Combo Routes In The Spread Offense

We're probably all familiar with using a passing tree to describe the routes to be run on a given play.  Often, in the spread offense, numbers aren't enough.  An example of this would be if you wanted to run a Follow pattern, in which the inside receiver runs a short in and the outside receiver runs a deep in; how would this differ from a Follow Switch pattern, in which the inside receiver runs the dig, and the outside receiver comes underneath on an in ... say your "4" pattern is a down-and-in route -- is a "44" a Follow or a Follow Switch?  Is a 4 route a drag, dig, or square in?
As well, in the spread offense, numbers can be too much.  With the potential of 5 receivers out, calling 31675 in the huddle can become a jumbled mess to winded wideouts and spent slots.  Mix in a little motion and it becomes a real jumble.  Having specific plays not only didn't give me the flexibility I'm always looking for, the wording can be too much with this type of system in high school (i.e., check out a sample play call from Temple's spread: "Posse Empty Left 600 Scat Blunt Follow Switch Y-KC Alert Husky*"). 
I had to utilize a system that would allow the flexibility to adjust to defensive looks during the game while being simple enough for most high schoolers to understand.  I wanted to use the space on the field with the cool combinations I learned at clinics, books, and online without the verbage that came with the college game.  So I set out to re-invent the wheel route ... sorry for the pun.
First, I didn't do away with the Tree.  I set it so that any route could be called by a number.  Our tree looked like this:
with the "even" numbers always going toward the center of the field, odds to the sideline.  But, as I said, how do you distinguish an out you want to be run with a pivot, from a route which you want the receiver to take the leverage immediately?
Well, certain routes combine with other routes, working in unison together.  We've known this since Johnny U. and Raymond Berry advanced the passing game from its infancy to its adolescence.  The "Smash" route is a good example in today's game, which involves two receivers, as is the "Follow."  Even the "Bubble" has the other receiver(s) on its side performing a specific task.  So, with a Flair pen and back of an ATM receipt, I quickly scribbled out a set of "Combinations" I absolutely had to see run together.  Some, like the "Smash," are completely stolen from others; some, like the "Pivot," are alterations of single routes that I made imply two together; some, I just plain made up.  The following are the 12 "Combo Routes" that I employed in our spread package:
Combo Routes
So, in a balanced formation, such as our "Rifle" -- a wideout and slot on each side, we could call any of these combinations -- left to right -- and both receivers would know what their designated assignment was with one word, eg.:
Rifle Right, Basic Basic
Okay, so we've got patterns handles if we're in a balanced formation, with two receivers to each side.  We have the flexibility to exploit the defense with patterns that go together like peanut butter and fluff-o-nutter ... but what do we do with an unbalanced receiver set, such as our "Cannon" with two in the slot?  What do we do with the extra receiver?
Cannon Left
Well, we can motion him to the right side and run two Combo Routes ...
Cannon Left, Monkey Away, Slip Slants
 ... but that's a cop out.  What do we do in an unbalanced set?  Well, remember when I said I didn't throw out the passing tree?  Okay, here come the numbers. 
Cannon Left, Follow 94
We have a "Follow" route -- left to right -- by the two receivers to the left, a "9" route by the next receiver, left to right, and a "4" by the rightmost receiver.
And we can always revert to a number system entirely, if we need to, making sure the quarterback gives the call in sets of two, as if an improvised Combo Route (the mind remembers things in strings, which is why you can remember your childhood phone number but if I asked you to remember 7 random numbers, you would struggle):
Rifle Left, 69-96
Now, the only thing I haven't addressed is the back.  What do we do with him?  We want him to be an integral part of the passing game; he is a dangerous weapon, an outlet, a great athlete ... Well, we just tack him on the end.  On every play, he is a blocker first.  If they have 5 in the box, and there's no call, he runs a "Swing" route.  If there are 6 or more in the box, he stays in to block, and only goes out (swings) if there is no one to pick up, or as an emergency outlet if there's obvious trouble.  Otherwise, we can call a specific route at the end of the playcall, if this is called, he knows he has to run this pattern.  Example:
Rifle Left, Slants Pivot, F-Swing
The Combo Routes are a simple way to call routes in the spread offense, while giving the flexibility coaches look for.  By using them in combination with a passing tree, the Combo Routes can be run from any formation.  Adding a simple call at the end of the playcall, will assign the back a route. 
To compliment this play-calling system, we also utilized a few other specific routes that were identified by a specific name, which I will discuss in another article.  In addition, there is an automatic audible system which goes along with the Combo Routes that simplifies the problems of those sneaky defenses and amplifies the effectiveness of the Combo Route system.
Scott Seeley

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