Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mesh Concept: The Choice Route

The Mesh concept is one of the staple plays of the Air Raid, and probably one of my favorite plays to call for several reasons. It is a dynamic play that is a good call versus any defense. There are built in answers for any coverage the defense throws at you, and there are multiple tags you can add to "dress up" the play to make it look more complicated for the defense.

Here is the play diagram from the Chris Hatcher playbook:

However, there was one problem I had with the play that I could never figure out how to coach. As you can see above, Z has a Corner route, which is the first read for the corner route. We have had success throwing the corner route when run by the #2 receiver (Smash, Y-Corner). Throwing the corner route to the #1 receiver is a different proposition. It is a very long throw and takes a great deal of touch to make it work.

The more I watched Texas Tech and other Air Raid teams run that route, the more it looked like something I had seen before: The Run-and-Shoot Choice Route. Every time the corner was playing loose Cover-3, Z would break off the route at 8-10 yards. The more I watched, it was obvious that he knew to break it off if he knew he could not beat the corner deep.

At the high school level, we basically only see Cover 3, Cover 4, Man or Cover 2. Either the corner is playing loose (Cov 3/4) or pressed (Man/Cov. 2). I simplified the read for the QB and Z by giving Z a pre-snap "Choice".
If the corner is pressed down, then Z will run a fade. The QB should throw the ball on rhythm.

If the corner is playing loose (+5 yards), then Z will run an 8-yard out. He should press vertical at the corner's inside hip, make a stick move at 8-yards, and break out to the sideline. The QB should throw the ball on rhythm, and place to ball on the sideline where either the ball is caught or it is out of bounds.

With this change, the corner can really never be right. If he wants to play off (we throw a ton of hitches), then we will throw that out all day. If he is pressed, we use the principles of Pat & Go to throw the fade over the top. Since making this change, our QBs throw the Choice route about 75% of the time.

Tag: Flip Formation
When we move Z to the left slot in "Flip" formation (where he is now the #2 receiver), we give him the option of running the Corner or Post. He will base his decision off the leverage of the safety and the green grass he sees. It basically becomes another version of Smash where Z is the high read, and H on the flat or swing becomes the low read.

Here is video (powered by Hudl) of the Choice route:

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Motif Project: Macbeth

My Senior English class just finished studying The Tragedy of Macbeth. We spent a great deal of time analyzing the motifs that show up throughout the play: Blood, light, darkness, sleep, nature, and the theme of deception.

The students were placed into groups of 3-4, and each group was assigned a motif to follow throughout the play. After each act, they recorded instances of their motif in a class wiki. Click here to view an example. This part of the project helped them see how many times Shakespeare included those motifs throughout the play, and they started to see what characters were associated with the different motifs.

That was a great exercise, but the culminating project blew me away.

For the final exam, students came up to the whiteboard one at a time and wrote a motif, character or idea from the play. They then had to connect that items to any other items on the board and explain why they were linked together. This is what it looked like:

The class was actively engaged in helping each other make the connections between items. Once we were finished, we had an outstanding discussion about what this play is really about. We also talked about who or what should be at the center of this word web (Power or Macbeth was the consensus). 

I saw REAL learning and understanding taking place during this activity. Many students commented to me that they felt like they actually understood Shakespeare for the first time, beyond just basic plot points. I felt like this assessed student's understanding far better than any multiple-choice or essay test that I could construct.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Settle & Noose Drill

Scaffolding approach to practice
In a previous post, I wrote about the unique way Air Raid practices are set up. It is a scaffolding approach to practice, much like the way we teach our students. You begin slow, with just a few players involved in the drill. As practice goes along, the intensity and complexity of the drills begin to pick up. The key is that you do the same drills, the same way, every day.

One of the best drills for any offense is the Settle & Noose drill.

  • QBs work on their drops, progressions, accuracy and throwing the receiver open.
  • WRs work on releases, stick move, settling in open grass, catching and turning toward the throw.
  • Centers work on snapping the football, and stepping towards their assignment.
Set-up two trash cans or pop-up dummies 10-yards apart on the sideline. The receivers form a line along the sideline. The receiver should work on release moves vs. the next receiver in line. The QBs should be set up with a center or snapper on the numbers.

The QB snaps the ball and goes through his drop. Each day, we give him a different play to progress through. This is the first drill of the day, so he should not be at full speed. We are more interested in footwork and going through the progressions. The QB should be speaking the progressions as he hitches up. For the Shallow concept he would say, "Fade, Dig, Shallow." This trains the QBs brain on the progressions along with his footwork.

The WR works a release move on the defender. He should then attack the other trash can in a direct line, going about 50% of his normal speed. When he gets to the trash can, he should buzz his feet, and settle in the open grass. The trash can becomes a defender and he shows his hands to the QB, making a noose with his hands by having his thumbs and index fingers together. Something like this:

By this time, the QB has gone through his progression. He should be shuffling up and ready to throw to the receiver. Again, we are not emphasizing speed at this point. The QB should throw the WR "open" by throwing opposite of the trash can. We coach our WRs to "Post-Up" the linebacker, much like he would do in basketball. This will simulate a game when we can pick up extra yards after catch by throwing the receiver open AWAY from a defender.

The WR should look the ball in, over-emphasizing every move of the catch. Once he has caught the ball, he should turn towards the direction that the QB threw him open to, and score the football. We preach scoring every time we catch the ball.

Below is video of the Settle & Noose Drill.

Two notes:

1. All of the players are going much faster than they should be for this drill. You really have to stay on top of them about SLOWING DOWN. Emphasize the fundamentals, speed will come later.

2. We combined two lines together to get more people in a centralized location. It combines the mesh drill with settle and noose, and one coach can watch two receiver and two quarterbacks at the same time.

What are some other coaching points that you emphasize with this drill?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

1:1 on the cheap

When will this be the norm?
I read Patrick Larkin's blog post about his school's quest to become a 1:1 student-to-computer school, and one quote really struck me:

As we start to increase our comfort-level in our new environment, we have to start to think about becoming a school where students have options (more like the real world) where they bring their own devices. 

As I walked around our school today, I saw several students with their own internet devices: laptops, iPads, iPhones, Droids, etc... I also think back to when most students only had basic cell phone for calling and texting. That was only... three years ago? 

How far away are we from a reality where every student brings to school their own wireless device, personalized to what they need it for? I would guess five years or less. (I know that a popular high school graduation present is a laptop, so we can't be that far away.)

We can all agree that a 1:1 laptop-to-student ratio would be ideal. However, in this current economy it is becoming increasingly difficult to come up with the funds for it. Why not open up the school's Wi-Fi networks, and encourage all students to bring their own devices?

I don't think we can pick one device that is a one-size-fits-all for a 1:1 school. Students in classes requiring heavy-computing may need their own laptops, while students in Language Arts or Social Sciences may get by just fine with an iPad. Students in vocational classes may not need a wireless device at all.

Another issue: The technology integration that we are encouraging at our school is awesome, but we only have three "open" computer labs available in the school (about 100 computers for 1,7000 students). More and more teachers are wanting to have their kids work online, and our computer labs are booked weeks in advance. Allowing students to bring their own computers would alleviate this problem.

I am waiting for the first brave student to bring in his laptop, plop it on the desk, fire it up, and begin taking notes. It hasn't happened in my classes yet, but I am sure it will soon.

How is your district handling this issue? Should we encourage students to bring their own personal devices to school with them?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Five reasons to implement the Air Raid offense

This is the first in a series of posts about the Air Raid offense, made famous at the University of Kentucky and Texas Tech University. If you are not familiar with the Air Raid, you should check out Chris Brown's post on Smart Football to learn more.

Five reasons to implement the Air Raid Offense:

1. Practice smarter

The Air Raid offense isn't just about the X's and O's, it is also about how you practice every day.

It is important to practice the way you play, and the Air Raid has drills built for that purpose. It is a scaffolding approach where one drill builds on the other throughout practice. From the Settle and Noose Drill, Pat & Go, Routes on Air, 7-on-7 and Team period, the drills add complexity as you progress through practice, and they all directly translate to how you will play in a game. I will detail these drills in another post.

2. Game planning made easy

Game planning in the Air Raid is very minimal. The focus is not dissecting game film and worrying about what defenses do or COULD do. Instead, Air Raid teams focus on getting better at what they do every day. Each play has built-in answers for every defense. I have found that defenses like to play a junk "Defense of the Week" against this offense. Good! That means they are having to do something out of their comfort zone, while we keep doing what we do.

3. Simplicity

We are coaching football, not advanced physics. It should not take a rocket scientist to understand the offense.

In the Air Raid, what looks very complex for the defense, is actually very simple for the offense. There are only a few plays and you practice them over and over until you are bored. Then you practice them some more.

You can dress up the plays with motions or by running different formations, but it is very simple for the players.

For example, the rule for our receivers is: It isn't WHERE you are, but WHO you are. We used to have all kinds of rules for the receivers, like: "If you are the #2 receiver in this formation you run a post, but if you are #3 in trips you run a flat." There were no clearly defined rules for the players to memorize. They had to know where they were lined up, if they were on the back side, etc...

In the Air Raid, if you are the Y-receiver, you run the same route no matter what formation you are in. You could line up in any formation and the rule still applies. There are not a ton of "if-then" rules, which cuts down on the learning curve for everyone.

4. Basketball on grass

I don't know about you, but we always have these fantastic basketball players in our school who don't play football. One of the major selling points of this offensive system is to tell them we are just playing basketball on grass.

For example, teach the 6'5 post player that when he is running fades, it is no different than blocking out on rebounds. Coach your Y-Receiver that he is posting up on a linebacker when he runs Y-Stick.

We also talk about zone vs. man coverages and correlate that to basketball. Versus a zone defense, you find the open areas and settle down. Against a man-to-man defense, you keep moving until you are open. There are many other parallels that you can draw, and I have found that basketball terms help explain many of the concepts in terms that the athletes understand.

5. It is fun for the players AND coaches

Think back to when you were a growing up. When you took a football with your friends to the park, what did you do?

Did you run the Nebraska option until dark? Uh, no.

Did you get in the I-formation and work on running Iso and Trap until your mom called you home for dinner? I doubt it.

I can make a guess that you probably threw the football. Athletes love throwing and catching the football. The Air Raid is based around the Back Yard Football League principle, "Go run to that tree and turn around. I will throw you the ball."

Once you implement the Air Raid, you will get more kids excited about playing football and get more of those athletes out who aren't playing now because they "don't like to hit." It is what kids love to do, and I guarantee that you will have a blast coaching it.

Those are just a few of the reasons to implement the Air Raid offense at your school. What are other advantages of the offense that you have discovered?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Welcome to iTeach. iCoach. iBlog.

I know what you are thinking. It is a geeky name for a blog. However, I think it accurately explains who I am and what my passions are:

1. Teaching - I teach Senior and Sophomore English at Olathe Northwest High School in Olathe, KS. I am constantly searching for new and effective strategies to improve as an educator and share with my students (or my "guinea pigs" as they affectionately like to call themselves when I tell them we are trying something new).

2. Coaching - I coach football and am the Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach at Olathe Northwest High School.

I have been heavily influenced by the Air Raid Offense made famous by Mike Leach at Texas Tech, and QB Guru Darin Slack.

3. Technology - I am a proponent of all things Web 2.0, and finding ways to incorporate it into my lesson plans to improve student learning. I am also a member of our building Teacher Tech Team, and I am passionate about helping teachers learn how to use new technology tools in their classrooms.

In the spring of 2009, I discovered Twitter and the power of Professional Learning Networks (PLN). It completely changed the way I approach my job as an educator and coach.

I am going to ask my students to begin their own blogs next semester. I figured that if I am going to talk the talk, then I better walk the walk. I am going to blog alongside them about the things I am passionate about.

Hopefully I can give something back through this blog to all of the people I have learned so much from.