The best analogy for one-word tempo calls I’ve ever read likens them to ordering a value meal at a fast food restaurant. Why would you go through the trouble of ordering a double cheeseburger, medium fries, and a medium drink when you could just say “Number 1” and everyone would know exactly what you are talking about?
We use this concept at Oxford High School – one-word tempo calls – with a great deal of success. We finished last season with approximately 20 one-word tempo calls and averaged 7.5 yards per play. Each of these calls included formation, motions or shifts, and play.
Below, you will find three of our tempo calls. The first two concepts will be RPOs and the last will be a pass concept that works against multiple coverages.
3 x 1 H-Back RPO
Our first one-word call is based out of a 3×1 H-Back set with an extended split by the two receivers to the field. Our players know to automatically set the strength of this formation to the field, and the quarterback will adjust the direction of the play for the offensive line accordingly. (See Diagram 1)DIAGRAM 1
On this concept, the two receivers with the extended split run a “now screen.” This is the pre-snap RPO portion of our play. The quarterback is taught to look here first to see if the defense has adjusted to our extended split by widening the Sam linebacker or by rolling down the strong safety. If we have a 2-on-1 advantage, the quarterback will throw the now screen. If the defense has adjusted to put us in a 2-on-2 scenario, the quarterback will move on to the next part of his read. (See Diagrams 2-4)DIAGRAMS 2 DIAGRAM 3 DIAGRAM 4
Next, if our quarterback moves on from the now screen, he must identify whether the defense is in single safety or double safety. If the quarterback sees double safety, he will work the post-snap RPO portion of our play with the running back and H-back.
The running back is running inside zone and the H-back is running a seam route. Our offensive line will be blocking inside zone from the first uncovered linemen on the right side over. Any covered linemen on the right side will base block. This leaves the Mike linebacker unblocked, so our quarterback is taught to read him post-snap. If the linebacker hesitates at all, we will hand the ball to the running back. If the linebacker fills downhill immediately, we will throw the seam route to our H-back. (See Diagram 5)DIAGRAM 5
Finally, if our quarterback gets single safety, he must work his backside skinny post. A single safety defense can match our extended split 2-on-2, carry our H-back vertical, and keep the Mike linebacker in the box to outnumber us for the run. (See Diagram 6)DIAGRAM 6
We teach our quarterback to ride the ball in the belly of the running back to make the Will linebacker fit downhill for run. This opens the window for our boundary receiver to win across the face of the corner.
3×1 Detached RPO
Our next RPO is from a 3×1 detached formation. As before, our players are taught to automatically set the strength of the formation to the field. (See Diagram 7)DIAGRAM 7
Our first read on this tempo play is our boundary receiver hitch. This is a pre-snap RPO. If we get corner off, we will take the hitch into the boundary, unless there is an overhang player the quarterback believes can get in the throwing lane. We preach to our guys that we need to have a 100 percent completion rate on hitches into the boundary. For us, this is considered an extension of our run game. We do give our quarterback the ability to change this hitch to a fade vs. a press corner. (See Diagram 8)DIAGRAM 8
The next part of the read for the quarterback is the trips set to the field. If the quarterback believes we have a numbers advantage to the field, he will work there. This is also a pre-snap RPO. We have three variations of this RPO that we put in the same family for our quarterback and receivers to make the transition between these three as easy as possible.
The first variation of this RPO is a three-man bubble screen. The quarterback simply looks to see if we have a 3-on-2 advantage when deciding if he will throw this screen. (See Diagram 9)DIAGRAM 9
The second variation is a stick concept with a stick route by the No. 3 receiver and a bubble by the No. 2 receiver. On this concept, the No. 1 receiver still blocks for the bubble. Our quarterback is now reading the apex defender to determine whether to throw the stick or the bubble. (See Diagram 10)DIAGRAM 10
The third variation of this RPO is another stick-type concept where the No. 3 receiver bubbles and the No. 2 receiver runs a slant. The quarterback is again reading the apex defender on this concept. (See Diagram 11)DIAGRAM 11
If we have a tight corner in the boundary, and a 3-on-3 scenario to the field, the quarterback now executes a standard zone read concept. (See Diagram 12)DIAGRAM 12
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Empty Pass Concept
The final tempo concept we will discuss today is an empty pass concept that marries closely with some of the concepts we have already discussed.
On this concept, our players will automatically set the strength of the formation to the field with a trips set. The running back will become the No. 1 receiver to the boundary, with the X receiver reducing his split. (See Diagram 13)DIAGRAM 13
Our quarterback’s first read on this concept is a boundary hitch by our running back. Again, we emphasize 100 percent completion rate on a boundary hitch. (See Diagram 14)DIAGRAM 14
Next, our quarterback looks at our X receiver. If he is matched up with a linebacker with space inside to win, our quarterback works him on what we call a bench route. He can win underneath or over the top of that linebacker. This route also serves as our built in quick answer for pressure. (See Diagram 15)DIAGRAM 15
The final component of this play is a stick concept to the field. We do block at the No. 1 receiver on this concept because the ball will be out of our hand quickly no matter where the quarterback chooses to go with the ball. (See Diagram 16)DIAGRAM 16
These concepts have been very good to us over the years. We begin teaching them as part of our Day 1 install with our freshmen. For a young quarterback, the emphasis is on being decisive. We tell them, “We can fix a wrong decision, just make a decision fast and go with it.”
With enough reps, our quarterbacks can become great decision-makers and get us in a productive play a high percentage of the time. We believe that giving our quarterback the ability to be a great decision-maker helps us get the ball quickly into the hands of our best playmakers. It also helps us to always have a chance to be successful, regardless of defensive alignment or coverage.
This article was written by Chris Cutcliffe, Head Coach, Oxford (Miss.) High School.