Post #4 in a Series on QB development Guest Blog: Greg Webster, Offensive Coordinator at Springfield College
Teaching and Drilling the Mesh – Ride and Decide Greg Webster Offensive Coordinator, Springfield College, Springfield, MA. @coachgregweb
The most important individual to any option attack is the man under center. He will be the individual that will make the offense click. He is the field commander, he is the general. He must be sound in his technique, assignment knowledge, reads, and he has to always want to have the ball in his hands. When recruiting an option quarterback or developing one at the high school level it is important to measure the intangibles of that individual. Is he a leader, physical, tough, and is he mean? Will he have the intestinal fortitude both on and off the field to make the difficult decisions? The quarterback in the triple option attack cannot be a game manager. He must be a playmaker with the ball in his hands and the answer man to the team. When initially teaching the offense to any quarterback, one must always start with the philosophy and perimeter counting system. This is the basis for our option attack and the quarterback must know and understand it. We preach to our quarterbacks the idea of numbers, grass and angles: numbers, run to where we have the numbers advantage, grass, attack the alley, never attack a man, and angles, create advantageous blocking angles on the perimeter. It is important that the quarterback understands our philosophy and perimeter count system so that he can put us in the best position to succeed. It is of utmost importance to install an attack mindset to the quarterback. We call the play, we set the perimeter and we set the tone. The defense will align based off of our formation and will play based off of our tempo. The quarterback must have this mindset. He must be the man who sets the tone for our offense and leads the attack verses the opponent’s defense. He must think of the defense as bodies on the perimeter; apply our count system and attack. Like any quarterback in any offense, the quarterback must always be aware of his surroundings. As he walks up to the line of scrimmage, he must lighthouse the defense and know: -Down and Distance-Time on the play clock/game clock-Score-Quarter -Situation -Defense Alignment -Defensive Techniques -Perimeter Count to both sides (can we audible based off a numbers advantage?) It is especially important for the quarterback to know and understand all of these variables when it comes to our audible system. We will give the quarterback as much freedom as he can handle to check plays at the line of scrimmage. This enables us to get into the best play possible based off of our philosophy of numbers, grass and angles. None of this is possible however, if the quarterback is not aware of the game situation and defense as he approaches the line of scrimmage.
Stance and Exchange
With the quarterback’s stance we teach a narrow base (inside the framework of the center) with the weight on the balls of his feet. His feet are slightly pigeon toed which enables him to burst out of the exchange. He will have his mental weight on his drive foot. For example, if we are running a play to the right, the quarterback will think of loading his weight and driving off of his left foot out of the exchange. When coming under center, his throwing hand will be wrist deep with the fingers spread naturally while his non-throwing hand comes under and joins at the thumb’s natural groove. He will have a slight bend in the elbow of his throwing arm, his knees will be bent, and his hips sunk; Z’s in the hips, knees and ankles. As the ball is snapped he will apply pressure with his bottom hand and he will push the top hand into the bottom palm. The center’s feet will be slightly wider than shoulder width to allow the quarterback’s feet to be inside of the center’s. As the ball is snapped the quarterback will apply pressure out and up on the center’s butt with the heel of his bottom hand and ride with his top hand. As the center snaps and steps, the quarterback will ride the center and move his hands forward as his non-throwing hand closes on the football. It is essential that the center’s back stays flat at the same height that he initially began in. Once the quarterback possess the football, he can execute the proper series technique. A good teaching aid to ensure that the quarterback has a narrow stance when under center is the use of a PVC pipe box. We will utilize the box when executing any quarterback center exchange in pre-practice or during certain drills throughout practice where a full offensive line is not present. This also helps for the quarterback to get away from the line of scrimmage and get the ball as deep to the fullback as possible.
The Mesh: Reach, Ride
When running the inside veer, we have an inside track with the fullback and a heel replace heel step with the quarterback. If we are running veer to the right, the quarterback’s left heel will replace his right heel and the back of his feet will be in-line with the original foot placement of the center, while the ball is on the inside leg of the play side guard (these steps may vary slightly depending on size of the QB – GET THE BALL TO THE MESH). To drill this during pre-practice, have the center face the sideline with his play side foot directly on the goal line. When the quarterback disconnects from the center, the back of his heels should align with the goal line, with his toes angled to the line of scrimmage.When executing the insider veer steps, the quarterback must get away from the line of scrimmage and get the ball as deep to the fullback as possible. The deeper the ball is to the fullback, the longer the quarterback can ride the fullback into the line of scrimmage. This will become important when we discuss key manipulation by the quarterback. The quarterback’s hands must beat his feet (use a medicine ball to quicken up his hands), they must be at hip level with and his elbows fully extended.
Once the quarterback reaches his hands back and the ball is placed in the fullback’s pocket, he will now ride the fullback into the line of scrimmage. Before we break down the ride phase, it is important to understand the pre-snap thought process as he approaches the line of scrimmage. As previously noted, the quarterback must know the game situation as well as the defensive techniques and perimeter count. Once the quarterback understands the situation and has counted the perimeter, he will now determine the body language of the defender’s on the perimeter. This will allow him to have a pre-snap plan of whether to give or keep the ball during the ride phase. For example, how tight is the key? What foot is up? Is his weight forward of back? Is he titled or square to the line of scrimmage? What has this key been doing throughout the course of the game? In film study? The better understanding the quarterback has of the key the easier the read will be. The quarterback must have a plan as he approaches the line of scrimmage in order to anticipate any reads. Now back to the ride phase. Once the quarterback has the ball in the fullback’s pocket at hip level with his eyes on the dive key, he will transfer his weight from back foot to front foot as he rides the fullback into the line of scrimmage. As he rides he will be on the balls of his feet and his feet will turn into the line of scrimmage at a 45 degree angle. The quarterback will never read past his front hip while the fullback must keep a large pocket and never clamp on the football. Fumbles in the mesh are caused by quarterbacks reading past the front hip or fullbacks clamping in the mesh. The fullback must trust the quarterback through the ride phase and the quarterback must be decisive, make a decision and go! Key coaching points for the FB on the mesh: frontal pressure = give and side pressure = pull. We will coach the FB that when the QB presses the football into his stomach and he feels pressure towards the front, the QB is giving the football. When the FB feels the tip of the ball on his side as the QB is sliding the ball out of his pocket, that is pressure from the side and the QB is in the process of pulling the football. For the QB, when he is giving the ball to the FB he will separate his play side hand first, while pressing the football into the stomach of the FB with his opposite play side hand. Once the ball is secured into the stomach of the football, the QB will carry out his fake down the line becoming the eleventh blocker. When the QB pulls the football from the FB, he wants to roll over his play side arm and wrist into the stomach of the FB to protect the ball. He must have a violent disconnect pulling the ball down and away from the stomach of the FB. The QB must have strong hands through the mesh. Once the ball is pulled, we coach the QB to replace the dive key’s heels and attack the alley to take advantage of the defender’s weak shoulders. The FB must stay on path, he cannot cut under because that will enable the dive key to play both phases of the option: the FB must stay on path and attack the inside leg of the dive key to ensure that he commits to playing the FB.
When executing the read of the dive key, the QB must think: give unless head in front. We talk to the QB about the angle of the dive key’s head: if his head is behind the FB then give the football, if the dive key’s head is in front of the FB then pull the football. The most difficult read is the mesh charge: when the dive key charges directly at the mesh with his head at a 45 degree angle. The QB can manipulate the key by riding the FB longer into the line of scrimmage, however that can often be difficult for the QB to grasp, especially a younger kid, so when in doubt, give the ball to the FB. When coaching the QBs to read, it is also important to talk to them about the tackle’s release verses different fronts. This can help the QB during his week of preparation. For example, the majority of the time when running inside veer (there are of course exceptions) if we are facing a front where the guard is uncovered the tackle will outside release for the play side LB and if we are facing a front where the guard is covered he will veer (inside release). Coach the QB to understand that when the guard is uncovered, that the defense must account for the FB and have someone play B gap. With the offensive tackle initially stepping out, the defensive end may confuse the tackles release with a reach block and step out as well, vacating his gap and allowing the QB to give the football. Once we have begun to hurt the defense with the FB, most opposing coaches will reiterate to their players the importance of stopping the FB. If the QB understands this, he can now anticipate on the next series that the defense will play assignment football, which will allow the QB to pull the ball and attack the alley. If the guard is covered, and the tackle veers, the defensive end will want to get two hands on the tackle and “ride the down” to protect the play side LB from getting ear holed. It helps if the QB can understand and start to see how heavy of a ride that the defensive end is giving the tackle. Where is the defensive ends hands on the tackle? How much pressure is he giving the offensive tackle? How athletic is the defensive end and can he ride the down and pop off and play both phases? These questions help the QB to get a feel for how the dive key is playing the FB with a veer release of the tackle. Now, it is still important that the QB reads his way through everything and that he goes back to his base rule of head in front or head behind. However, having an understanding of the tackle’s release based off if the guard is covered or uncovered will help the QB’s thought process during the game as well as mental preparation during the week of practice.
As stated before, we give the quarterback rules on when to pull and give the football. However, it is important to note that the more comfortable the quarterback becomes with the mesh, the better he will become at manipulating keys. For example, if we face a team where the dive key is not hard on the fullback but we are still giving the football and gaining three to four yards a carry, we will talk with the quarterback about manipulating the key. Yes, we are gaining positive yards with the fullback; however, many of our bigger plays occur when the quarterback pulls the football. So if the quarterback were to manipulate the key by driving his front shoulder into the line of scrimmage and riding the fullback a little bit longer, that will then get the dive key to crash down harder on the fullback. This will allow the quarterback to pull the ball and either get the ball in the alley or onto the perimeter where we have a potential of an explosive play. The quarterback must also have this thought process on third and long situations. When the veer is called on third and long, the quarterback cannot feed the fullback into the defense for a gain of three to four yards. He must have the awareness of the down and distance and know that most big plays happen when the ball is on the perimeter. Manipulate the key, drive the front shoulder into the line of scrimmage and get the ball onto the perimeter.
Drill: QB Footwork
The purpose of this drill is to work the quarterbacks’ footwork, hand placement, eye progression as well as cadence. Equipment needed for the drill: PVC pipe box and footballs (can also incorporate medicine balls as well as weighted footballs). Utilizing a two-foot-by-two-foot PVC pipe box we will have the quarterbacks start with their feet inside the box with the football in hand as if they are under center. One quarterback will start the cadence, with the rest following his lead, similar to a choir, in order to practice having each quarterback’s cadence sound identical. This is essential because all motions are predicated off the quarterback’s cadence. Once the quarterbacks simulates the snap they will execute a heel replace heel step so that the heel of their left foot (if running the play to the right) is in-line with the back right corner of the PVC pipe box. The quarterbacks will freeze after their first two steps to ensure proper footwork, body position and eye placement. After the first two steps have been executed, the coach can add the entire phase of the mesh, so that it simulates the QB replacing the dive key’s heels and attacking the alley. Also, a visual key can be added to train the QB’s eyes by having a coach or player stand in the place of the dive key. On the snap the coach or player will hold up a number with their fingers which will have to be read aloud by the QB. This helps to train the QB’s eyes to be on the dive key every time. Important coaching points; pigeon toe the feet, mental weight on drive foot, hands beat the feet, pin the chin, eyes to the dive key, Z’s in the hips, knees and ankles.
Drill: Mesh (QB/FB)
The purpose of the drill is to work the mesh phase of the option between the QB and FB. There is no equipment needed for the drill. The drill will start with the FB in his third step out of his stance, with the QB placing the football in the belly of the FB. The FB should have a low stance, with Z’s in the hips knees and ankles, while the QB should have his hands back, with his chin pinned to his front shoulder and his eyes on the dive key. The first time through the coach will tell the QB and FB if it is a pull or a give so that they both can get a feel for the mesh. Once the drill has been executed to both sides, a visual key can be added for the QB to train his eyes while still working on the feel of the mesh. When executing the mesh the QB must transfer his weight from his back foot to his front foot while riding the FB into the line of scrimmage. The FB must keep an open pocket and accept the football into his stomach from the QB, while never clamping. The QB must make his decision to pull the football by the time the ball reaches his front hip; he must be decisive, make a decision and attack. Fumbles are caused in the mesh by FBs clamping and QBs who read past their front hip. When making the decision to give or pull the football the QB must think, head in front pull, head behind give. As the FB carries out the mesh, he must think frontal pressure (from the QB) give, side pressure pull. When the QB gives the football, he will separate his play side hand first, while pressing the football into the stomach of the FB with his opposite hand. It is imperative that he rolls over his front foot and continues down the line to carry out his fake. When the QB pulls the football, he must roll his wrist, bend his backside elbow and pull down and away with a violent disconnect from the mesh. It is also important that he never bows out of the mesh and he replaces the dive keys heels as he attacks the alley. On a pull, the FB must roll over, grab cloth and continue to act as if he is running with the football so that the dive key cannot pop off and play both phases.
Drill: Ride and Decide (QB/FB)
The purpose of the drill is to work the mesh phase between the QB and FB at full speed. The drill can be organized multiple ways depending on availability of equipment. Equipment needed for the drill; QB box, split stick, cones, arches, toe boards, agile bags and a chute. During pre-season we are able to paint lines on the field for the center, guards, tackles as well as the path of the FB. This enables the FB and QB to have visual keys for the offensive line as well as the path of the FB. If lines are unable to be painted, cones will be placed to simulate the offensive line, utilizing a PVC pipe split stick for the measurements. Two toe boards will be utilized for the FB to ensure the he gains ground with his first step and that the first step is on the correct path. If we are wearing helmets, we will utilize a chute as well as four arches to make sure both the QB and FB stay low out of their stances as well as continue to run with a low pad level. The chute will be placed over the FB while each arch will be placed in the running lane for both the QB and FB. If the players are not wearing helmets, then we will place agile bags in the running alley as well as have another coach or player stand next to the FB with his arm outstretch, keeping him low out of his stance. The agile bags can also be utilized with the arches to focus on all aspects of running in the alley. To execute the drill, a coach will stand as the dive key either stepping down for the FB or stepping up the field for the QB. Both the QB and FB will operate at full speed, carrying out the mesh and exploding into the alley with great effort while taking care of the football. All coaching points that have previously been mentioned must be emphasized in the ride and decide drill.
Drill: 3 Man (QB/FB/C/G)
The purpose of the 3 man drill is to work a live mesh with the QB center exchange while the FB can view the blocking of the offensive line. The only equipment needed for this drill is the trap chute as well as any bags on scout team defenders. We will work the drill with the QB, FB, Center and Right and Left guards. We will have scout team defensive lineman and linebackers giving a specific look so that the OL can work their technique as well as the FB can work on 1st and 2nd level cuts. We will initially start with running a inside veer path and having the QB give the football to the FB every time. This will allow the FB to work on his 1st and 2nd level cuts as well as having the QB carry out his fake to become the 11th blocker. We will progress to adding a dive key for the QB, as well as changing the inside veer path to a midline path. We can also change defenses (guard covered or uncovered) to provide different looks for the OL as well as FBs. Another progression to the drill would be to add a tackle which will enable us to work an outside veer path.
Drill: Live Dive
The purpose of the drill is to work all our option plays against a defensive look. This is a live drill that incorporates the entire offensive line and offensive backfield verses the entire defensive line and linebackers. In this drill, all players are live, including the quarterback. This is a drill we do every pre-season and is crucial for the QB and FB because it enables them to get live reads verses our best defensive players. As much as we will drill the mesh work in individual periods, there is no substitute for live reads for the QB and FB. It is crucial to the success of this drill, as well as for the care of the players that all plays are scripted and certain offensive and defensive personnel are matched accordingly. We do not want our 1st string QB taking reps verses our 3rd string defense and vise versa. We also script so that we can maximize the looks that the QB and FB need to improve on in live situations. We only get so many opportunities to go live verses the defense, so it is crucial that we maximize the reps based off of the work that we need.
It is important to note that these techniques and philosophies have been developed over the past thirty years of Springfield College running option football. The foundation of these philosophies and techniques were started with Coach DeLong, Coach Manello and Coach Anderson, continued with Coach Mckenney and current head coach Mike Cerasuolo, as well as years of former graduate assistants. Springfield College has also benefited greatly from years of visiting with and gathering new ideas from other option schools. If anyone reading this article has any further questions or would like to talk in more detail about this topic please feel free to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet the Coach
Greg Webster is the offensive coordinator at Springfield College and just completed his third season in that role. Before his time at Springfield, he spent four years at the University of Maine working in the secondary as well as special team’s coordinator. Prior to Maine he served as the wide receivers coach at Rose-Hulman Institute of technology in Terre Haute, IN. His coaching career began at Springfield as a graduate assistant where he also is a 2009 graduate.
Springfield College has been running option football since 1986 and since going to division III in 1996 Springfield has had eight national rushing titles and finished second in the nation in rushing three times. Springfield has had a record of 18-4 in the last two years with back to back post-season appearances. In 2017 Springfield finished the season at 10-1, where champions of the NEWMAC conference and gained a bid in the NCAA tournament. Springfield lead all division in rushing, averaging 435.2 yards per game while totaling 4,787 rushing yards. Senior fullback Jordan Wilcox, a finalist for the Gagliardi Trophy (division III player of the year) was 5th in division III in both rush yards per game (162.4) and total rush yards (1786). Wilcox also lead division III in rush yards per carry at 7.83.