for a TD, good read).  On the field side, the slot is more or less intended to clear out that underneath zone from the nickel back/ LBs/ safety by running an initial slant.  He doesn’t run a great route but it isn’t too important.  The outside WR then runs behind that to a news vacated area, which is also wide open.  He runs it a little more flat and a little deeper to truly attack the endzone and the opening between the FS and the corners.  The corner either needs to play it more inside, as the slant or in is much more dangerous than the fade route if he doesn’t have safety help; or the safety can’t react so much to the run fake and take himself out of position.  The corners alignment tells me he thought he had safety help, but the safety’s eyes tell me he was looking run support first and would help over the slot first.  There is some confusion there on the defense.  It appears he is playing him straight up as if he has inside help, which isn’t there because of the slant from the slot.

This play looks eerily familiar to a great play in Michigan history, where Michigan attacks the 2 WR side with great success:


Offensive notes:

  • Tight end will not be a position of strength this year.  The run blocking is their strong area, which is meh.  The route running is ugly.
  • WR =/= getting separation.  This was a worry last year and it gets even scarier this year.  They still need to work a lot on their route running, as I think the athletes, while not great, are sufficient enough to get open.  Hopefully they’ll be working hard over the summer.
  • The O-line is still feeling itself out.  Barnum appears to be struggling with some calls, which is expected at this point.  LG is a worry.  At this point I actually think having a Denard type QB is beneficial for this O-line, as the tackles still struggle gaining depth and any QB that takes deeper drops is risking getting beat up a bit.  They are a much stronger unit at run blocking.
  • DG needs to improve his footwork.  You can tell he’s working at it, but it’s still not second nature.  When his footwork is better, it still looks a bit mechanical.  Otherwise it slips and you see some poor throws.  The worst is that he doesn’t consistently step into throws.  He has a strong arm, but needs to improve his mechanics to become more accurate.  Also needs to work on getting the snap from under center (he’s bailing early).  This is probably a bit nerves to be honest.  Very good athlete though (aka get him in at WR).
  • I’ll try to discuss the RB position a bit more later, but there is a wide separation between Fitz in the next guy.  The depth seems decent, but Michigan needs Fitz to stay healthy this year (knock on wood).


Defensive notes:

  • It appears that Kovacs has moved to more of a free safety position, which is something I haven’t seen pointed out here before.
  • It looks like Michigan will run more odd fronts this year to get more LBs on the field as LB appears to be a stronger position group than the D-line, particularly on passing downs
  • As many have seen, even during last year, the DBs have improved and continue to improve tremendously.  This was partially due to them being so young previously, but also because they are actually being coached properly.  You can see them starting to naturally understand why they are doing what they are doing, not just individually but as a group.  There is no understating how much better that makes the position group.
  • The LBs are still struggling a bit with their zone drops.  This is something almost all programs struggle with as there as so many other responsibilities they are being coached to do.  Most important is run fits, which they are improving on.

Up next

I think these break downs give a pretty good idea of where Michigan is going into the fall.  They still have a lot of things to work on, particularly in the pass game.  The defense looks decent on pass plays, but there is still some confusion in the zones, particularly from the LBs.  Again, we didn’t see anything very interesting from the defense. 


I still plan on doing select plays from Bellomy and some select run plays.  If you have any questions or suggestions or things to add let me know.

FF410: 2012 Spring Game Breakdown - DG Pass Plays - Day 2

FF410: 2012 Spring Game Breakdown - DG Pass Plays - Day 2

Submitted by Space Coyote on April 23rd, 2012 at 12:05 AM


Previous Days

FF 101 - The Fundamentals: Syllabus & Day 1 (Overall), Day 2 (Offense), Day 3 (Defense), Day 4 (Offensive Line), Day 5 (Wide Receivers)... more to come someday

FF 201 - 3-3-5 Defense: Day 1 (Advantage/Disadvantage), Day 2 (Against tight formations)

FF 210 - Screen Package

FF 400 - Drag and Follow

FF 410 - 2012 Spring Game Breakdown - Day 1 (DG Pass Plays Pt. 1)



FF410: 2012 Spring Game Breakdown - DG Pass Plays - Day 2




Last time we looked at the first five pass plays from Devin Gardner and analyzed the results.  Today will be much of the same, but hopefully there will be some more ideas that can be shared.

Here is some further reading on passing concepts that may help some of you out that want to further inhance that portion of your football knowledge. Levels.  Triangles



Play 6 – Time 2:15

Pre-snap, DG can see single high coverage.  The front is also an over concept, rather than Michigan’s typical under look.  The QBs appear to be taught to take even step drops in some cases in shotgun formations (note his left foot drops first, rather than his right foot, meaning he has to take 4 steps rather than 3 or 5).  I’ve seen this before, and while I prefer to keep the QBs footwork consistent, especially at lower levels, it’s probably something that should be expected for a college QB.  I would prefer a shorter first step and elongated second step and then gather, only because it keeps the shoulder rotation better, but it DG appears to be doing what he is taught, so that’s fine.  What this 4 step drop does is allow more depth in the QB drop but protects the OTs in pass pro (whereas a full five step drop would force the OT to cover more depth to form the pocket).  DG is going to see a single high look right away, so he knows it isn’t cover 2.  It turns out to be a man concept.  He knows if he gets a heavy blitz he has his x receiver on a simple fade route (could also be run as a back shoulder fade).  The goal of the TE is pretty much to clear out the zone for any zone coverage or pick the nickel in man coverage.  He actually does a pretty good job releasing and getting up field, taking the strong safety out of the picture.  The TE also picks the nickel back.  Unfortunately, the LBs are spying and/or zone dropping.  This covers DGs first read and he quickly takes off.

In order to see the full development of the play, he shouldn’t have taken off so quickly.  He had one more read in the progression, as now the W receiver has cleared another zone where he vacated.  This leaves an opening for the Z receiver, and he had him open.  I’m guessing DG was told in situations like this that if he could pick up the first with his feet then do so (3rd and 3ish).  The Z receiver doesn’t get great separation and it would have been a relatively difficult completion because of that.

DG does do a good job stepping up into the pocket to scramble.  If he tries to reach the edge it gives the defenders time to flow.  It makes the threat of the pass less likely, particularly with the routes they are running.  If DG scrambles outside left, he needs to square his shoulders and hit receiver behind him with the defenders collapsing on the receivers.  If he scrambles right, the receivers are running routs in the opposite direction and there is no real threat to pass.  By stepping up, he forces the defenders to play him honest.  The receivers take their defenders toward the center of the field, DG gets to the second level, and then escapes outside and has a huge running lane.  The defenses single high man concept takes them out of position for a QB scramble which is why DG picked up so many yards.


Play 7 – 2:27

Almost the exact same concept, but now toward the outside.  The defense is back to their normal ways, running a 4-3 under with a single high look.  Tough to run against this look.  On the snap the corners quickly fall off, and it is clear that it is cover 3 and Michigan has a great play call on.  If blitz comes from the far side (the boundary side), then they have a quick slant built in for a hot route.  The defense doesn’t blitz from that side, and instead a WILL drops into fill that hook, curl, hot area of the field.  The SAM blitzes, but that’s ok, they have RB help on that side for protection.  As far as DG’s reads, once he sees cover 3 he knows he’s going left.  The outsize Z receiver is tasked with taking his man deep.  He may also take the safety support, but most likely the safety will stay toward the single receiver side (as that’s typically the bigger threat).  There are multiple ways to read the defensive coverage from here, but my feeling is that DG’s first read is the SS.  If the SS breaks outside with the W receiver, he looks inside to the TE, where the W receiver has left a large vacant gap in the defense.  If the SS doesn’t break outside, DG reads the corner, and there is a simple high/low concept.

The SS breaks.  Even though the SS doesn’t break well and the W receiver looks open, I don’t think DG has the arm to make that out to the far sideline (most QBs outside Henne and Navarre don't), so that’s probably the reason he is playing so far inside.  All is pretty much lost though, as the TE runs an awful route.  The TE never threatens inside, he doesn’t get into the body of the MIKE, and he takes forever to get out of his break.  The MIKE never actually even has to leave his shuffle to successfully blanket the TE (see the view from the endzone after).  DG actually places the ball fairly well, and the TE does a decent job with his body, but in the end the MIKE is right on top of him and the TE can’t get any separation.  Michigan is going to struggle at TE this year.


Play 8 – Time 2:49

Very simple play, but a good play with easy reads.  Michigan goes to the I-form and the defense sticks with their 4-3 under.  The FS creeps down to support the run.  One thing that is lost in the shotgun/I-form debate is the reaction that the defenders have to the play action.  While it is true due to Michigan’s very good running out of the shotgun, particularly at QB, that defenses tend to react more to the run threat out of shotgun, the flow of the defense tends to be different.  In shotgun, the flow is more laterally.  You are manipulating the defense from sideline to sideline (pretty much the basis of the spread run offense).  Against I-form, you are threatening more downhill, essentially forcing the flow of the defense to change their depth.  While it is obvious (QB OHNO!) that both depth and flow are effected using play action out of both sets, it is clear how much depth is affected on this play.

Because the FS is rolled down into the box, DG knows it is going to be a single high look most likely.  This means cover 3 or cover 1.  Once DG sees the FS in the box, he knows he has the X receiver open on the post, because the FS will have vacated any coverage help underneath due to the run threat.  To the near side, you see the cover 2 beater.  You see the TE running a delay and release.  This is essentially another high/low concept.  The TE is inviting the SAM to blitz in hopes that when he sees his cover man he attacks the QB.  This also provides a little bit of extra time on DG’s back side so that if the SAM is straight up blitzing, he has time.  The TE then releases into the flat.  The corner, seeing that no one is immediately going under, is gaining depth on the Z receiver’s corner route.  The Z receiver is hoping that, due to his initial inside release, that the corner will release him to the safety, where the Z receiver can then break back outside behind the corner and out of reach of the safety. 

So now you basically have a high/low on the corner, as it is very difficult for the SAM to get back on the TE.

A few things of note though.  DG is clearly excited to get the ball out because he knows he has an open man for big yards.  He does a good job of getting his head around after the play action, but his excitement leads to bad footwork again.  He throws a bit off his back foot and doesn’t follow through all the way.  This leads to the ball going high and behind the receiver.  DG needs to step into that throw and hit the receiver in stride for much more yards.

On the defensive side, whoa they committed to the run.  A bit of an exaggerated reaction.  The linebackers and FS need to read the O-line coming up high better.  The O-line didn’t do terrible selling the run (they stayed fairly low and didn’t get a huge drop), but the defensive side needs to do better.  Watch out for in the game though.  It isn’t out of the realm of possibility for the defense to give this pre-snap look and have the FS drop into a cover 2 look, it isn’t that difficult of a roll.  This is how interceptions happen; the QB relies too heavily on pre-snap reads.  The defense played very vanilla all day.


Play 9 – 3:25

Screen play all the way.  This was discussed during the game so I’m not going to go into great depth here.  But the O-line cannot allow the defense to get a free run at the QB.  You need to at least give him enough time to gain depth so that he has a gap in the defensive levels to drop the screen into.  Defense did a good job reading the screen, as they had defenders there, but the Michigan running back did an awful job selling it.

More on screen plays here.


Play 10 – 3:34

*Ignore the red square here, it's meaningless.

The Michigan defense is going to be tough to beat on this play.  They have 12 men on the field.  Looks like they are supposed to be playing straight man with the SS helping on the X receiver, but with 12 people on the field it’s tough to tell exactly what’s going on.  DG is confused by this 12 man look, which, ok, but is clearly staring down his X-receiver, who is trying to get into the SS’s body and then break outside toward the corner for a TD.  The fact that DG stared him down this man isn’t that big of a deal.  I think he initially saw all the bodies on the right side and assumed they were completely covered and that the nearside option would be his best bet.

Anyway, what this play is supposed to do.  The X receiver really beats any tight press coverage.  The goal is to get the corners back to the ball so that the receiver jump ball-esk play in the corner.  On the far side, you see another high/low concept to defeat cover 2.  The Y receiver is tasked with holding the safety in the middle of the field.  Notice that the Y receiver is attempting to get beyond his man before making the post cut.  This is because he doesn’t see over the top coverage, he is trying to get the man covering him to have to turn his back, essentially making it easier to get the ball to him.  The big bust on the offense, regardless of the 12 men from the defense, is the Z receiver, who runs a very unconvincing route.  He releases too quickly and doesn’t force the man covering him to break hard and to the inside, thus allowing for the free release toward the sideline where you hope the W receiver can block off his man and the Z can make his way into the end zone.  The Z needs to really sell the hitch route to get that free opening.

As for DG, his footwork seems fine.  He does a great job stepping into the pocket to escape outside again, avoiding the rush.  The biggest worry here is his eyes.  He appears to do only a passing glance to the right side of the field and seems pretty intent on throwing to the left.  The 12 man defense probably had a lot to do with that, but it’s something else to keep an eye on.



So we see a lot of similarities in the pass plays.  Fairly simple concepts, lots of high/low concepts, and fairly easy reads.  It seems on a few plays the DG’s decision making was good, even on the scrabbles.  His footwork remains the big issue, and continuing to grow through progressions.  He appears to be able to, for the most part, determine the coverage type and pick one or two reads off of that.  Michigan is spending a lot of bodies in protection and doing a lot of play action.  Relying so heavy on play action could be construed as a little worrisome for the O-line and the receivers ability to get separation, or it could be interpreted that Michigan has a good run game and you should set up the pass with the run.  I think it’s a bit of both, but I think Michigan wants to be a heavy play action team, so I’m not surprised by this.

As far as defense, very vanilla, but no big busts in coverage, which is always good to see in spring.

If you have any questions or comments for me, please let me know.  If you think formatting should be different I’d be glad to hear.  I would like to embed the video at the exact point for each play but I can’t seem to figure out how to do that, so I’ll stick with this method for now.  Anyway, at least one more of these coming to finish off the DG pass plays.  I will probably do another one after that sometime on select run plays that I’ve seen, and maybe one that focuses on Bellomy some and how he is progressing. 


FF410: 2012 Spring Game Breakdown - DG Pass Plays - Day 1

FF410: 2012 Spring Game Breakdown - DG Pass Plays - Day 1

Submitted by Space Coyote on April 18th, 2012 at 12:04 AM


Previous Days

FF 101 - The Fundamentals: Syllabus & Day 1 (Overall), Day 2 (Offense), Day 3 (Defense), Day 4 (Offensive Line), Day 5 (Wide Receivers)... more to come someday

FF 201 - 3-3-5 Defense: Day 1 (Advantage/Disadvantage), Day 2 (Against tight formations)

FF 210 - Screen Package

FF 400 - Drag and Follow


FF410: 2012 Spring Game Breakdown - DG Pass Plays - Day 1


There are several goals to this diary.  First, it will analyze Devin Gardner, but I hope it will do more than that.  I will also hope to dissect the intentions of the offensive play pass plays, including the reads, the reasoning behind the routes, and how the other players are performing.  There will also be some discussion about the defense, as is necessary to understand what the offense is supposed to do.

This is by no means meant to replace a UFR.  I will not look at individual players so much as assignments based on positions.  There will be no +1/-1 or anything of that nature.  It is purely to analyze what I’m seeing on film.  While I do believe what I am “coaching” here, it is important to have a small grain of salt.  I am by no means a coach at Michigan.  I do not breakdown film for Michigan or have any connection with their football program, so I don’t know exactly what the coaches are coaching.  What I do know is what I’m seeing on film, and what I believe that means.  Other coaches on here may have other opinions, and that happens often in football.  I may not be seeing something properly (though I hope not), it does happen, especially when only one person is looking at the film alone.

Anyway, today we will look at the first 5 pass plays from DG.  I will definitely get to all the DG pass plays, and I won’t promise more beyond that (though I would like to dissect at least all the pass plays, but we’ll see).

Here is the film that I am basing this on, with the time stamps the time when the play begins.


Pass Play 1 – Time 0:00

Can’t really tell much from this play based on the quick pressure.  The play action should probably be better, but that comes with a lot of practice.  This play should look fairly familiar to Michigan fans during the Carr era, it is very similar to what Michigan used to attempt to get big chunks with.

The read is going to be the free safety.  It is clear even from the pre-snap motion and alignment of the defense that it will be cover 1 or cover 3.  The goal is to get him flowing towards the action.  The post needs to get behind, which will essentially be behind the coverage as the SS will be expecting deep help.  If this isn’t open, the second option is the sideline go route, if he beats his man then DG would go there.  The third route, or the hot route, is the TE coming across.  He’s pretty blanketed though as the PA wasn’t very convincing.


Pass Play 2 – Time 0:08

Defense is in fairly basic cover 2 and this should be an easy read for DG.  The goal on the left side (near side) is to do a High/Low on the field corner, because it is believed that the SAM won’t be able to cover the entire flat.  On the right side (far side) you have a hot route in case of a quick blitz.  Blitz would typically mean the corner doesn’t have deep help and is forced to play more off and tentative.  This is why the dig route is set there.

DG’s footwork is pretty good here.  It’s a 3 step drop and he gains depth with his first step.  His next two steps are shorter and more compact to gather his body.  His shoulder look good and his eyes are down field.  He steps into the pocket, but seems to relax and doesn’t use his legs in his throw (even though he steps into it a little).  This is why it looks like he is just playing catch in the back yard.  The ball goes where his shoulders are pointing, and thus the result.  Let’s break it down a bit further.

DG’s first read will be the safeties to read the coverage type.  First, Gallon is wide open above.  DG doesn’t even give the X receiver a chance, but this is probably the correct read as he isn’t getting pressured.  Second, he has the Y receiver.  The problem is the placement of the ball with the position of the corner due to the coverage 2.  The corner is going to undercut routes, he isn’t worried about the receiver beating him deep and to the middle because he has help there, so he is breaking heavily on everything and won’t let anything short and to the inside.  One or two things went wrong on this play.  DG needs to put the ball towards the outside and up.  It needs to take the receiver deep and to the corner.  The second problem may have been the Z receivers fault, though I don’t think so.  I don’t think he has an option route here, one in which to read the defense and take the corner route.  Either way, DG needs to put the ball toward the outside and deep due to the cover 2 and the corners position.  The offensive line and TE need to work on selling run a little more (they come up high a little too quickly in my opinion) and the TE needs to work on his route, as he is fairly unconvincing in his fake pass block, doesn’t threaten the inside at all, doesn’t press into the SAM, and so the SAM covers him relatively well.


Pass Play 3 – 1:12

The premise appears to be a similar premise as the last play (high/low the corner).  This time the defense is in cover 4 (you can tell by the quick bale by the corners and the SS attacking the PA).  This time you have a drag route coming across with the idea that the slot will be able to beat the LB covering him, especially with the assistance of the PA flow.  The problem is that the PA is extremely unconvincing from the O-line, meaning the drag route is essentially bracketed.  This is the primary option and it’s now gone.  The biggest problem comes from the TE though.  He needs to hook the end.  He needs to let DG threaten the edge so that the drag route can’t be double covered.  Due to the defense, the route from the other receivers are going to be fairly easily covered.  DG does a nice job side stepping the pressure and stepping up, but then his footwork goes to hell.  He doesn’t step into his throw, his shoulders aren’t faced the correct direction, and he throws with only his arm.  Otherwise they still may have been able to pull something out from this play.

In the end though, once the PA doesn’t work and once the TE doesn’t hook his man, this is a tough play for DG to make, even with correct footwork. 


Pass Play 4 – 1:21

Michigan is in a 3-4 here.  That’s right, a 3-4.  The blitz just completely overloads the right side of the O-line and the O-line does not adjust well at all.  I understand a new center and all, but this is getting ridiculous with these types of blitzes.  Michigan has been getting killed on inside stunts going back to the MSU game.  Once a team gets penetration up the middle they are a decent contain man away from a huge loss with very little chance of the play ending in anything other than a sack (the QB can’t step up and can’t get out of the pocket to throw it away, it’s almost a sure blitz).  If this blitz is actually communicated and picked up it’s relatively easy pickings.  This needs to get figured out please!  (/rant).

Anyway, behind the blitz appears to be a man cover 1.  This was intended to be some sort of slant and go combination.  We will disregard the complete confusion by the O-line and the heavy pressure so we can actually look at the play, though it’s hard to see what’s really going on.

The goal of this play is to match up the quicker and faster slot on a slower LB or safety and beat him deep.  The slot runs a pour route and convinces no one he is running the slant.  Because of this the first read is that FS.  If he bites, the next thing to look at is the right side corner, who will now be showing either man or cover 3.  If man, he will be up on the X receiver, and the SLUGO (slant and go) will be open behind the FS.  If the corner is dropping off, it is cover 3, and the X receiver running the hitch will be open.  Essentially another high/low concept.


Pass Play 5 – 1:34

One of the most common plays in the game today, and one of the most successful and difficult to defend.  This play has picks (or as offensive coaches like to say “rubs”) all over the place.  The goal is actually to get Gallon open.  The defense again appears to be in a 3-3-5, and this time drops into a cover 3 look.  Everyone save the FS is up towards the line, meaning there is a good chance you are getting a zone blitz.  The offensive line actually picks it up pretty well, though the tackle needs to take the DE deeper.

Again, let’s look at DG’s footwork, because it’s pretty bad again.  His drop is sloppy.  It looks like it is supposed to be a 5 step drop, and he does a decent job gaining depth, but the outside pressure doesn’t allow him to finish his drop properly.  When he steps up his shoulders are fine, but then he again only throws with his arm and almost shot puts it out there.  He actually looks like he puts the ball where he wants it, and that’s another problem we will discuss in a bit.

DG is locked in on his primary receiver (the W here) and misses a wide open Y TE.  The reason the Y is open is because the Free is probably bracketing the X receiver.  The near-side corner is making sure nothing gets outside of him.

The Z receiver is attempting to take bodies with him while the W receiver delays and reads the defense.  Finally, the W receiver goes and rubs off of the Z receiver.  If this is man, the linebacker, nickel, or safety attempting to cover the W receiver will be picked and the W receiver will get big, big yards as he drags across the field.  It’s not man coverage though, but this play is still set up to work.  The W receiver drags across the field and has two options based on what he sees.  He can see that the near-side corner hasn’t gone with the TE, and thus is still playing outside and shallow or he can see that the near-side corner has gone with the TE and the flat is wide open.  The W receiver reads correctly that the corner has maintained the outside coverage, and settles in the zone.  DG doesn’t make this read and tries to lead him into a big hit.

The progression is to read the FS to see the coverage type (cover 3), then the Nickel.  Regardless the coverage, reading the Nickel will tell DG where to put the football, as the Nickel is essentially being forced to play inside or outside and gives away who the open man will be.  In fact, even if it’s man, if DG reads the Nickel following, he will know his W receiver is going to be open on the drag.

This was probably DGs worst play that I’ve broken down so far.  He had good protection, two open targets, and relatively easy reads and failed to make them.

By the way, checking to a veer play could potentially go for big yards here.



So the coverages from the defense have been fairly straight forward so far.  The 3-4 front was a nice touch, but we aren’t really seeing much from the defense that we haven’t before.  You can already see common themes in Borges offense.  He is going to put a defender in a lose/lose situation, and if the defense plays it correctly the QB is usually going to be hitting short and intermediate routes. 

The key is, and the reason defenses allow this sort of thing, is because the QB still needs to make the play.  He still needs to make the right read and right throw all while being pressures on the fifth play dissected here.  That is no easy task.  And then even when they make the play it’s probably a 5 yard gain and as a defense you’ve forced them into a third down and have a chance to get off the field.  I didn’t go into many defensive concepts (Mattison has left them fairly basic at this point), but hopefully you can read into what the goals are for them by this breakdown.  If not, then understand that Mattison has a few basic ideas: be gap sound, don’t allow big plays, and put pressure on the QB.  This often leads to relatively open short and intermediate routes, but again, forces the QB to make the reads under distress. 

DG had a rough start to the day, he struggled to make reads, he struggled with footwork, and he struggled with PA, but it isn’t all on him.  The O-line didn’t sell PA well.  The TEs have a lot of work to do (this will probably become a common theme).  I have actually rarely been disappointed in the receivers at this point.  While the separation hasn’t been great (particularly on the interception), but they did a sufficient job for what they were tasked to do.

I will continue to break down the next group of plays when I have time, for now, read, dissect, and enjoy.

FF 400: Drag and Follow

FF 400: Drag and Follow

Submitted by Space Coyote on November 15th, 2011 at 5:11 PM

[ED: Bump so hard. ]

Previous Days

FF 101 - The Fundamentals: Syllabus & Day 1 (Overall), Day 2 (Offense), Day 3 (Defense), Day 4 (Offensive Line), Day 5 (Wide Receivers)... more to come someday

FF 201 - 3-3-5 Defense: Day 1 (Advantage/Disadvantage), Day 2 (Against tight formations)

FF 210 - Screen Package


FF400 - Drag and Follow

So this is what I had intended to do with the series when I started it: breaking down plays/concepts that Michigan runs and why they work, how to defend/attack them, etc.  Today I’m going to break down a pass play that Michigan ran twice for first downs in the first half.  This is a great play that isn’t necessarily innovative anymore, but it is still very prevalent both the college and pro game.  It’s called the drag (jerk) and follow pattern.

What I will be doing today is going over this play and how and why it was successful twice against Illinois.  I will also discuss how defenses scheme against it in order to stop it, plays to counter those defensive adjustments, and why Michigan went away from it when it was successful early.

More info on plays and plays like it can be found herehere, here, and here.


The Play – Drag and Follow

This is a great play because it does two things.  It gives both the QB and WR easy reads and it always makes the defense wrong, essentially putting them out of position.*

Note, I have done a fairly simple defensive alignment that isn't really that technically sound to face the run.  It is an even front with the SS back.  This isn't bad against the pass but against the run it would probably suffer.  There are many different variations of D, and I some what change the D alignment to help prove my point.  It is important to realize that the keys are still there though, I'm just attempting to teach as simply as possible, so the defense isn't always the same.

Notice the label for each receiver and the Zip presnap motion (into the formation) by the Z receiver.  On defense, N is the Nickelback (don't hate me, hate the Lions) subbed in for the SAM.


The Read – Backside LB

The QB will read the backside LB (WLB). 

If the he follows the drag route, it will leave the delayed follow route open in the space that that LB previous occupied.  You see this the first time Michigan ran this play against Illinois. 

The LB attacks downhill at the drag pattern leaving an opening where he previously was. 


FF 210: Screen Package

FF 210: Screen Package

Submitted by Space Coyote on September 27th, 2011 at 6:12 PM

Previous Classes

FF 101 - The Fundamentals: Syllabus & Day 1 (Overall), Day 2 (Offense), Day 3 (Defense), Day 4 (Offensive Line), Day 5 (Wide Receivers)

FF 201 - 3-3-5 Defense: Day 1 (Advantage/Disadvantage) (I still believe this), Day 2 (Against tight formations)

[ED: PGB - I took the liberty of adding each of these courses to the MGoHallofFame: ED: bump.]

FF210: Screen Package

Whatchya know, I still exist.  That’s right, I’m like either Santa Clause or the red M&M in that commercial.  If you haven’t been here for more than a year, or worse yet, if you have a life outside of here, then you either don’t know or don’t remember about the series above.  I’m formerly [name redacted] and am now a Space Coyote (deal with it, mostly because a Space Coyote from Space is awesome), and I’m going to do a slight continuation of the previous series.  Heck, let’s call it FF210: Football Packages.  Rather than talk about what the title suggests (wrong website), I’ll add this little section about screen packages.  Other classes could include: blitz packages, coverage packages, bunch formation packages, etc.  The fun could be never ending.

(Aside: If you’re wondering why the previous series seems a bit incomplete, like “where’s the defense?” it’s because it is incomplete.  If you’re wondering why I didn’t finish it…yes.  Also, I’ve been a bit busy.)

Lately there has been much confusion about screen type substances around these parts and I figured I would be a bit of a guest professor for a second and teach a few things.  If you are looking for how to install a screen door, this is not the place for you, so I’ll just let Menard’s do that for you.


Not all screens are created equal.  And as they are not all created equal, they are also not all designed to take advantage of the same things.  There is a lot in common with many screen passes, but there are also key differences.  There are lots of different types of screen passes, and I’m not going to cover them all.  What I will cover today is probably the more fundamental screens.  The discussion below will consist of what these screens are attempting to constrain (“constrain play” has become a favorite word around here), what the keys are to the type of screen, and how to successfully run the screen.  Note, as I said above, there are many, many more screens out there that I won’t cover.  There are also many variations of these screens that I won’t begin to touch.  This is only meant to be an introduction to these basic concepts.  The types of screens included are:

1. The ones where you throw to the WR, we’ll call those WR screens

  • Bubble Screen
  • Tunnel/ Jailbreak Screen

2. The ones where you screen to the RB, we’ll call those RB screens

  • Slow Screen
  • Crack Screen

Screens not covered: middle screen, TE screen, throwback screen, transcontinental (even though it’s a crowd favorite), etc.


Screens in College Football

In college football linemen can block down field at the snap as long as the pass play is completed behind the line of scrimmage.  This is not the same in the NFL, but is a big reason why screens are so successful at the college level.


Wide Receiver Screen

Just because you’re throwing a screen pass to a wide receiver doesn’t mean it is in an attempt to do the same thing.  There are two main types of WR screens that I will discuss, and each have very different keys and are constraints of different things.  They are the bubble screen and the tunnel/jailbreak screen.


Bubble Screen

Better image with some play action

mgoblog bubble screen picture paged

Against Michigan!


This is essentially a run play constraint.  The bubble screen is intended to strength the defense horizontally.  It is an easy way to reach the edge without a clumsy pitch out of the shotgun.  It is typically run to get defenders out of the box.  It takes advantage of defenders peaking into the back field and reacting quickly and out of control to flow.  Gap sound teams with safeties in the box with responsibilities in gaps will have trouble on bubble screens because they are not stretched horizontally and are focused on the play in the backfield.

Running the bubble screen will:

Running the bubble screen will open up lanes in the middle of the field as defenders must flex from sideline to sideline.  This will give gaps for RBs/QBs on Zone Reads, RB power, and QB draws.  This also opens up the deep middle of the field by often forcing safeties to play off the edge of the line rather than in the box as linebackers or OLBs out of the box to respect the sideline threat more.  This makes it much more difficult for defenders to play both the run and the pass.  If run correctly it will leave a WR one on one on a corner in space, or better yet, with both corner taken out of the play and a score up the sideline.


When to run it:

Typically you run it when corners aren’t pressing.  If corners are pressing the pass can become very dangerous.  More importantly, you run it when safeties and LBs are shaded too far inside in an attempt to play both run and pass.  The danger: make sure the corners respect routes enough to not quickly jump the bubble.


How to run it:

It’s not as simple as just taking a snap and winging it out there.  As I have been told before, a QB throwing a bubble screen is kind of like a short stop turning a double play as far as the importance of footwork, body position, grip, and not rushing.

Most of the time in the backfield there is some sort of zone read action.  This means that the play looks like a zone read it terms of what the running back is doing.  The process of the QB adjusting the ball and throwing means that an actual playaction is really necessary.  What is so different about the bubble screen is that it doesn’t typically require linemen to block for a “screen”.  The linemen also carry out the zone read play.  This causes LBs and Ss to flow down to play the zone read, leaving the WR open on the edge.

The blocking WRs come off on the snap as if they are running routes.  His job is to take the nearest threat, which is mostly the man covering him.  As they converge on the man covering them, they square their bodies and force and get their backs to the sideline, blocking those covering them to the inside and leaving a lane down the sideline.  If the defender does manage to get outside, continue to drive him to the sideline (this isn’t O-line blocking, there is a lot of space and the ball carrier will run off the blockers butt to the hole in the defense regardless).  In most cases the WR blocks the man head up on him (or the man that appears to be covering him).  In some cases the WR will crack down on the defender covering the screen receiver.  It all depends on how the defense plays it at the snap.  The reason that the WR usually blocks the man covering him is because it causes traffic for the inside cover guy to have to get through.  You can, in essence, block two guys with one blocker, leaving a seal down the sideline.  Some people crack the inside guy and hope the outside cover man follows inside, but you run the risk of the outside guy reading the play and blowing it up.  All these decisions must be made based on the defenses alignment.



Oregon. The first one suffices (some of the others aren't really bubble screens).  Note that they double the near man to the second corner.  The second corner jumps outside and the WR kind of just blocks him straight up, making this play a first down rather than TD.  This can be done with 3 or 2 WRs.

[Ed: others after the jump.]

FF101: Day 5

FF101: Day 5

Submitted by Space Coyote on August 31st, 2010 at 1:50 PM

Sorry for the long absence.  Anyway…

Previous Classes

FF 101 - The Fundamentals: Syllabus & Day 1 (Overall), Day 2 (Offense), Day 3 (Defense) Day 4 (Offensive Line)

FF 201 - 3-3-5 Defense: Day 1 (Advantage/Disadvantage), Day 2 (Against tight formations)

FF 101: Day 5 – Receivers


Receivers come in many shapes and many sizes, from 6’6”, 270 pound tight ends to 5’9”, 160 pound slot receivers.  Regardless of size though, one thing is ultimately fundamental to the position: catching the football.  For some this sounds easy, for others who feel like they have hands of stones, even this doesn’t sound easy.  This is complicated by the fact that a receiver is also responsible for running crisp routes, which sometimes include defeating a defensive player at the LOS jamming them, diagnosing the defense, and then catching the football, all the while knowing that there could very well be someone running on a collision course the other way trying to destroy you.

Receivers are typically known as divas, always seeking attention, but then there’s Jason Avant.  Personality isn’t a trait that runs through all these players, some just focus on the fundamentals and go about business.  So let’s attempt to understand these fundamentals rather than simply seeing all the negatives attributed to receivers.


I could write in every single one of these that an efficient stance leads to a purging of false steps.  A false step essentially means taking unnecessary steps before the actual start of the route running.  For a receiver this usually means picking up the front foot and moving it forward or picking up the back foot and moving it backwards.  Neither should happen, as the receiver should be able to push directly off his front foot.  To remove this annoying phenomenon known as false steps, an aggressive stance is desired. 

Feet:  Feet should be staggered, much like a sprinters.  I personally prefer the inside foot to be forward (as do most coaches, though this isn’t necessarily consistent) because it helps in releasing from a jamming defender.   There should be about three feet between the front and back foot, with the majority of the weight on the front foot.  The amount of weight can be described as “pushing the front cleat on the toe through the ground.” 

Knees:  Knees should be bent and ready to explode.

Upperbody:  The upper body should be leaning slightly forward in order to quickly explode out of the stance.

Hands and Arms:  Again, my personal preference, but hands should be up at chest level with arms approximately at 90 degree angles.  The reason I prefer hands up is to help defeat a jamming defender.

Route Running

A lot of people hear about receivers running good routes but don’t really know what exactly that means.  Well, let’s take a look at it to help you understand what exactly is taking place in these “good routes.”

Part of good routes is actually understanding what the defense is running.  At the snap of the ball the receiver also needs to recognize zone or man coverage.  If it’s zone he has to quickly recognize what kind of coverage so he knows where the gaps are in the defense.  All this has to be done on the same page as the QB.  But to properly do any of that, a few other things are important as well.

Drive:  At the snap there should be no false steps from the receiver.  This is described above.  The reason false steps are so detrimental here is for several reasons: 1) It hinders the timing between QB and receiver; 2) It allows the receiver to be jammed easier; 3) It doesn’t allow the receiver to quickly close the distance between himself and the defender.  Closing this gap forces the defender to open his hips away from the backfield, making it hard for him to react to routes the receiver is about to run.  The keys to the drive portion are exploding off the LOS, maintaining a good body lean (so that the receiver can run “normally” in a straight line, yet still break down and run other routes), and closing the distance between himself and the defender.

Route Expression:  Receivers must drive in and out of cuts.  This means they must get up to full speed as soon as possible after making cut and going into a cut.  In order to do this, at the break point a receiver is taught to snap his chest down over his toes and lower his butt.  The receiver should also keep his head and eyes up and focused through the defender to maintain good balance and prevent the defender from jumping the route.  It is also important to keep the arms pumping and within the body's framework.  Receivers often hold the arms out or lower them, which can give easy clues to the defender.

Lastly, and probably the most common of all poor route runners, is fading on routes.  A cut at 90 degrees is a cut at 90 degrees, not slowly changing to 80 degrees.  Don't start fading toward the end zone.  It is essential that receivers do not fade.  I can't say that enough.  You will hear coaches preaching it constantly at every level.


Numbers are assigned to different types of routes.  These numbers are used for play calling and other aspects of the game.  The picture below should which number is what route, odds are toward the boundary, evens are toward the ball.

There are obviously more routes available, such as a wheel route for example, but these are the main ones.



So he’s done all this stuff with running routes, but he still hasn’t caught the football.  Everything that has already been discussed is pointless if he doesn’t catch the football.  So how do you catch a football?  Well it sounds kind of easy when you go out in the back yard and do it with your kid, but there are many things that experienced people don’t even think about. 

There is the obvious: catch the ball with your hands.  But first you need to catch the ball with your eyes, meaning you need to locate the ball.  Then as the ball approaches you are told to catch the “fat” of the ball.  But in a game a receiver isn’t simply standing there waiting for the ball to fall into his hands, he must attack the ball in the air, and absorb it as it hits his hands.  If the ball is above the numbers, press the thumbs and forefingers together forming a triangle.  Below the numbers press your little fingers together, forming a cup for the ball.

How to catch a ball:

How not to catch a ball:


For tight ends it is very similar to the offensive linemen I detailed earlier. 


(Edit: I tried to find a picture of Carson Butler blocking, but for some reason I couldn’t find anything…)


Blocking in space is much different however.  If WRs block it turns ten yard runs into touchdowns.  Michigan was always very well known for teaching their WRs to block down field.  Stressing this is vital to the success of any offense.  It really isn’t as much about skill as it is about desire.  There is some keys to blocking in space however, so we will still discuss them.

The first is that a receiver shouldn’t break down to block until he is about 2-3 yards from the defender.  Once this distance has been established, it is important that the receiver break down so that he can mirror the defender.  He then should strike the defender in the breast plate with his palms while fitting his fingers under the defender’s armpits.  The goal is to have the receiver’s helmet below the defenders to gain leverage and then drive the defender.  Because these aren’t typically offensive linemen blocking, usually the receiver’s are taught to use the defenders momentum to the blocker’s advantage.  This means if the defender fights one way, fight pressure with pressure and force him to overrun the play.

You'll find a lot of good WR blocking in this awesome Tyrone Wheatley Tribute from Wolverine Historian. (EDIT: Can't really see much blocking from WR in this video. Sorry)

EDIT: Good WR blocking on this Brandon Minor from the game that introduced Minor Rage to the world and Penn St.


So playing receiver isn’t as easy as playing catch with your kid.  I’m not saying it’s the hardest position on the field, but it’s far from easy.  There are a lot of things that need to be recognized very quickly and there are fundamentals that need to be done very precisely.  On top of this, focus needs to be consistent, as does desire, whether the ball is coming his way or not. 


Just be happy it’s not you crossing the middle of the field with your QB setting you up to get your block knocked off.