Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Pass Protection for beginners

This post is designed to answer the many emails received recently regarding drop back pass protection.  I have been asked by several coaches from schools that have been traditional pound you on the ground offenses, that are no switching to spread offenses.

There are various types of protections I am going to go through the most common ones from a schematic point of view, as well as the actual fundamentals of pass protection that I believe in regardless of scheme.

Pass Pro Scheme:
First one must decide on a scheme to use, here is a brief run down of the most common schemes.

B.O.B. - Big on Big, some also use it to mean Back on Backer... either way this is a 6 man protection scheme.  This is the protection scheme that I use.  From Day 1 we teach the kids how to ID fronts, we teach how to block each front.  We can really simplify anything we see down into one of 3 base calls, Nic, Box, and 5-0.  Anything else might be a variation off of one of these but our base rules for each front work however the defense is aligned.  The center makes the front call and we go with whatever the Center says... it doesn't matter if the defense is running around carrying signs saying "WE ARE IN A 4-2 NIC", if the Center calls it a 5-0 that is what we go with; he is ALWAYS right.

After the Center makes his call the RB will declare where he fits into the protection... it doesn't have to be the side he is aligned to, he can cross to the other side but it is important he declares this so the OL know which LB he is responsible for.

We call the front, and the RB declares a side every single snap, so that the defense can never pick up when we are throwing a pass, or running the ball.

Here are pretty standard BOB protections vs common fronts.

The BOB protection might be slightly more complicated than the others I am about to detail but if you work the fronts and blitz pick up throughout the summer then the kids pick it up and you would be amazed at how goof they get at sorting things out.  I have a large binder filled with just about every blitz/stunt you can draw up, all separated out by front call and I have an injured kid or assistant coach hold it up, I can get 2 groups going in a drill I call blitz pick up and we get a lot of reps in just 10 minutes.  I like it because I think it gives us the best match ups, we never have a RB blocking a defensive lineman.

Full Slide
Full slide protection is a gap based protection rather than a man based protection.  As the name suggests every offensive lineman is involved in the slide.  The slide direction can be called in the huddle or the QB can call it at the line.  Let's say the pass pro is designated as Slide Right, each offensive lineman is responsible for anything in his gap to the right.  

The RB will pick up the first thing outside of the Left Tackle, the RB always works opposite of the OL to account for all 6 gaps (C,B,A,A,B,C)

The positive for this one is the simplicity of this scheme... no matter how exotic the defensive structure might get, you are protecting gaps and therefore you should be solid vs anything... you are letting the defense come right to you.
The downside is you are putting a RB on a DE, not many RBs can handle this blocking assignment on an every down basis.  Also I have seen teams bull rush head up and cause OL problems because they are attacking the man rather than a gap and this can be hard to decipher for the OL.

Half Slide

As the name suggests this involves 1/2 of the OL sliding.  It is a zone/man combination and essentially combines the BOB and full slide.  I have to say that I am a fan of half slide, I think it might be the most common pass protection scheme used in HS football.  Our BOB rules essentially turn into half slide is a team is sending guys.

The RB is critical in half slide, whatever side they declare, they are responsible for the LB to that side (like they would be in BOB) Let's say the RB designates he is protecting left.  Now this tells the Left side they are in man to man protection, and the Center-RG-RT are sliding left.  The LT will definitely be locked on with the  DE, if the LG has a guy head up or a 3 tech then he has him BOB.  Now if it is a 1 tech, or we just have a nose (3-3 stack or something odd) the LG will also be a part of the half slide, he would slide to his right gap as well, the LT will still stay locked on 1 on 1 vs the DE.

I don't really see any risk in the 1/2 slide, I recommend it for most teams, and like I said our pass pro ends up looking very similar to this because although we are man to man, there are some zone ideas built in.


This last protection is a 7 man max protection with 2 RBs in the backfield.  Each OL steps inside to sure up the inside and each RB blocks the edge on his side.  This is very strong if you are seeing a lot of inside pressure, and you get your middle 3 OLWRs and you are potentially putting 2 RBs on DEs.  This is not ideal and I would only do this if guys were just coming absolutely free up the middle on a play to play basis and my guys were getting destroyed.  If that's happening, it is probably going to be a very long Friday night for you. 

5 Wide

The advantage of BOB and half slide protection is that it gives you the possibility of releasing all 5 eligible WRs into the play.  Because they are responsible for a player who is aligned at depth, the QB should have enough time, even if they rush free (at the snap not aligned on the los) to get the ball off.  It is easiest to have the OL block their regular pass pro when RB is releasing, but it is important that your QB understands your drop back protection just as well as the OL and backs do so that he knows  who the potential free rusher is.  Having the ability to release 5 at times can be very beneficial because you can get a great mismatch or blown assignment with your RB out of the backfield.

My Advice:
I definitely recommend using B.O.B. or 1/2 slide protection.  I think they are the 2 most sound 6 man protection schemes.

Pass Pro Fundamentals:
Now that we have some elementary understanding of pass protection schemes we can go over basic fundamentals.

1. Stance - Everything in football begins with a proper stance.  Without a well balanced stance you will never be able to get back and into proper pass pro position.  We have used a 2 point stance the last 2 seasons but are going to be in a light 3 point stance this year.  Very little weight on our hand, we pull and have a lot of lateral movement plays (down blocking and reach blocking) so getting off balanced going forward would just hurt us. 

2. Set - The initial movement of an offensive lineman is his set.  The set must gain depth off of the LOS, this allows the OL to get into proper body position, buys him time before contact and helps the OL see any stunts or twists.  There are 2 basic schools of thought for pass setting, the kick slide and the vertical set. The kick slide is the "traditional" approach to pass setting.  It is still used by probably every NFL team and any pro style NCAA team. Here is some video of kick sliding...
It is a backwards kick of the outside leg while sliding the inside leg back... hence the name kick slide.

Vertical setting is more of a backwards run, where the OL steps backwards with his inside foot first then his outside foot.  Vertical setting is what all of the spread air raid colleges are either already running or moving towards.  I have done 2 posts on vertical setting in the past they can be found here...Vertical Setting & Vertical Setting 2.0 . The first post is the standard way vertical setting is taught, the VS 2.0 I wrote recently is more adaptations that I have found work best for us.

The next thing we must do is get into proper body position.  We need a good stagger, outside foot should be back, inside foot should be up.  I call the inside foot our power foot, and the outside foot our slide foot.  We should have good bend in our knees and hips, we should be fighting to keep our head back, and our arms should be up, ready to punch, elbows in.

The set can also have some horizontal movement... if my defender is inside of me, I need to take that leverage away at the snap... if he is aligned outside I may need to drift outside at a slight angle as I get my depth so to widen his path to the QB.

3. Mirror - The OL must mirror the steps of the defender, he might work inside, outside, loop, there could be some twist on, he might bull rush, the offensive lineman needs to mirror the steps of the defender.  I preach to my kids about always working to split the crotch of the defender.  We can NEVER get beat to the inside.  I use a drill to reinforce this daily. MIRROR DRILL. When mirroring the defender any move to the inside is cut off with what I call a power step with their post leg, cutting off the inside gap.  An outside rush move can be combated in a more passive manner using a slide step of the slide leg.  I believe the slide step should get both depth and width in an effort to widen the rusher so that if beat the OL can run the defender around the QB , wide around the "pocket". It is important while mirroring that the OL move in a step-step manner, and do not hop around, this creates a loss of base, a loss of balance, and a loss of power.

4. Punch - We will set and mirror and we want to wait for contact as long as possible in the drop back game, we have all seen a kid lunge out and get swam over instantly at the snap now you have someone hitting your QB before he is even at his drop.  We want to wait until we can wait no longer and deliver an explosive punch straight out from out set up position into the defenders chest, this must be an explosive movement.  The OL can not cock back, the blow should be delivered from the OL's throat area where his hands should be waiting to punch when he sets.  It is important the punch does not involve lunging out or stepping at the defender.  As we punch we want to fight to keep our head back, we must always give the defender as little to grab as possible.

5. The fight - Other coaches call this phase "Recovery"  I like phrasing it as a fight because to me that is all it is.  After initial contact it is a constant battle by the OL to continue punching while using his mirror steps to keep his body between the defender and the QB at all times.  If you do the first 4 steps perfectly you will buy your QB 1 to 1.5 full seconds... we always want longer than that to throw and that comes from the constant fight of the OL to stay engaged and in front of the defender.

I hope this article helps with anyone who is trying to learn the basics of pass protection. Be on the look out for a sprint out pass pro article coming up very soon.

Monday, April 2, 2012

5 Line Drill - Steps on Air

I wanted to share this drill, or technique for doing drills that I use in the beginning of practice.  I am trying to  move away from so much schematic talk and really get down to the finer points and drills; I think that is what makes us all better coaches. You can put an infinite number of squiggly lines on a whiteboard but let's be honest, the team that blocks and tackles best usually wins.  

This is great especially in Spring Ball when you have no pads on and you have a bunch of new kids.

5 Lines:
I use 5 lines, spaced out roughly 5 yards apart for stances, steps on air; you can use it for anything you need to work on with many kids at once. 

Day 1, I teach everyone how to get into 5 lines, and then spread out 5 yards each way.... Once I have established this, at future practices I need simply say "5 lines" and everyone runs to line up, really reduces lag and transition time, thus creating a more efficient practice.

I have found this to be the most efficient way to work with many kids at once for our basic things that often get overlooked.

Stance, Initial steps, sets on air, pulling steps, proper body position.  You can really break things down using step by step teaching then progress into working the whole skill at once.

I filmed some kids doing a few step and set drills to illustrate how it works.  Some kids look pretty good in the film, some were visiting me for the first time and looked horrible; you can actually see a kid or two fall down when pass setting.  

You can scan a lot of kids at once and diagnose problems as you go through reps.  I also use any assistant coaches I have there that day to walk around through the lines helping any kids who are really struggling.

I will use this a ton early on, all through the summer.  By the time we get rolling in the season the kids and even myself can get a little bored with it, and by that point if they can't get in a stance and take a step (after 4 months of practice) then they never will.  I usually taper this off when school starts in the Fall and trim it down to maybe a 3 minute refresher/warm up type of thing if we do it at all.

Vertical set 2.0

One of my more popular articles to date  has been my post on Vertical Set Pass Protection.

Now that I have 2 years of experience with it I have decided to write a follow up to share how my feelings regarding vertical setting have changed over time.

First I want to say that I still really like vertical setting and it is something I believe in. However we ran into some problems last year that required a slight tweak to how I teach it.

Our QB last year just don't get enough depth to feel comfortable with vertical setting. Because of the backwards nature of vertical setting there will be some movement of the LOS back on to the QB's lap; our QB was perceiving this as pressure even when there was no one coming free. Most HS kids struggle to throw when there is anything near them and with vertical setting you're likely to have your OL's backs near you.

What I did was shorten all of our sets to 60s protection, 2 steps backwards rather than 4. This is the opposite of what most air raiders are doing at the college level, most of them use only 90s protection (4 step) for everything but we instead use a 2 step vertical protection on all drop back stuff. I found it made us more solid inside, and most importantly it mentally/psychologically/emotionally helped our QB feel more comfortable.

Because initial contact is a little quicker the OL needs to stay engaged longer. I think it actually helps us on our jailbreak screen. That Offensive Lineman can sell pass block, and sell that he's been beaten before releasing. I noticed that with our deeper 90 sets on jail that my guys would really whiff on their man in a hurry to get out.

When you NEED depth:
I still allow my tackles to use a traditional vertical set (4 step) if they have a true speed rush guy coming off the edge repeatedly, but this was rare because we down block a lot (DE is really looking for block down/step down).

The other case where the deeper sets help is for blitz pick up, but I found that teams were limited in the stunts they would use up front and we work blitz pick up so often that we didn't need the extra depth to sort out who was blocking who.

FAQ: Vertical Setting Under Center?
Another issue I want to address is vertical setting while under center. I've been asked this dozens of times by other coaches via emails and PM's. After using this for 2 years it is my opinion that you can not use a 4 step vertical set while under center, I just don't think the QB can get deep enough fast enough. Now I do think a 2 step vertical set like I use exclusively now can be used under center.

Now some may say, "if you're not getting as vertical why not use traditional kick slide steps?"

I still find the inside-out backwards run of vertical setting to be easier to teach and more natural than kick sliding.

In our spring drills I will have them work the 2 step set and dropping anchor about 2.4 million times, I will also have them do 5 yard sets as well so they will be able to set deeper if they need to utilize that skill at a later date I also feel that helps them improve the speed of their 2 step vertical set.

What began in the middle of last season as a band aid will now serve as our base way of teaching things. I was worried when I first made the change just because I didn't know what to expect but I really liked our results and our protection became visibly better after we made the switch.