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Releasing Five and Throwing Hot
by: Rob Spence
Co-Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach, Louisiana Tech
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In an effort to create a fully dimensional offense it is the opinion of this author that protections must be changed constantly to create defensive dilemmas. The ability to "free release" the running back in a one-back offense is critical to create a burden on the defense. It is essential that the running back be perceived as a viable receiving threat. This can only be accomplished through a protection that allows for the running back to release without regard to protection and a pattern scheme that considers the running back vital.

Five-Man Protection Concepts and How They Relate To The QB's Thought Process50-51 Scat Protection

The QB's understanding of the protection scheme is a priority when considering your teaching progression. The process begins with the triggerman's realization that he only has five protectors. The protection call will normally direct two offensive linemen to the call side. The QB understands one of the protectors is assigned to two defenders, if both rush the QB "handles" the unblocked defender with a "hot" throw. The three-man side of the protection is considered the backside. Anytime four defenders rush weak (away from the protection call) the QB must throw "hot". As a rule, we tend to free release the running back to the call side of the protection. This allows us to handle virtually all pressure on the call side with careful coordination between the pattern concept and the protection. Quick throws off of unblocked defenders are challenging, but when executed discourage more pressure. The QB will develop a confidence for making "hot" throws through practice and constant drill work.

The shotgun formation gives the QB certain inherent advantages when used in conjunction with this protection. The ability of the QB to do all of the above is enhanced measurably when the shotgun is employed. In addition, the QB can;

(1) better view the entire defense,
(2) identify the protection, and
(3) anticipate pressure.

In this protection concept, the ability to anticipate pressure cannot be overstated. The QB's conceptual understanding of how he is protected and the speed of his throws to "hot" receivers off of unblocked rushers is critical to the success of such a protection.

Theory of Offensive Line in 50-51 Scat Protection
(5-Man Protection Principles)

The offensive line must conceptualize the following principles in order to master this protection. The essence of the protection begins with the thought that the OL will block the most dangerous rushers. We will attempt to block the protection inside out and strive to maintain the integrity of the A & B gaps. In most cases, immediate outside pressure is handled by QB and RB execution. When encountering a four-man front (Diagram 1-2) the "hot" protection is a combination of the call side Tackle in a "dual read" and a line-slide or "pop" (double read technique by Center, L/R indicates direction) opposite the call.

When encountering a 3-4 defense (Diagram 3), or "double-bubble" look, both guards will double read; this is called a "molly" technique. Each guard will have the ability to help adjacent linemen and double team away from the call if the defenders they are responsible for do not rush. This concept is vital in order to secure the most dangerous rushers on the L .O. S. away from the protection call. Whenever possible, we attempt to provide our center with help on a nose tackle with a "two-way go". Within this philosophy the backside guard can also help on the backside end provided his responsibilities do not rush. We will always attempt to protect the backside with the uncovered linemen helping away from the protection call.

Diagram 1

Diagram 2

Diagram 3

The double eagle front or "46" defense (Diagram 4-5) will be blocked with a similar philosophy. The center will identify this front with a call and we will apply our protection unit based on the alignment of the "Mike" linebacker. If the Mike is call side (over the front side guard or wider) we will "dual read" both tackles. This implies they will set vertically to block the most dangerous threats to their respective B gaps. The tackle on the vertical set must identify the threat based on the perimeter look. If there is no perceived threat they will set firmer on the L.O.S. and block the defender that is over their alignment. We always consider the depth and the width of the perceived threats when setting vertically. This dual read by the offensive tackle is given the descriptive phrase of "big dual" so as not to confuse with the double read concept by the guards. If the Mike linebacker is aligned over the center or backside, we will block the five most dangerous rushers and slide all five to the Mike linebacker, leaving the call side rush end unblocked. This adjustment involves immediate QB recognition. In this scenario the QB is now throwing "hot" off the unblocked defensive end. In most cases this rusher will have "flare control" on the RB and "peel" with the free-release back on the scat route. It should be understood that the Mike linebacker is aligned weak for a definite purpose; he is most likely no longer responsible for the RB and will blitz or rush from this alignment. Therefore, it makes sense to slide your protection to the anticipated pressure.

Diagram 4

Diagram 5

It is a wise idea to incorporate a front call to identify the front structure that is encountered. The fronts are identified by how many down-linemen we are facing. In the most basic approach there are three, four, and five man fronts (double eagle). After the front has been defined the center must identify the declared LB'er. The OL will either "pop" or slide to the declared LB'er. While doing so the offensive tackle away from the "pop" or slide will execute the "big dual".

Basic Formation and Alignment Procedures of 50-51 Y "Flash"

Diagram 6

We begin our teaching of the 50-51 scat protection scheme with the installation of Y "Flash" from the above formation (Diagram 6). Alignments of the four wide receivers facilitate their assignments. Each receiver in our offense must understand that alignments are absolutely vital to the timing and execution of the offense. We will drill our alignments and assignments in a pre-practice walk-through and teach period until they become automatic. Our formations are numbered and therefore can easily be communicated in a "no-huddle" offense. Strive to keep verbiage to a minimum and communicate with simple terms that convey much information. The following are our alignments for 50-51 Y "Flash":

X Receiver alignment: Ball on the hash, align on bottom of numbers to 5 yards from sideline.

Ball off the hash, align on top of the numbers.

Z Receiver alignment: 3-5 yards from offensive tackle.

Y Receiver alignment: 7 yards from offensive tackle.

W Receiver alignment: 4 yards from Y receiver. This 4 yard relationship with Y is vital.

R Back alignment: 5 yards deep, outside shoe should split the crotch of the offensive tackle.

Basic Routes and Pattern Concept of 50-51 Y "Flash"

All the routes in the "flash" pattern are taught as locked routes with very few adjustments. This pattern is based on simple concepts and has answers to virtually every coverage. In many respects it is universal in its' application and therefore is an excellent utility play, good versus man or zone. In a basic overview there exists a curl/flat read on both sides, while also incorporating a shallow cross to hold the hook coverage. The very foundation of the "flash" concept involves the utilization of this aspect of the play. When and how to throw the shallow cross unlocks the true potential of this concept. The front side of this pattern is always considered the side that we will "free release" the RB. The key coaching points for the front side receivers are as follows:

Front Side Receiver Assignments

The Shallow Cross

The Y receiver will run the shallow cross route at a depth of 3 yards. The Y must stay on the move and always under the Mike linebacker. If possible the Y must distinguish between man or zone in his pre-snap read. If Y reads zone then he should take a delay step with his outside foot. This is a simple matter of lifting the outside foot up and putting it down slow. This simple maneuver will allow the Mike linebacker to drop and create a natural separation between Y's route and the linebacker. The receiver must run the route after the delay step with a tempo that is very close to full speed. If the receiver reads man coverage pre-snap then he must attack the technique of the defender covering him and separate, but never exceed the prescribed three yard depth. The Y receiver is normally the first receiver in the QB's progression. When he catches the ball he must re-direct "North-South" in two steps and avoid the temptation to continue running horizontally. We strive to get the Y receiver vertical after the catch. If the shallow cross does not get the ball quickly, then he will have held the hook coverage and created an offensive advantage for the outside receiver to work his stem route. In effect, the Y will open a "window" for the QB to throw the ball to the W receiver.

The Stem Route

The W receiver will run a stem route at 12 yards depth. We will incorporate a slight inside release when facing any "off" coverage and weave to our depth. The critical aspect of this route is to "burst" at the top of the route and read the drop of the first under coverage defender inside W's initial alignment. This defender is identified as the "curl defender" in most zone coverage schemes. Versus any zone coverage the receiver should search for a "window" or passing lane to the QB. Keep in mind, the stem route is working to identify the distortion in the under coverage. The inside release will facilitate this procedure. It is imperative that the receiver and trigger-man anticipate the void in zone. In fact, we train our QB's to "throw the receiver open" by actually releasing the ball into the open zone in full anticipation that the receiver will feel the void. In many cases the receiver will literally not see the ball leave the QB's hand. At times this hole in the zone will be quite tight and therefore throws must be delivered on time with confidence. This type of timing is achieved with many repetitions and extensive drill work between QB and receiver.

When the W receiver encounters man coverage the basic techniques of the stem route stay the same with only a few subtle changes. The receiver will still utilize a slight inside release against any "off" coverage. It is imperative that the receiver use speed to weave and attack the outside shoulder of the corner. The receiver will do his best to threaten the corner deep with the outside weave. At the twelve yard depth the W receiver will burst and drive back to the ball. The QB is instructed to trigger on the receiver's burst, throwing the ball below his chin as he comes down the stem of the route attacking the ball. It must be emphasized that when executing this route versus any "off" man technique the receiver must separate, coming directly back to the ball.

If the W receiver encounters "press" man technique we stay with the stem route and do not convert. The W receiver will use the concept of "best release", favoring an outside release. This type of route against press coverage can be difficult to execute if the receiver cannot get vertical and threaten the corner deep. Therefore, much time and attention must be focused on release techniques and proper use of hands. At the top of the stem route the receiver must be physical and come get the ball. Press coverage on stem routes presents tremendous challenges for outside receivers to execute properly.

The R Back

The RB will execute the scat route making sure to align with an outside foot to crotch relationship behind the offensive tackle. This alignment is vital if the scat route is to stretch the under coverage and beat man coverage. The scat route is a 6 step sprint for width while losing a full yard in depth during the initial two steps. The RB is coached to not turn and look for the ball until the 6th step. The landmark for the scat route is as wide as the W receiver's original alignment. Conceptually we hope to replace the W receiver with the immediate width of the scat route. The critical coaching point for the scat route is that we desire the same rate of turn and therefore consistency in how the route is run. This is necessary to create an absolute confidence in the QB and a dramatic increase in accuracy. The balls we throw to the scat are caught on or close to the L.O.S., just past the W receiver's original alignment. The QB should throw the ball an arm's length in front of the up-field number of the scat route. This insures that the RB is catching the ball going "North-South" and can gain valuable yards after the catch. After the catch, we stress to the RB that he should out run the coverage to the sideline and "make war" with the corner. In essence, we have created a one-on-one match-up with our RB and a corner who has been "softened" by the stem routes vertical push. We also believe that we have our best athlete "in space" and will force the corner to make a one-on-one tackle. This we consider to be a positive match-up for the offense and the very foundation for our style of attack.

When attacking man coverage the RB will normally find the defender who is attempting to cover him running from an inside-out position. Usually this will be the Mike linebacker in a "chase" to match-up with the free release scat route. We now have as we like to say here, "A thoroughbred on a plow horse", and our thoroughbred better WIN! One final coaching point of great importance, when facing any outside pressure, the RB's tempo on the scat should increase and he should expect the ball sooner. The QB, versus unblocked outside pressure, will throw the ball to the scat route. The tempo and timing of this throw is always based on the protection and the proximity of the pressure.

Base Backside Route Combination50-51 Y "Flash"

Our base backside combination is a stem - 3 step rollover (flat route). We will run a variety of combos based on the coverage concept we will be facing. The most universal and effective combo continues to be our standard stem/rollover. The X receiver's route is coached exactly like the W receiver's route on the front side with no exceptions. Again, alignment of the X receiver is crucial if we are to have proper timing and execution.

The Z receiver will run the 3 step rollover. With the outside foot back, the Z will push vertically and execute a speed cut on the third step. This is preferable to other types of flat routes in our opinion because the technique gives us both speed and a means of standardizing the depth of the route, thereby giving the QB a consistent target to hit on time. This combination contains a built in "hot" on the backside with no need for a sight adjustment by either X or Z. The depth of the rollover and speed of the route make it the perfect quick throw versus a "four-weak" blitz of any type or variety.

As we approach our teaching progression of the 50-51 Y "Flash" concept we install the play with an understanding that the QB will choose the backside only when encountering certain looks and coverage concepts. One obvious reason to select the backside of the pattern will be when our protection cannot handle the 4th rusher backside. Although there are other reasons for the QB to select this side to work, we feel it necessary to incorporate this concept immediately when teaching the 50-51 Y "Flash".

The QB Procedure 50-51 Y "Flash"

The QB's procedure will directly relate to the efficiency of this concept. In addition, this procedure will train the QB to operate effectively within the overall context of the offense. The procedure involves three steps. They are as follows:

(1) Scan the coverage. Is it man or zone coverage? Are there two safeties, one safety, or no safeties?
(2) Check the perimeter and the edges of the box. How will I be protected? Will I be protected?
(3) Point to the "hot" defender away from the protection call. You are identifying the defender that must come to create a "hot" throw away from the call side. This is vital if you do not have a built in "hot" receiver to handle a 4th rusher backside.

The cognitive skills of the QB are developed and sharpened by the questions the QB is taught to ask himself. This procedure creates a logical thought process that will lead to lightning fast decision-making and a quick trigger. The above procedure teaches the QB the relationship between the coverage and a front in a defensive scheme. This type of thought process gives the QB a "chance" to anticipate pressure and thus be accurate in the critical moments during the course of the contest.

The Progression and Trigger Process50-51 Y "Flash"

The progression for the 50-51 Y "Flash" is initially taught as

(1) shallow cross,
(2) stem,
(3) scat or Y-W-R, regardless of coverage.

The QB moves through the progression after the ball has been snapped with "eye fixes" focused on defenders we identify as "triggers". These triggers, or movement keys, determine which of the three receivers will get the ball. If the QB cannot throw on schedule, he is taught to either;

(1) escape up-field and find a "bubble" in the front (i.e., QB draw), or
(2) throw the ball away.

An athletic QB can therefore become a tremendous threat in this concept.

The QB secures the shotgun snap and takes what we call a "tempo" drop. This means three steps as fast or as slow as they need to be to deliver the ball on time. The steps are never rushed, with rhythm and balance being a priority. The first linebacker in the "box" to the call side we identify as the Mike linebacker. The shallow cross route is "triggered" or thrown off of the initial reaction of the Mike linebacker. We tell the QB the Mike linebacker can react in only four ways. Three of the reactions require the ball be triggered to the shallow cross. The Mike can do the following: (diagram 8)

Diagram 8

(1) Zone drop while getting depth at an angle with his eyes on the QB.
(2) "Flash" or run with the RB at the snap.
(3) "Blitz" or inside pressure through the A-B gap.
(4) "Box out" or wall off the Y on the shallow cross at the snap. The Mike finds the shallow cross immediately, gaining eye contact with the route.

Given any of the first three reactions, the QB must trigger the shallow cross on his third step with no bounce. The simplest way to get the ball triggered on time is tell the QB, "throw the shallow cross unless the Mike walls off", in which case the QB proceeds to the stem - scat progression. This can happen only if the QB glances or gets his initial eye-fix on the Mike linebacker. With practice the coach can make this a reaction and not a thought process.

When first teaching the concept, a coach can easily simulate the Mike reactions. We will teach the concept of the play by working with just a QB-center exchange, Mike linebacker, and a Y receiver. Proceed to the next phase of the progression only after the QB gets a feel for throwing the shallow cross. In your drills it is important to show the QB all potential reactions of the Mike linebacker. The ball will be thrown just in front of the Y receiver's up-field number with touch. This allows the Y to run through the ball and redirect "North-South" in two steps! In other words, get up field after the catch. All shallow cross throws are caught in the approximate area of the front side guard, never past the original position of the center. Where the ball is caught is determined solely by the timing of the throw. It should be emphasized that the shallow cross concept can be very difficult to stop and will create big play potential on a rather easy throw and catch, therefore making this aspect of the play work is vital to the success of the entire package.

If the QB is forced to proceed in his progression to the stem route, then we instruct him to trigger off of the under coverage defender just inside of the W receiver. (diagram 9)

Diagram 9

The W receiver is reading this defender in search of the "window" or passing lane to the QB. This defender, in zone defenses, is considered the curl defender. In any zone defense we feel this defender, based on demeanor and body position can "hold off the curl" and force the QB to throw the free-release scat route. Our coaching points on when to throw the stem are based predominately on the curl defender's shoulders. If the curl defender is dropping with his shoulders at an angle, then we instruct the QB on three steps and a bounce to deliver the ball now! Throw the ball in the void and let the receiver come inside and get it. It is important to teach the QB to be aggressive with this throw. The curl defender may level off and play with his shoulders parallel to the L.O.S. In this case the QB will now throw the ball to the scat route with the same timing he would throw to the stem route. Both routes are thrown in basically the same time frame. It should be stated, QB's who become proficient and confident can open up downfield stem throws with proper use of their eyes. A QB who gains an understanding of the impact his eyes can have on the under coverage will actually be able to "steer" defenders one way or another and trigger opposite their reaction. (insert diagram 9)

Working The "Backside" of The 50-51 Y "Flash"

Once the QB understands the frontside combination, then and only then, do we discuss the potential for working the backside two receiver combination. It should be clearly stated that in this package the QB always works half of the field. He will pick the advantage side and progression read with a defender being a movement key or trigger. In most cases the advantage side is the scat or three receiver side. Yet there are times to work the backside stem-rollover combination. Examples of this would be;

(1) strong rotation,
(2) no backside flat coverage,
(3) man coverage with a "high-safety" over the #2 receiver, and
(4) any "4 weak" over-load blitz.

When triggering the backside stem-rollover combination we will always progression read, rollover to stem or Z-X. The QB will in most cases know when and how to trigger if he will identify the curl defender and throw off his reaction. (diagram 10) Throws to the rollover are thrown on the QB's third step, provided the curl defender is backing up. The QB will read the demeanor and shoulder position of this defender as he loads to throw. If the curl defender starts to move to the rollover, the QB will trigger the stem route on three steps and a bounce. When facing any man coverage the trigger will stay the same, although the QB may determine his throw pre-snap based on the principle of depth and leverage of defenders. Most coaches would define this as a curl/flat read and most would agree that the concept may be simple, but it is altogether effective.

Diagram 10

Pressure and Blitz

This play is of great value to our offense for a variety of reasons. We believe strongly that it contains built in answers to many forms of defensive pressure. The QB must be trained beginning with the first day of installation on how to cope with the inevitable blitz and zone pressure schemes that are employed by today's defenses.

Our initial teaching progression verses blitz begins with the QB's understanding of the 50-51 protection and how the pattern concept is related closely to the protection scheme. Conceptually, the pressure is divided into three categories and each demands a different response from the QB. The defensive pressure schemes are divided into:

(1) inside pressure schemes,
(2) outside pressure, and
(3) four rushers weak or over-load weak.

Inside pressure is usually encountered when facing some type of six man box, most commonly referred to as a 4-2 nickel front. By definition, we consider this type of pressure to mean that the Mike linebacker is rushing through the A or B gap. In addition, this usually equates to man coverage although not always. Versus inside pressure the QB's thought process is simple. Throw the shallow cross on your third step. It is vital to remember the Mike linebacker will be blocked by the front side offensive tackle on a "big dual" set, if the tackle deems the linebacker a threat. When the offensive tackle does not deem the Mike a threat, he will not block him. If the Mike comes from a depth of four yards or more and the QB is at five yards depth in the shot-gun, it is very difficult to run those nine yards and hit the QB before he releases the ball on his third step. This throw should be practiced daily versus this blitz to insure there is a high level of confidence in this phase of the play. (diagram 11)

Diagram 11

Two points of emphasis must be made in regard to this particular pressure. First, the Y receiver must win his match-up if the coverage is some type of man scheme and the QB's throw must be accurate so the receiver can run through the catch producing those valuable "yards after catch" or YAC. Secondly, if it is zone pressure, the Y receiver should treat any defensive lineman dropping from the front as if they are the Mike linebacker. This means run the shallow cross under the dropper at three yards depth. We will usually complete the shallow cross and force the defensive lineman to account for his zone. This coaching point will allow us to avoid throwing interceptions vs. zone pressure.

When executing the play against outside pressure, the QB must first understand the basic protection concept involved. It is imperative that he realize when, where, and how he is protected so he can anticipate his throws off of unblocked defenders. The QB should realize that he will have two offensive linemen protecting in direction of the free release RB. If the defensive scheme rushes three from the call side of protection, the QB answers with a "hot" throw to the front side. The basic coaching point for the QB is to throw "hot" to the free release scat if the defense brings the rusher from outside our front side tackle. This is not as difficult as it might appear because the trigger man can:

(1) see the pressure, provided he has used the proper PSR (pre-snap read) procedure, and
(2) understands the protection concept that we are employing. (diagram 12)

Diagram 12

It should be noted in the above situation that the RB is now in a veritable "foot race" with the Mike linebacker after the catch. Obviously, the accuracy of the throw will give the RB the best chance to produce yards after the catch. We believe this scenario to be a strong match-up advantage with the offense having an excellent chance to come out ahead.

It should also be noted that outside pressure does not always force the QB to throw "hot". A clear understanding of the front structure and the protection philosophy will allow the QB to hold the ball and work through the progression to make the best throw. An example of such a situation would be when encountering a 3-4 alignment with both outside linebackers rushing. (diagram 13)

Diagram 13

Diagram 14

In the above situation, the QB is protected by the double read or "molly" technique of both offensive guards. We now have a "hat for a hat" and the QB can work through his progression/trigger mechanics. It is obvious that there is a strong relationship between the protection and the pattern concept. This is a worthy goal to strive for in all aspects of your passing attack.

With regard to blitz and pressure, the QB must be clued into one final situation. What if the defense chooses to rush 4 defenders weak? The over-load blitz weak will out number our protection unit away from the protection call, therefore the QB must be taught to throw "hot" away from the free-release RB. Again, a clear understanding of the philosophy and concept of the protection is of the utmost importance for the QB to answer the pressure. In our teaching progression, this would be the very first situation that actually calls for the QB to work opposite the free-release scat or three receiver combination. When the defense adds a fourth rusher away from the protection call, the QB throws "hot" to the Z receiver on the roll over. (diagram 14)

In the above situation the center would always execute a "double read" and "pop" to the "Will" should the Mike not blitz. The center must block the blitzing Mike in this scenario, therefore allowing the Will linebacker to rush unblocked. The QB "blocks" the pressure with: (1) complete understanding of the protection, and (2) a "hot" throw off the unblocked rusher.

In most cases this equates to pure blitz or 7-man pressure and this would imply that an outside rusher must have flare control, or "peel" to cover the free-release RB. For this very reason the defense must insure that their pressure/blitz game is sound versus the flash game. This threat can actually help the offense, and in some situations, reduce true 7-man pressure. In summary, the QB's ability to throw off of the unblocked defenders is enhanced if he can conceptualize the protection. This will give the QB the opportunity to:

(1) anticipate throws,
(2) increase accuracy, and
(3) protect himself.

Being able to actually see unblocked pressure and have a built in "hot" throw is essential to this process.

The ability to free release the RB can add tremendous flexibility to the offense and create more preparation time for the defense. This is especially true if you have an outstanding player that occupies the RB position. In addition, the 50-51 protection can help create a fully dimensional offense, when mixed judiciously with a 6-man protection and maximum protection scheme. Mixing protection concepts is key to keeping defenses from "teeing off" and helps reduce predictability. When today's defenses can "count on a look", then watch out and hold on to your hat! It must be emphasized that this concept is only part of the puzzle, but it will help the other pieces fit together.

The final aspect of this package is that we are allotted tremendous flexibility with regard to route combinations and formations, once the basic concepts are mastered. Combined with RB motion, the scat package can become quite a significant portion of your offense.


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