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The Triple ScreenUsing a spread defense to create offensive opportunities
by: David Buchanan
Head Coach at Mason County H.S., Maysville, KY
© August 2008
It started with a sophomore defensive end on the scout team during the 2007 spring practice. When this inexperienced defender was able to blow up our jailbreak screen because he recognized the tackle was leaving to block the perimeter, it was another sign that we needed to address the fact that defensive teams have improved in their defending of the spread and screen game. Only four years earlier, our jailbreak screen, at times, had easily become a big play. Now, everyone was catching on to the movement of the linemen and inside receivers.
We knew we had to come up with a way to destroy the defense’s ability to read and react so well to our screen game. That same spring, we visited the clinic at the University of Kentucky. In 2006, the UK staff had been very effective in using their screen package. At their clinic that spring, Coach Joker Phillips talked about their screens with diagrams and videos. That clinic was the beginning of the triple screen. We took ideas from UK, Coach John Schlarman (then the head coach at Newport HS and now the offensive line coach at Troy University), and the blocking structure John Arn had brought to our program from Morehead State University. We were able to mesh those ideas into our triple screen. Every component was borrowed or stolen. But, to our knowledge, the total package had never been combined into one play or concept. Double screens were common but a triple screen was an entirely different story.
The concept behind the play is pretty simple. In one play, we wanted to be able to attack the left, right, and middle of the defense. And, we wanted to create a kickoff return type of play with an athlete carrying the ball with blockers in space. Nothing about the play indicates which way the ball will go.
The best formation to begin with the triple screen is the 2 x 2 set from the shotgun. We use this formation frequently so it made it an even better fit for us (See Diagrams 1-3 for the Triple Screen vs. different defenses).
The responsibilities are as follows for both the left and right side:
#1 WR: Drive up field for two steps. Then plant outside foot and return through the feet of the #2 receiver.
#2 WR: Drive up field for two/three steps. Then plant inside foot and drive flat to the corner to block him.
OT: Pass set two steps for a 1001, 1002 count and release to an alley which would take you through an OLB and to the corner. Get a piece of the defender rushing so that he cannot get to the QB before he makes his throw.
OG: Pass set two steps for a 1001, 1002 count, and release to an alley which would take you through an ILB and to a Cover 2 safety. Get a piece of the defender rushing so that he cannot get to the QB before he makes his throw.
C: Pass set two steps for a 1001, 1002 count and release down the middle of the field to block either the MLB to a Cover 3 free safety. Get a piece of the defender rushing so that he cannot get to the QB before he makes his throw.
RB: Step to the front side A gap as you would in pass protection. As you feel the pressure pass you, slide away from any defender and turn to face the QB.
QB: Take a 3-step drop, looking down the field. Throw to the WR on the side of the ILB that chooses to hang in the middle. If both ILB’s bail, throw the ball to the RB in the middle.
This play has been great for destroying reads. Before the triple screen, the releasing linemen would take you to the ball. Now, the left tackle is releasing but the ball could be in the middle of the field or on the right side of the formation. No longer could defenders count on running with the releasing lineman and be confident that they would reach the ball.
We are still learning about and experimenting with the triple screen. A few observations so far:
1. The most frequent and best opportunity has been the throw to the RB at this point. The edge players leave with the tackles and the interior defenders are trying to get a rush.
2. Even if the LB’s hang, if you have quality offensive guards, the throw to the RB can still be effective.
3. The triple screen has the potential to be a very effective tool against the popular and successful 3-3 Stack defense. If the stack backers bail, your G’s can double team the MLB, and the opportunity for a big play presents itself. One advantage of the 3-3 is that it can get nine defenders (ten if you count the MLB) to the perimeter in a hurry. Against the triple screen, that becomes an advantage to the offense.
4. Another option on the #1 WR is to release outside to the sideline at a 45 degree angle for two steps and then re-trace his steps all the way back to the # 2’s feet. This way, our different screens don’t all look the same. Now, maybe the corner thinks the WR is releasing to run a fade or hit the sideline. We can get him to back up and set up the # 2 or the tackle’s block.
5. The depth of the #1 WR is critical. His landmark must be at the #2 WR’s feet. By being too deep it disrupts the timing of the play and by being too shallow we risk the screen being thrown illegally and any defender coming off has a better chance of making the play.
When the 3-3 defense became more prominent and as defenses have caught up with the spread game, the thought has crossed my mind that maybe “the party is over” when it comes to spreading the field, scoring a bunch of points, etc. In building our program over the past twelve years, the spread game was a way for us to catch up with, compete, and win games against opponents that have been established much longer and have had quality programs for decades. One of our signature wins came on a night when we rushed for twenty-six yards! If teams were able to shut down our spread game, we would be in big trouble. We anticipate that the triple screen will be a major factor in allowing us to continue using our spread game with success.
WHAT IF? Q1. What if you’re facing a 3-4 or 3-5-3 defense with this play? Do your blocking assignments or routes change in any way?
No. It all stays the same. However, if in our scouting, we see the stack backers bailing hard in a 3-5, we will let the G’s combo the MLB. We discovered that opportunity during a walk through on a Thursday. It was great for us that Friday night – the kids executed well and it was a big play for us.
Q2. What if you face a blitz by both outside linebackers when up against a 4-4 defense? What adjustments and/or reads do you make?
That defense would be a great opportunity for us on the triple screen. We would have 7 blockers (5 linemen and 2 WR’s) blocking 5 people (3 DB’s and 2 ILB’s). If we saw a lot of that in scouting our opponent, we might let the G’s and T’s double the ILB’s to their side, similar to how we doubled the MLB in the 3-5-3.
Q3. What if the corners play press coverage on the wide receivers? Do any assignments change?
No assignments change. The block by the #2 WR becomes even bigger. If he executes, we have a home run. If not, we are in trouble. If the press corner is good enough to take away that WR, then we have given up a one for one trade, which is not good. We will tighten our receivers in other sets, but the triple screen may not be as good. Or, we could use motion to create a new #1 WR at least to one side so that press coverage is not as easy to apply.
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