Clemson\'s quick passing game out of the shotgun by: Rich RodriquezOffensive Coordinator/ Assistant Head Coach, Clemson University
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As with any offensive system, several aspects must be executed with consistent precision in order to effectively move the ball and score points. One of the most important aspects we feel is crucial to our success is the quick passing game. Because we run about 80 percent of our offense out of the shotgun, we must be able to execute the quick game out of the gun as well.
As everyone knows, you must have crisp timing in your execution of the quick passing game. We feel our timing is often better in the shotgun than it would be under center. We will still go under center on occasion, with the traditional quick 3-step drop (one big and two gather steps), but we prefer to be in the shotgun and use a catch and throw with our quick game route packages.
The components of our quick game include the following facets:
One advantage of the shotgun quick game is that the zone dropping linebackers or secondary won't get as fast a read that a quick pass is coming as they would if the QB went under center and did his quick three-step drop. So instead of buzzing flat underneath routes, the LB's/DB's must hesitate a little longer to clear the run or drop-back passing game. Another advantage of the shotgun is that the QB (especially if he is under six feet tall) can get a better pre-snap read of the defense because he is lining up five yards behind the line of scrimmage. Our pre-snap read will determine which side of the formation the QB will work after the snap. If the snap is poor (extremely high or low), then the shotgun becomes a disadvantage because the QB has to shift his eyes completely to the ball and he will lose his pre-snap read.
We want our centers to snap the ball firmly around chest-high and preferably to the right side of the quarterback's chest (if the QB is right-handed). The important thing with the center snap is that it is firm and consistent. If the snap is consistently to the left side of the QB, then you can move the QB's stance slightly to the left to compensate. It is also important that the centers work diligently on their snaps while taking their protection steps (either man or gap protection). It helps to have a flexible center and he must be able to "sit" on the ball to be effective. A high snap is often the result of a center's rear end rising up too soon.
Our QB will line up five yards from the ball with his arms out (but elbows bent) to receive the snap with a slightly staggered stance (right foot to left heel) with the feet underneath the armpits.
The Catch and Throw:
The QB will get a pre-snap read before the cadence and then prepare himself to catch and throw the ball as quickly as possible. We will use the analogy that he is a shortstop in baseball preparing to "turn the double play" as he will move his hips and his feet quickly and he is surveying the coverage as he gets the laces. The QB (with a decent snap) should be able to catch and throw in 1.4 seconds or less. We work on this technique more than any other in practice and the best drill we do for this is when we feed a QB five balls from a bag as quick as we can and he must catch and throw them with accuracy.
Because we will determine what side of the field we will attack with our pre-snap read, the QB's eyes can focus on the ball with peripheral vision on that half of the field as he readies his feet, hips, and shoulders for the throw. And we remind our QBs, timing and accuracy are more important than velocity.
All of our quick game routes (except the fade) have pre-determined steps so it is important that our WR's get in a good stance and do not false step. They must be physical and quick versus press man and they must attack the defender's outside shoulder on the snap (slot receivers will attack over their alignment in zone coverage).
It is very important in our many formations that our WRs have the proper alignment on all of our plays and spacing is very critical in our quick game. Our base alignment in our four-WR set has our outside receiver to the short side (X) five yards from the sideline; our outside WR to the wide side (Z) is five yards outside the hash; our inside receiver (H) to the short side of the splits the difference between the X and offensive tackle; our strong side slot (Y) lines up 1 yard inside the hash. As a general rule, in nearly all of our formations the WR will always have 5-6 yards between them and the nearest offensive player. Our receivers have their inside foot up in their stance.
Our QB is five yards from the ball in the shotgun, with our tailback also at five yards directly behind the tackle.
We will use either a gap or man protection-based on our formation. However, occasionally the protection will be based on the defensive scheme we are attacking if the formation allows for either man or gap protection. In both cases, our offensive line will be aggressive on the line of scrimmage and will attack the mid-section of the rushers to keep their hands down and not allow penetration.
Most of our quick game route packages are mirrored routes so we can work on either side of the defense. This allows our QB to have a helpful pre-snap read and to force the defense to balance their coverage from sideline to sideline. Our QB will always locate the free safety before each snap and then take a quick pre-snap read of the coverage before having the ball snapped. With the many disguises, rolled coverages and variety of coverages that are employed with today's defenses, the QB must not rely solely on the pre-snap read to determine where to throw; it will, however, help him to pick a side to work.
The post-snap read depends on the route package, but most of the time it is the flat defender (a corner with a two-safety look or a Will LB/strong safety with a single-safety look).
Quick Game Route Packages:
We have four quick game route packages that we will use in every game. We like to use a multitude of formations with each package, particularly with all of our spread formations. We feel that the execution of these packages is vital for us in order to have an answer for the many different defenses that we could face.
These four packages include: The Hitch, Slant, Fade/Bow and Skinny.
HITCH: (Diagrams 1 & 2)
WR - run five-step hitch (sell the fade); inside foot is always up in the stance; snap head and elbow back to QB on fifth step.
TB - in backfield, block protection; in no-back formation, run hitch.
O-Line - Man or gap aggresive protection.
QB-pre-snap read for softest coverage; if the coverage is equally soft, then work the shortest throw; post-snap read the flat defender to the side you pick. Catch and throw as quickly as possible.
Notes: We like to throw the hitch package out of many formations and the WRs will not convert their route on the run if the corner squats or lines up in press. We will, however, change to another package (slant or fade/bow) before the snap if we think it is a hard, two-deep corner or if we like one of our match-ups in press coverage.
SLANT: (Diagrams 3 & 4)
WR - run three-step slant (attack outside shoulder of defender) and in at about a 45 degree angle. NEVER go behind the defender. Inside (slot) receivers should break flatter verses press coverage.
TB - block protection or play-fake in front of QB (diagram D).
O-Line - man or gap aggressive protection.
QB - pre-snap read the coverage; post-snap read the flat defender. Catch and throw (you may need to "squeeze the trigger" and hold the ball for a faction of a second if it is Cover 3 and the flat defender sits in the throwing lane).
Notes: We like to throw the slant versus a two-deep safety defense and we will sometimes have the back fake a run play before he protects to hold the outside linebackers.
FADE/BOW: (Diagram 5)
WR - outside receivers (X & Z) run a fade route (must outside release); inside receivers run a four-step speed out (we call this a "bow" route). The X & Z must fight to stay at least 3 yards in bounds.
TB - block protection or play fake.
O-Line - man or gap aggression protection.
QB - pre-snap read the coverage; post-snap read the flat defender or find the best match-up versus man coverage. Catch and throw as quickly as possible. Versus hard corner two-deep stick the ball in the hole to X or Z. When throwing the fade DON'T throw the ball out-of-bounds, drop it in the bucket about three yards from the sideline.
Notes: We put an orange line on our practice fields 3 yards from the sidelines so our WRs and QBs will know their landmarks on the fade route.
SKINNY: (Diagram 6)
WR - outside receivers (X & 2) run a five-step skinny post. Attack the outside shoulder of the defender and give him a good "stick" move on his fifth step and then break in at about a 60-degree angle. The WR should not crossthe hash mark. Inside receivers (Y & H) will shuffle for width on the snap and slightly turn his numbers to the QB for easier target.
TB - block protection on play fake.
O-Line - man or gap aggressive protection.
QB - pre-snap read the coverage; post-snap read the flat defender. Versus a single safety look be prepared to throw away from middle safety if he cheats to one side (see him with his peripheral vision as he gets the laces).
Notes: It is obviously a better route verses a single safety defense and we will sometimes check out of the package if we know they are playing two-deep. The QB may "squeeze the trigger," like a slant route, if the flat defender is playing in between the skinny and shuffle routes.
Conclusion: As previously mentioned, we feel that the efficient execution of our shotgun quick game is one of the most important components of our offense. We devote a lot of practice time to each area of the quick game and feel we can put a lot of stress on the defense by using the route packages out of many formations.