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AFM Magazine

From Scouting Report to Game Plan

“Our editing system is a time saver and it gives us the ability to teach our kids more than just try to figure out what a team is doing without showing them. We can show them quickly. And we’re not spending hours doing as much video because we’re doing more teaching.”
-John Troxell
by: W. Keith Roerdink
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Know thy enemy. On the battlefield or the football field, few statements ring truer than that. Being able to effectively size up an opponent, identify their weaknesses, recognize their tendencies and formulate an attack puts you that much closer to victory on Saturday. In today’s high-tech world, scouting the opposition is often done with the latest in digital editing equipment. And when the lights go out, every program, every coach and every player is scanning their scouting report for the exact same thing: an edge.

Jimmy Burrow, defensive coordinator at Ohio University under former Nebraska head coach Frank Solich, knows the value of a good scouting report. As a 20-plus year coaching veteran, he also knows the tedious work that was once involved in producing them. That makes his appreciation for their digital editing system that he used in his first year at Athens all the greater.

“I’m old enough that I go back to 16mm when you made cut ups by actually cutting the tape, putting it up with paper clips and splicing it together,” Burrow said. “Modern football has come a long way from those days, but that was actually just in the 1980s. We did that at Washington State when I started out. Now you spend that time game planning and not having to do all that. We’re ready to start watching the games in the system on Sunday afternoon, or even Saturday night when you’re coming back on the bus after you grade the game you just played.”

The speed at which information can be inputted, filtered and ready for viewing allows the game plan to begin taking shape faster than ever before. As early as Sunday or Monday, most schools have developed the game plan for their upcoming opponent and the ensuing practices and meetings will revolve around the information they’ve obtained from their cut-up tapes, along with the self-scouting they’ve done on their own team. Systems may vary from program to program, but they have become an indispensable part of a teams preparation, according to John Troxell, the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator at Lafayette College, who is also in charge of overseeing all of the team’s digital video editing.

“We’ve been on a digital editing system for awhile, which has been outstanding for us,” Troxell says. “I think the best thing that it does for us is it’s easier to teach our kids because we don’t spend any time trying to find what it is we’re trying to show. We can go through our system and I can pull up an entire game and punch in that I want all the third down clips or all the second down clips, whatever I want to see. I can have it show me every run that’s plus five yards and I can see that a defense has trouble stopping ‘Power.’ So we might want to try to run it. For us, as far as teaching goes, digital video and the breakdown of the tape make it easy for us to scheme people and to find weaknesses.

“We can pull up every ‘Cover 2’ and it’s not like we’re watching a game, it’s not like you saw a ‘Cover 2’ six plays ago, what were they doing? You can see it ten times in a row and find out if there’s a glaring weakness. Our editing system is a time saver and it gives us the ability to teach our kids more than just try to figure out what a team is doing without showing them. We can show them quickly, we’ll have the kids watch them. And we’re not spending hours doing as much video because we’re doing more teaching.”

For Troxell, he begins watching tape of the upcoming opponent on Sunday, after reviewing tape of the previous day’s game. With little time to dwell on his team's success or failures, the former Lafayette safety and his coaching colleagues begin by watching the full game tape to get a feel for the opponent, but then get in to the breakdowns, starting first with formational tapes.

It’s the detail with which Troxell can view the tapes that defines the value of a digital video system. He can sort all two-back formations, separating when there’s two receivers with a tight end, a pro set, two tight ends and one receiver, and three receivers, watching how the defense reacts. Then he’ll sort all the one-back combinations. By the time he’s done, he knows what a team does for each different formation, noting the front they play, the coverage, their blitzes and what personnel is utilized. And he’s watching each play in checkerboard fashion, with a wide-angle shot of the play followed by a tight shot. His team’s first actual practice of the week, aside from running and lifting, is on Tuesday and by that night, the game plan is fairly established.

“We try to look for tendencies,” Troxell says. “We’ll do a third and short tape, third and one or two, third and three-to-five, third and seven-to-ten, and when we get to those, we’re just trying to find out what are the primary things they like to do in down and distance. Are they a blitz team in third and short? We can find out if 60% of the time we’re going to get some form of a blitz. So we know if we put this formation in that down and distance we’re going to get blitzed. And then what kind of blitz will they bring. And then on the other side, the defense is thinking personnel groups. So it becomes a chess game.”

C.L. Miller is on the other side of Troxell’s chessboard, trying to undo and disrupt everything he and his offensive counterparts are devising. As defensive tackles coach at Southeast Missouri State, he’s looking for the same types of patterns and tendencies in an opposing offense.

Miller and the Southeast staff will start viewing the tape for an opponent more than a week ahead of time, often on a Thursday or Friday, making sure that all the cut-ups are done so when they meet on Sunday, they can get to work immediately. By Sunday, the game plan is often locked in, getting tweaked and refined during the course of the week as it’s implemented in practice sessions. It’s finalized by Wednesday.

“If you don’t know it by Thursday, you’re not going to know it at all,” Miller said. The scouting reports are viewed prior to practices, providing visual examples of what coaches and players will be seeing on the field in just a few days. And the more games a team has played and the later into the season it is, the more plays there are to study and the greater the significance of the scouting report. Tape exchanges occur between all the teams on a school’s schedule and all games played to that point are provided, broken down by each side of the ball and the kicking game. From there, the footage is inputted and filtered down. Each position coach is tailoring his tapes in an effort to get any advantage they can and uncover any nugget of information that could be the difference between making a big play or giving one up.

“We try to find out what they’re doing,” Miller says. “When they pass the ball, are they slide protecting to the right or to the left? And when they get their slide protection, now we try to just scheme for the defensive tackles. When you’re getting that, a move that will help you is to come underneath or to go outside or we’ll be running this twist. We just try to do different things during the course of the week to prepare. On certain plays, is the offensive lineman cheating? Are they narrowing their splits when they’re going to do max protection? When they do a quick in? Are they widening their splits when they’re doing five step or running the ball outside, trying to create that space? We’ll look at what are they doing offensively on this down with this personnel group. Are they trying to spread you out? We use every aspect, anything and everything to try to get a bead on our opponent.

“A lot of guys, they’ll look at the film and see this is what they do and then they’ll prepare themselves for it. You just prepare yourself as much as possible. What you really want to do is get your guys in position to make plays. That’s what it comes down to. And for a defensive line coach, we really watch how the offensive lineman are setting, how are his feet moving? Is he a stiff guy? Is he really aggressive? What can we beat him with? How well can we defend the run against this guy? These are the things we need to do as far as preparing yourself to let your guys know so that you can work on those things during the week to get mentally prepared and physically prepared.”

Of course, there is a point of diminishing returns. And while you try not to wear your team down physically during the week, equal attention must also be paid to not overwhelm them mentally with the amount of video they’re viewing. For that matter, it’s just as important for a coaching staff to not spread their focus in too many directions. Army assistant line coach Gary Miller says that one of the most important features of his digital editing system is allowing him to figure quickly just what exactly is worth viewing.

“There’s some similarities when you talk about how they gather information for intelligence,” Miller said. “There’s so much data out there, there’s so much intelligence, there’s so much information, that it actually can be too much information. So what you have to do is to reduce the clutter and try to get down to what’s the most important thing. And that’s what the software and the digital systems are there to do. They cut out the B.S. and let you get into the heart of the matter.”

Burrow agreed.

“You just don’t have enough time to put up every defense against every play, so the computer system and then the video helps us really zero in on a certain number of their favorite plays and we game plan towards those. And at some point each day we might throw in one of their unusual plays, but the whole practice is geared toward their five best running plays or five to ten best passes.”

Ultimately, the value of both an in-depth digital scouting report and a well-constructed game plan can be seen on game day when either coach or player recognizes an adjustment, an alignment, or a player giving something away, and makes the proper call on a play. Troxell recalls his quarterback doing just that early in the 2005 season.

“Against Georgetown, our quarterback has come up and just based on the alignment of one linebacker, he could tell our offensive line and give them a ‘Lucky’ (left) or ‘Ringo’ (right) call and they would know which way the line was going to slant on that snap,” Troxell said. “So they had an advantage, pre-snap, knowing that this guy was going to move to his left.

“It’s some neat stuff. And (the digital editing systems) can give you little or as much information as you want or need. But you can get a lot out of them.”

Including a ‘W’ when all goes well. s


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