Over the years, our passing game at Maine Maritime Academy has continued to adapt and evolve through the development of our roster’s talent, while also working to the strengths of those we recruit. One of the most important components in our passing game is our sprint out package. Similar to many teams at the Division III level, the ability to move the pocket and the launch point of the quarterback can help create gaps in defensive coverage. Doing this also relieves some pressure from the offensive line in protection. Certainly, there are many variations of sprint out concepts as the game continues to evolve with offensive creativity. We have the ability to throw in a few wrinkles here and there, but our goal is to be really efficient and effective with more traditional concepts in our sprint out package.
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As we put together our pass game, we always want to find clear identifiers for the quarterback. The two key factors that we must determine are the safety’s alignment and who flat defender may be. These are clear indicators that we look for in all of our concepts pre-snap, even before identifying blitz and protection adjustments. There are a few specific components I would like to discuss in order to allow you to understand the importance that we place on our sprint out package.
Items to review:
- The Four W’s
- Quarterback Progression – Spot and Flood Concepts
- Attacking Defenses with Sprint Out
- Adjustments: Hitch Naked Package
Why Do We Run Sprint Out?
The head football coach at Maine Maritime Academy is Chris McKenney. Before we ever put something in our practice plan, script, or even before it ever reaches the field, he wants to know why we should use a specific technique, drill, or scheme. Oftentimes for him, it is a way of showing faith in his coaches. If we can back up our reasoning behind a technique, drill or scheme, then we have a shot at putting it on the field. With this thought process in mind, there are a couple of reasons we believe our sprint out package is worth utilizing.
First, it is very beneficial to move the pocket and change the launch point of the quarterback. Our capacity to protect the quarterback in the drop back game hinges upon many different factors. Allowing our quarterback to get outside the pocket in order to create a clear vision of what he sees is of the utmost importance. The stress of a pass rush or blitz on our offensive line is mitigated now that our quarterback is able to get outside of the protection.
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The second component of our sprint out package is predicated on the ability to create triangles in our concepts. Creating triangles in our concepts allows us to attack multiple coverages in a variety of ways. This idea also helps the quarterback identify where to throw the football. The triangle concept provides automatic reads which dictate where the football should be delivered. Part of the process in creating a triangle concept is to develop situations where we can isolate a single defender in space – in other words, we attempt to place him in a coverage situation where he cannot be right. The idea behind the automatic read is built to reduce stress for the quarterback in the decision-making process. The simpler and easier we can make the decision for the quarterback, the more efficient we will be in the long run.
When Do We Use It?
Sprint out can be an effective play call when you are looking to get the football to the perimeter, while also helping to shore up your own protection. We use sprint out in regular down and distance scenarios on a play to play basis. We build our sprint out packages with intermediate concepts. These include, but are not limited to our spot concept, long yardage options through our comeback/flood concepts, and man beating concepts in short yardage or two-point scenarios. We use these concepts in a variety of formations; such as trips, doubles, or bunch. Also, the use of motions to identify coverage in short yardage or red zone scenarios can be extremely effective. We also try to create new plays which execute the same concept in a different manner.
Where Do We Use It?
In the context of putting together our game plan and addressing sprint out, often we first look at what situations we feel sprint out helps us the most. As I mentioned above, we view our package in a variety of ways – thus, certain pieces of our package are better in specific areas of the field. Overall, we look to clearly establish our sprint out package between the 20’s. As we push closer to the red zone, we must start to condense our package. When the field tightens down, we begin looking at specific concepts to help us beat man coverage or tightly contested pockets in zone coverage.
What is in Our Sprint Out Package?
This particular package has the ability to operate in many personnel groupings and formations. We use several personnel groupings and formations to create different variations of the same concept to make things appear different, while still attacking in a triangle. The use of 3×1 sets allows us to dictate to the defense whether they can stay in a one high or two high shell. Many teams have only one main answer to these formations, so we know what look we are going to put them in. There are instances where we utilize 2×2 sets to keep the defense more balanced – this look will allow us to keep the threat of the run game, quick game, drop back, and play action. As you mix personnel, these looks only get more complicated for the defense – which allows you to break tendencies in specific down and distance situations. Utilizing motions will also help disguise our call, as we can move to and away from 3×1 sets. We can also use the motion to allow a particular receiver to have a clean, free access release at the snap of the ball.
We run a variety of concepts out of our sprint out series. The two basic concepts we start with are Spot and Flood. Our Spot concept runs as follows (see Diagram 1):
PS #1 – 6-7 yard Spot
PS #2 – 10 yard Corner
PS# 3 – 1-3 yard Slide
BS #1 – Slice
BS #2 – 10-12 yard Over (if this receiver is in the formation)
Similar to the majority of our concepts, Spot is built to attack the flat defender in space, while providing a safe short-yardage option for the quarterback. Our goal with the play side (PS) #1 receiver is to attack the inside hip of the flat defender. Depending on our formation and the coverage called; the flat defender may be a linebacker, safety, or even a corner. We treat a flat defender who is a linebacker or safety the same way. We will push inside at a 45-degree angle, sit down on the inside hip of the defender, and box him out. If the corner is the flat defender, the receiver must find open space – thus, he will not drive inside nearly as far as he would if he were to attack a defender who apexes the formation. Our PS #2 receiver must use his best release to get to the corner. He can release inside or outside, depending on how a defender tries to impede his progress. Oftentimes, his vertical stem attacks the flat defender. If he can get through the mid-point clean of contact, he can stretch the field occupying the secondary coverage on the play. PS #3 will work to the sideline at no more than 3 yards. The shallower he is on the route; the more space we create in the triangle. This route is designed to cross the flat defender’s face. We now have three possible options to stress the flat defender.
Our Flood concept is built to attack the intermediate area of the defense. Here is a look at how we run it (see Diagram 2):
PS #1 – Go (20-yard looking point)
PS #2 – 15-yard Sweat Cut
PS #3 – 1-3 yard Slide
BS #1 – Slice
Our progression on Flood is built to put the same flat defender in stress. However, unlike Spot, the Flood concept is built to stretch the defense and move the flat defender outside of his comfortable limits. We use the PS #1 receiver to stretch the field vertically. He is not allowed to look back for the football until he reaches a 20-yard looking point. His main objective is to occupy the corner and/or safety help down the field. In very few instances a blown coverage may allow for him to receive the football. The PS #2 receiver is working on a 15-yard speed cut to the sideline. His main objective is aligning in a position where he can create space working to the sideline, while also giving him enough space to work an outside release around the flat defender. The optimal breaking point for this route is in the area of 12-13 yards, rolling into the break and flattening at 15-yards. Lastly, the third component to this concept is our flat route, which is run by our PS #3 receiver in this scenario – he should be no deeper than 3 yards to create optimal space in the triangle.
Quarterback Progression – Spot and Flood Concepts
The read and progression for the quarterback within these two concepts are ultimately the same. Pre-snap, his job is to identify the flat defender. Once this is declared in his mind, he will target this player on his sprint. The flat defender typically provides a clear indicator of what he is going to do. If the flat defender drops or sinks beyond his starting point, we want to be able to dump the football to the flat and take the loose change they provide. In the end, all of the loose change adds up. If the flat defender is willing to jump the flat and take away the most immediate and easiest throw, the quarterback will alter his eye level and work to the intermediate portion of the concept. In both of these concepts, a busted coverage is generally the only time we would hit the deep ball for a home run. The greater purpose of the deep routes is actually to occupy two defenders. If he can accomplish this, then we will be able to attack one defender with two well-spaced routes. In some situations, the coverage may take the concept away. In this case, the quarterback is already on the move and his best decision is to run and pick up what he can.
Attacking Defenses with Sprint Out
Safety alignment is the first indicator the quarterback must identify when we come to the line of scrimmage in all of our pass concepts. We must clearly locate where the safeties are aligned in order to identify a one-high coverage or a two-high coverage. We handle one-high alignment in the form of Cover 3 or Man Free. We look at a general two-high alignment to dictate Quarters or a variation of Cover 2. This is an important step in the quarterback’s process to identify the flat defender. He must be able to process what he sees in order to turn it into a successful play call.
When one-high coverage is identified vs. a 3×1 set, we can expect a general variation of Cover 3 (in most cases) and in more limited scenarios, Man Free. We mainly see man coverage in the red zone or short yardage scenarios. In a Cover 3 look, the flat defender, more often than not, is defined as the safety, allowing the Sam linebacker to hang the box. This is where we see the most overflow to our sprint out concept and the linebackers have an easier time running over the top. This allows the defender who is hanging the box to drop or pressure the quarterback. A safety is a more athletic variable defending the flat, which puts more pressure on the receivers to be impeccable with their route technique. From a play-calling standpoint, we view this alignment in a one on one matchup – therefore, we must design our best concepts to defeat these principles. Our most effective concept vs. one-high is our comeback concept to the sideline (see Diagram 3). We are able to use our PS #1 receiver on a 14-yard comeback, while PS #2 clears out the concept on an inside fade, and PS #3 runs his traditional slide. This concept sells two vertical threats to stretch the defense and keep them over the top of the concept, freeing up space underneath on the comeback, working to the slide.
Working against a two-high alignment (3×1 or 2×2) presents a unique challenge in an attempt to identify the flat defender. Not only must we identify the safety alignment, but we must see the alignment of the corner as well. The majority of the looks we see provide two unique challenges. First, the outside backer is able to apex the formation, allowing the corner to play in an off coverage technique (we think Quarters). Second, the outside backer hangs the box, holding for a run threat, while the corner is rolled up (we think a variation of Cover 2). In this case, we view the corner as the flat defender. This is a great situation for us to run our spot concept (see Diagram 4). In either instance, our PS #1 receiver has the ability to chase space or play the inside hip of the flat defender, as a deep and shallow route put this player in conflict. Our quarterback must have the knowledge and vision to identify a hard two concept (Tampa) or a read two concept (Palms). In both of these instances, our spot concept is strong. The quarterback must understand how the corner is going to play the flat in order to make the best read.
Adjustments: Hitch Naked Package
We have a simple solution to counter the overflow that directs toward our sprint out package, hitch naked. Our sprint out package provides us a tremendous advantage to move the pocket and clean up our protection, while also having the ability to get the football to our playmakers in space. That said, there are instances where teams will overflow to the sprint out action. Some teams may send a field pressure if they see a tendency in our calls. Others may allow the flat defender to sink into coverage underneath our intermediate concepts while rolling a safety down to muddy the waters. There are also teams that may add a linebacker on second contain – in which case our quarterback must get rid of the football, as he is responsible for the Mike. Our hitch naked scheme allows us to tag a hitch (even a slant, speed out or fade) to the backside of our call, allowing the quarterback to make a decision based on what he sees pre-snap (see Diagram 5). I would like to be clear, this is a pre-snap decision only. Simply put, if the hitch has open access, we will take the hitch 100% of the time. Open access to us is defined as five yards of cushion or more. Thus, if the corner is playing deeper than five yards we will bang the hitch. If the corner is rolled up inside of five yards, he has taken the option away. If the hitch is taken from us, the quarterback will still provide an action as if he is throwing the hitch. He then departs the pocket on his sprint out path in an effort to freeze the linebackers from running underneath routes or to the quarterback.
The idea behind this concept is to slow down the overflow and allow our quarterback to see a clearer image as he works to the perimeter looking for a target. Within this adjustment, we are able to run the same concepts that we would run in our sprint out package, with a slight adjustment to our flat receiver. As we mentioned above, our flat receiver would often run a slide. In our hitch naked series, this player will run a walk-off. This allows him to time the route to the flat based on the quarterback’s delayed departure from the pocket. In doing this, he is not out of sight when the quarterback breaks the pocket looking for a target. This series is a great counter to the immediate flow and overplay we see in our sprint out package. Being able to adjust with our hitch naked series allows us to keep the defense honest and more balanced in predictable sprint out situations.
I would like to thank the AFCA, specifically Damon Tomeo – Head Football Coach at Knox College – also a member of the Technical Manual Committee, for providing me the opportunity to contribute to this year’s summer manual. There have been a variety of articles written with different ideas and philosophies to improve the game of football, and I’m honored to be able to share some of the things that I find beneficial in what we do at Maine Maritime. My hope is that this article was helpful and provided you with some insight to improve your sprint out and passing game efficiency. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me at email@example.com.
Matthew Reed returns to Maine Maritime Academy to coach the quarterbacks and running backs for his fourth season on the sidelines with the Mariners, after previously serving as an Assistant Coach during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Reed has also served as the recruiting coordinator at Grinnell College in Iowa. Reed also coached wide receivers at Knox College.
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