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Why Split?

Offensive line splits at Texas Tech
by: Robert Anae, Ph.D.
Offensive Line Coach, Texas Tech.
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Meeting with an informal group of offensive line coaches at the national coaches convention this year, the question was asked about our wide splits in the bowl game. After some conversation with the group, it was clear that many of them had not watched us play prior to the Alamo Bowl. The truth of the matter is our offensive line has always used wide splits in some form.

I am confident that our offensive philosophy at Texas Tech is no secret, we intend to throw the football. Our offense reflects some of the recent trends in football to utilize spread shotgun formations. Perhaps the last frontier of offensive spread-out type formations is to widen the splits of the offensive line.

My intent for writing this article is to discuss the benefits we derive from wide offensive line splits while in spread type formations. I also hope that by writing this article, many questions might be answered as they relate to the puzzling phenomena of wide offensive linemen splits.

I have coached college offensive linemen for 13 years now. Most of the offenses that I have coached have been conventional type offenses with tight splits. I do believe that conventional tight splits for the offensive line are the result of trends towards zone and slide blocking schemes. Our emphasis at Tech has diverged from this trend. We are more man oriented in our schemes and thus we are able to widen our splits.

I first became exposed to wide splits in the passing game at BYU as a player. In 1984 as we prepared for our bowl game, my line coach, Roger French, encouraged us to split for this game. At one point he challenged us to split according to our athletic ability. As a coach, I too have challenged my players along the same line. Well, it didnít take long before they started to come up with 3 to 5 foot splits. Outside of testing the self-esteem of your players, we have found some real benefits for increasing the splits of the offensive linemen.

Photo 1

Wide pocket for the QB

Wide splits by the offensive line naturally create a wide pocket for the QB. As you begin to split your linemen out, the first thing you will notice is the large QB pocket. At Tech, we feel that the larger the QB pocket the more time the QB will have to make his reads and deliver the ball. Larger pockets have a tendency to generate more QB confidence in the protection. And finally, a larger pocket gives the QB more room to maneuver in.

It has been my experience that regardless of your splits, the defense will follow. If your splits are foot-to-foot, the defense will line up on you. If your splits are 3 to 5 feet wide they will also line up on you. The principle is that as you widen your offensive line splits, the defense will follow.

Spread formations for us at Texas Tech not only mean 3 or 4 wide receivers but it also means that the QB is in the shotgun position. The wide-outs spread the width of the field, the QB and the RBís spread the dept of the field for the offense. The spread of our formations along with the wide splits of the offensive line naturally constructs a larger pocket for the QB and the RBís to maneuver in.

Coming up through the LaVell Edwards BYU offense, I learned an important fundamental about protecting the QB. In some form or fashion, protecting the QB comes down to one-on-one blocking. In other words, you are only as good as your one-on-one match ups. If you are interested in releasing 4 or 5 eligible receivers down field, you must be able to win 3 or 4 one-on-one pass rush battles every play. Makes no sense to gloat over two-on-one victories. You ought to win those every time. At Tech our overall effectiveness in protecting the QB is measured by our ability to win one-on-one match ups.

Wide splits open up passing lanes

Wide splits in our offense also help to open up passing lanes for the QB. As I coached in conventional offenses, the splits were narrow and the QB took all snaps under center, batted balls were always a maintenance item. Some coaches feel that a batted ball is the QBís fault and others blame the offensive lineman. Regardless of who you wish to blame, narrow pass lanes are narrow pass lanes. Iím not saying we didnít get a single ball batted down this season however, I am saying that it is not the maintenance item is once was.

Photo 2

Wide offensive line splits coupled with the shotgun formation opens up many passing lanes for the QB. As the QB takes his drop from gun, his launch point is anywhere from 7 to 12 yards from the LOS. As your offensive line creates wide splits this separates the defensive linemen. Both of these factors contribute to enlarging the pass lanes. This enables the QB to not only feel his pass lanes better but he canít help but notice the large lanes opening right in front of him. Our QB, Kliff Kingsberry, has done an outstanding job of maximizing the wide pass lanes created by the offensive line.

The primary reason for larger passing lanes is the increased space that the defensive line has to cover. Spreading out players in wide-open formations has caused defenses to open up. The concept is the same in the trenches. As you split out wide, the defense is required to defend more space. Consequently, passing lanes are larger.

Large passing lanes also helps the quick passing game. Some 3-step drop pass protection schemes have the O-line cutting the defenders and thereby lowering the defense. My experience with cutting for the quick game is that the QB has time to make one read and if that read isnít there he then gets hit and has to throw the ball away. This doesnít work for our quick passing game at Texas Tech. We continue to block while the QB goes to the open guy. So for us we create passing lanes not by attempting to cut the defensive linemen, rather we rely on our the wide splits to open up pass lanes for our quick passing game.

Wide Splits open up run lanes

Wide splits can also create open run lanes for the offense. Spread formation type offenses have become very creative in scheming runs. We have found that wide splits also create natural running lanes. Our running back, Ricky Williams, was especially good at finding the seams on quick hitting runs as well as draws.

Inside runs for us hit in the A or B gaps. Our wide splits have created larger gaps for these types of plays to hit. I have found however, that any attempt to run the ball between the tackles with wide splits must be able to exploit the leverage of the defensive lineman in favor of the offensive lineman. With narrow splits you might get away with leverage mismatches but with wide splits you will be exposed.

Photo 3

Let me illustrate this point. Letís say you have handed the ball to the RB and he is headed toward the Right Guard. If the Left Guardís guy is in the A gap between him and the center, the defender has the better leverage to the ball. This scenario has created an impossibility for the Left Guard. The point being, scheme runs that take advantage of your splits rather than the other way around.

Wide splits also help develop wide lanes for the draw play. Most pass first offenses use the draw play as a primary run. We have had some success running the draw against every one of our opponents. The draw works great when the first level of the defense is rushing the QB hard and the second level of the defense is hurried into their pass drops. Unfortunately, the draw doesnít work to good when the rush is soft and the LBers are sitting at the LOS. There have been occasions where this was the case and the draw still worked because our wide splits created openings as each guy blocked their guy.

Wide Splits aligns the offensive lineman closer to the screens

Many WR screens in todayís game require an offensive lineman to make a critical block to spring open the screen. All to often the screen doesnít work because the offensive linemanís block is just one step short.

Photo 4

Greater splits create two advantages for offensive lineman as they attempt to make this block. First, the wide split actually puts that lineman one step closer to the block simply by his alignment. The second advantage is perhaps more beneficial to the lineman. The wide splits create more spacing in the release lane. In other words, by widening our splits our offensive linemen have opened up the lane thereby creating a clear path to the block point. This open lane helps the lineman avoid getting caught up in blitzís or twits as he releases.

In many of our WR screens the offensive lineman must get to the block point and make the block in order for the screen to work. It has been my experience that wide splits are a tremendous help to the linemen in accomplishing this task. Our offensive lineman is able to get to the block at a better rate that the other places that I have coached at.

Nothing about the screen game can replace the need for good blocking. There will always be an emphasis on the offensive lineman taking the proper angle. And perhaps the most important factor is the individual offensive lineman being an athlete and making the block. All this aside, we have found that the wide splits have helped us place the offensive lineman at the scene in time to make the block.

Some Conclusions and Precautions

As you may have already concluded the overall purpose of wide offensive lineman splits is to create more space for the offense to maneuver. At Texas Tech, our offense has found this added space to be beneficial to the run, pass and screen aspects of the offense. Our QB feels very comfortable with it. And we all know that a confident QB adds wonders to your offensive productivity.

Because of the limited scope of this article I have chosen to simply highlight some of the benefits that wide offensive line splits have in our offense at Texas Tech. Left out of this are important discussions on how to implement wide offensive line splits in the offense. I also have omitted all the discussions on how to teach, train and coach offensive lineman to perform in this new function. The implementation and the coaching aspects of wide offensive line splits like anything else takes time, commitment and expertise. A word of caution to offensive coaches. Learn as much as you can about wide splits before you implement them in your offense. If your guys donít know what theyíre doing, the QB will get hit and lose his confidence in the line.

The last precaution I would like to add here is a personal issue. Two years ago when our staff first got to Tech, one of the first things I did was reassign positions to the offensive linemen. I converted the starting OTís into Guards and the back up OTís into starting OTís. The pure guard types and the short, non-athletic guys were automatically passed up in favor of the taller and more athletic linemen. The point here is, if you intend to stretch the spacing of the defense by widening your splits, you cannot be successful if you are using short, non-athletic linemen. The short, non-athlete is limited in the space he can effectively operate in.

What kind of strategy does this put on recruiting? To successfully recruit the kind of linemen you need for success in the spread out formation passing type offense you need to be guided by a few specifics. At Texas Tech, I have requested our recruiters to scout for athletes that are 6í5Ē or taller and are about between 250 and 280 lbs. These however are simply starting points. Other qualities such as work ethic, overall tuff-ness, and character are equally important. The point being, if all else is equal go for the taller and better athletes. In principle everyone agrees with this, however in practice every year coaches are trying to sell short offensive linemen. You may survive with an occasional short center but anything further is asking for trouble.

Lest anyone misunderstand, by widening your offensive line splits and spreading the field with one back formations you have challenged the defense into a space game. In other words, you are challenging them to something that they already do well. Which is, to play in space. To be successful at this you too must also put space players on the field. This not only refers to skilled players but more importantly to trench players.

Like all staffs, we are constantly recruiting to improve our athleticism. We ended up 3rd in the Big 12 in total offense. So we have some work cut out for us to get to the very top of the conference in total offense. However, we are the clear front runners when it comes to throwing the football. In the course of our season we attempted 572 passes and were sacked 26 times. Some skeptics would critique the number of pass attempts. Not us, we only look to improve our athleticism up front and thereby reducing the number of sacks.


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