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The Sprint-Out Passing Game for a Smaller, More Athletic Quarterbackby: Dale Anderson
Head Coach, Southwest High School (KY)
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In high school football, you have to adjust your offense to the talent and ability of the players that you have. Unlike college, you cannot go out and recruit, so you must be able to adjust to the talent of your players. The quarterback position is a perfect example. You must adjust to your quarterback’s talent and abilities. At Southwestern, we had a four-year run in the shotgun spread offense because of two quarterbacks in a row that were 6’3” plus and had great arms. The shotgun spread was an offense that used their height and their throwing ability from the gun. We currently have some very athletic quarterbacks, but they are not suited for the shotgun spread. The quarterbacks we have are more suited to a passing game that emphasizes their athletic ability and speed. We want to use our quarterback’s strengths to attack a defense.
In the sprint-out passing game, the quarterback will sprint-out from under center or from the shotgun or the pistol. The quarterback will attack the defense with the threat of a run or a pass. The sprint-out passing game uses routes that put a lot of pressure on the edges of the defense. It is also very difficult to put pressure on the quarterback in the sprint-out passing game. The QB is on the move and not sitting in the pocket as a stationary target. This passing game is also a quick passing game. The QB basically has only one or two reads and will be passing the ball within 3 to 3.5 seconds. If no one is open, then the quarterback will run the ball.
When teaching the sprint-out passing game, you must teach your quarterback to throw on the run. This type of throw is a little different than throwing from the pocket. Being on the run, the quarterback has a lot of momentum on his throws. It is very important that he gets his elbow up on his sprint-out and follows through as he throws. If he doesn’t follow through, the ball will sail on the pass and he will overthrow his target. If he doesn’t get his elbow up, he will throw the ball low and into the ground or short of his target. As with any technique in football, we use drills to work on the quarterback’s throwing techniques on the run. Another important technique for the sprint-out quarterback is to get his shoulders square to throw the football. The quarterback’s shoulders must be headed downfield to throw the football effectively and it’s also important if he decides to run the ball.
One drill we use for the quarterback to help him with the sprint-out throwing technique is called “Round Robin”. The drill involves two quarterbacks at one time sprinting out and throwing the ball. We use a line spacer and two cones in this drill. We want the quarterback to sprint-out from under center by stepping to a point six yards behind the offensive tackle to the sprint-out side. At that point, we want the quarterback to square his shoulders to the line of scrimmage and be ready to throw the football (See Diagram 1).
Key things for the coach to look for: 1) As the QB sprints out, he needs to read the coverage downfield. His eyes should be on his key read. 2) The ball should be up above the shoulder with two hands on the ball preparing to throw. 3) The shoulders should square up to the line of scrimmage when he reaches the point (6 yards behind the OT) and he should attack the defense. 4) On his throw, the elbow is up and there is a great follow through by the quarterback.
Another drill for the sprint-out game involves two or three stationary targets. The coach will number the targets for this drill. Example #1 is the square, # 2 is the flag, and #3 is the drag route. The coach will station three players on the field and, as the quarterback sprints out, the coach will call a number or a route for the quarterback to throw. Then the quarterback will throw to the player in the area of the called route or number. You can use this same drill with two defenders for the quarterback to read on his sprint-out. The defenders will take away certain routes and the quarterback must throw to the open receiver OR he may run the ball. Again, this drill has the same keys as the “Round Robin” drill above. Remember to have the quarterback sprint to the point with eyes on the read, square the shoulders at the point and with the elbow up, follow through on the throw (See Diagram 2).
There are many routes that will work with the sprint-out passing game. The one route that is our base route in our sprint-out game is the square route. This route is one we feel should be completed 75% of the time. This is the route we practice the most and the timing on this route is very important to its success. The quarterback must be ready to throw the ball when the receiver breaks on the square route. It is the job of the receiver to run a disciplined route that gets some separation from the defender so the quarterback is able to throw the ball on the break. The square route can be coupled with many complementary routes. In this example, we will use the flag route. The square route will be run at six yards depth off the line of scrimmage. The flag route will break at 10 yards and run toward a point 22 yards depth at the sideline. The flag route will be adjusted according to the defensive coverage. Against Cover 2 or man, we will flatten the route. The quarterback will read the corner back on the square route. If the corner gives ground, the quarterback will hit the square on the break. If the corner sits in the flat, the quarterback will hit the flag route on the break. The quarterback must remember he also has the option to run the ball (See Diagram 3).
The backside receiver in the sprint-out passing game is sometimes a forgotten option. But his route is very important and may give you a quick score if it is run well and your QB is trained to look for the backside route. We use many routes on the backside and we will usually tag that receiver’s route to take advantage of an overactive adjustment by the defense. One of the most effective backside routes is the “READ” route. The backside receiver will read and react to the actions of the safety or safeties with the “READ” route. At the snap, the backside receiver will bust off the line directly at a one high safety and he will read the safety’s reaction to the sprint-out by the quarterback. There are two distinct actions we usually will see: 1) A safety that rolls over hard to the sprint-outside. 2) A safety that back peddles and gets depth.
The backside receiver will read this on the run. If the safety rolls over the top, the receiver will break up field towards the post. If the safety back peddles, the receiver will flatten and become a deep drag for the QB. If there are two high safeties, then the receiver will read the sprint-out side safety and make the same reads. If the safety rolls hard, then the receiver will break to the post and keep the backside safety on his hip. This route can be six quick points or it can at least scare the defensive coordinator into some added gray hairs when you throw it (See Diagram 4).
The sprint-out passing game can use the talents of an athletic quarterback who may not have the size or arm strength to throw the football from the pocket passing game or shotgun. With the sprint-out passing game, the threat of an athletic quarterback running or passing can put a lot of pressure on a defense. So when you have a year with a smaller, more athletic type quarterback, the sprint-out passing game may be your answer.
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