Stretch has been our base run play at the University of La Verne since 2011. We are a no-huddle up-tempo team that likes to spread the field to run the ball. Each of the last six years we have had an all-conference running back, largely because of the consistency with this play. We will run this play and its variations around 20 times per game, so it’s a very dependable and versatile concept.
Stretch matches our personnel as a team very well. We typically have the smallest offensive line in our conference and because of that we put an emphasis on speed up front. Each season we have had starters under 250 pounds and so this play will often work to their strength.
As a coaching staff, we consider stretch different to outside zone because the ball carrier rarely ends up bouncing outside the tackle. We are not trying to press the ball outside as hard as a traditional outside zone team would. We aim at the inside leg of the tight end (or imaginary tight end if running open side). We also do not carry out a naked fake with the quarterback to hold back side defenders; instead we use run pass option concepts to help hold backside defenders.
One important factor to consider with stretch is that we do not care too strongly about the yards per attempt. We look instead at the play’s efficiency: does it get the yards needed for that down to be successful? For example, on 1st and 10 a run play of 5 yards is considered a win for us. Likewise, 3rd and 1 means a gain of 1 yard is a win. The average of these plays would be 3 and would look poor for the play, however, we consider its overall ability to help us move the ball. In a typical season, we would expect stretch to be 55% efficient. Some years it goes higher based on personnel, but we just want a steady play. When considering how many yards the play achieves the only statistic we look at is the times where it gains less than 2 yards. We feel if the play is executed correctly we should gain at least 2 yards every attempt. Gains below this form a core of our in-season self-scout and post-season review.
If taught effectively and executed well, we feel it should be a very consistent piece of moving the ball each week and give us a go-to play all in times of need. Of course, if a team cannot stop stretch early on in the game, we will continue to run it extensively. It is safe to say we consider this our bread and butter.
As a no-huddle team we value time greatly; we want the time from declaring our formation to snapping the football to be as short as possible. As such, this puts a lot of pressure onto our offensive line to communicate in an effective and immediate way. As we start training camp each year we take a long time at the line of scrimmage to make calls and communicate, and then we work to shorten this process every day.
In making our assignments easy for our offensive line, tight ends, and quarterbacks, we came up with a number count system. Communicating this system is easy and can be directed by one person (the center).
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Our number count system means we can identify all the defenders we are going to block quickly and efficiently at the line of scrimmage and block fronts we may not have seen on film.
Our center identifies the first defender play-side and points at him—we call him the zero defender. In both directions, we count from him. So the next defender becomes 1 and then the next becomes 2, etc. On stretch our rules are that you get backside help. So, a covered lineman will always combo with the uncovered backside lineman. Where the number system differs is that if we see a 5-man box we will block out on the backside to block the defensive end. We will not zone step in the direction of the play. With the numbers scheme our rules for assignments break down as follows:
|Tight End – Play-side|
Zone Read Backside 3
on-verbal communication becomes key as we continue in the season. We can just point at the zero defender and communicate who has who with greater ease. We of course name every combo block on the line, however as the season unfolds we don’t use them at the line of scrimmage as often as we increase our understanding and tempo.
Combo, Solo, or Out?
Within our stretch play there a few different types of block. We can have:
- Combo block, working with an adjacent offensive player to block two defenders. This is usually done in the direction of the play.
- Solo block, meaning you are play-side and the next backside offensive player is also covered so you have no help—you are by yourself most of the time. It does become possible to pass off defenders even without help but this takes time and great deal of repetition on the part of the offensive line.
- Out, you are backside and your defender is outside of you, meaning you are blocking away from the play direction.
For a combo block the play-side offensive player has backside help—he can attack the outside half of the defender with little regard for inside penetration. He knows that he has the outside half of the defender. The backside offensive player has the inside half of the defender. If the play-side lineman reaches the defender he strains vertically through the outside half so that firstly, the front doesn’t continue to move sideways, and secondly, it helps him climb to the 2nd level and get the linebacker or safety.
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On a solo block you have to be more cautious as you no longer have any inside help. So, if you step too wide you allow the defender to slant inside and get penetration. We work to put our head across the defender which keeps us on a much tighter path; we do not expect as much width from a solo block.
An out block blocks away from the play direction, so all we are looking to do is cut off any pursuit, initially behind the LOS and then over the top. We are not looking to drive to the defender as much as control where they are going. The tighter the defender is to us the more we are concerned with being beaten over the top, so we will cut them off and work back deeper.
On the field we allow our players to make adjustments. One common adjustment happens when a nose loosens up to the point of shading the inside of a guard play-side. We make a 2i adjustment and treat the 2i as if he was a reached 3 technique. So, the guard will climb vertically through him to pass him to the center. When this happens the play-side tackle now has a solo block instead of a combo with the guard. We know we will not create as much width with the tackle’s block but the lack of lateral movement from the 2i will create a nice hole for the running back to run in.
Running Back and the Offensive Line
The reads of the running back are a big part of making the play work; the running back has to be consistent with the reads and know in every front which 2 defenders they are keying. In an even front the running back will read the 2 defensive lineman play-side, starting with the widest. If we reach that defender then we bounce the play outside, but if he doesn’t get reached our eyes go to the next inside defender. If he is reached we press it vertical, and if he isn’t we cut it back behind him. We feel if we are good at making these reads we will not get holding calls on the play-side. These can happen on outside zone when a back bounces a play that shouldn’t bounce because you are putting your blockers in a bad situation.
In addition to teaching our backs these reads we also teach them to our offensive line. The offensive line will feel in control of where the ball should be run and can help make the running back’s decision on where to press the play. For example, there are only a few things that happen with a defensive lineman:
- He is reached by the offensive lineman immediately, thus the ball will be carried outside of this block.
- He fights to maintain leverage on the outside, thus the ball will be carried inside this block.
- He maintains control of the blocker and is neither reached nor fighting outside to maintain leverage, in which case the read for the back hasn’t yet happened. This is where the offensive player giving help from the backside can bench press the defender outside giving the back an inside read and then continue to the 2nd level defender.
In this third scenario, by educating the offensive line on the back’s reads they are able to influence the path of the back and make the play a lot cleaner. Our offensive linemen have always enjoyed having this level of control in the play and being made to feel right.
The same rules apply to every front. With on odd front, we will read the play-side defensive end to the nose tackle. We will need not a stand-up outside linebacker as this is a leverage defender and will give you a false read.
With our play the tight end can be added either front-side or backside. If he is front-side he blocks play-side number 3. If we add him backside he will block the backside number 3 defender. If he is placed backside our quarterback will move his read from #3 to #4 which makes a pull much less likely. If we want to force a give on the play we will often place a tight end backside on the play.
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When we align the tight end play-side there are really a few scenarios that can happen:
- The box doesn’t adjust, but a defender walks up on the TE.
- A box defender widens to align on or outside the TE.
- No one adjusts.
In scenario 1 nothing changed for the offensive line and we are just creating more multiple looks to run the ball from. When this happens, the tight end engages in a solo block. He will be aiming to sustain the block longer and work his head across the defender. He is less concerned with creating a lot of width as he is with sustaining a block for longer. He will engage as late as possible so that he doesn’t have to physically stay on the defender as long.
In scenario 2 a defensive end has widened to a 7 technique (inside shade) or even into a 9 technique (outside the tight end). Because we didn’t add any defenders to the box, we will combo this with the tackle to the #3 defender play-side who is outside the box. The further #3 is away the more we can hang on a combo to help the tackle; the closer he is the less help we can give on a 7. With a 9 technique then we will see the combo all the way through to completion.
If no one adjusts on the defense then we have a choice in game-planning—either have an extra hat in the box to create a play-side double team or arc out to #3 and again use a different formation for multiple looks.
Our quarterback knows “3 is me,” so from the center’s point he counts backside to find his zone-read defender. If there is a tight end backside then he looks to the next outside defender. Our quarterbacks understand that since stretch is a wide-hitting play it takes a lot for us to keep the ball. We talk commonly about 3 things: depth, width, and intent. If a defender gets up the field we need not pull the ball, if he is wide we need not pull it, and if his intent is to play the quarterback then we need not pull it. However, if a defender is flat to the LOS and squeezing hard and his intent is to chase the running back we will pull the ball. Last season, we did not have any quarterback pulls on stretch zone.
Skip—Inside Zone Read
Because we operate on a numbers system it is easy to tag the play with a certain defender who, by rule, we do not count, and thus becomes the new read defender. If we use the skip tag then we will not block the first defensive lineman backside. In our mind, this is the zone read version of midline option; we would prefer to read the 3 technique. On the snap the QB reads him and if he crosses his face the QB pulls and runs in the backside B gap. You can skip an A gap defender; however, this is tougher to do because of the angle of the defender relative to the mesh between the QB and the running back.
Backer—Intro to RPO
Our most common one is the backer tag. This tells the offensive line to not count the first linebacker backside. So instead vs. an even front we will block the down 2 defensive linemen and leave the backside linebacker unblocked.
Now that the backside linebacker is unblocked, we get our eyes on him with the quarterback and read him using the same technique as a defensive end. We will typically attach a tight end to the backside of the formation and run a pop route so that if the LB moves we throw the ball to the TE, and if he plays pass coverage and covers the TE we hand the ball off.
Rich Worsell enters his eighth season at the University of La Verne, serving as Offensive Coordinator and assistant head coach for the Leopards. If you have any questison he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.