Using the Running Back as a Spread Threat

Using the Running Back as a Spread Threat

The Running Back as a Receiving Option (Part 1)

The running back in today’s spread offenses is meant to be more than just a running threat; he must also be a threat out of the backfield and spread out wide as a receiving weapon as well.  This gives the quarterback another viable option in the passing game and will likely give the defense different problems that may alter what they do, which is the whole point.  As you will see the running back has many different routes he can run out of the backfield that allow the offense to take advantage of blitzing linebackers, deep dropping linebackers, or to open up the passing game even more for other wide receivers.
            Depending on your offensive philosophy, you may have a bigger back that is a major run threat or you may have a quicker, more athletic back to bring speed to your backfield.  Either option is right; there really is no incorrect way to use the running back as long as you have the linemen up front to block the way you like.  I will reiterate a philosophy here that I have heard hundreds of times and have never seen proven wrong – tailor your scheme to fit your players!  Do not use a scheme that does not fit your team.  This brings too many problems to your team and gives your staff bigger headaches than are necessary.  If after reading this section you realize you do not have a the running back to execute these techniques, at least you have learned what not to do with him or what you would like to do in the future so you can begin teaching your younger players, or you can recruit the players you want to fit this style.
Routes Out Of Backfield
            As you will see, most of these routes are very similar to those of wide receivers.  This is for two reasons: 1. These routes are excellent versus defensive match-ups. 2. When the running back is spread out as a slot wide receiver, he already knows particular routes and now must only learn to execute them from a different positioning on the field.  Your offense will not be as efficient as possible without properly coaching these routes or giving RBs and QBs time to feel comfortable running and throwing these routes.  It is not easy to catch a quick pass from the backfield, so this takes practice and repetition.
Angle – The running back will move from his original alignment two yards outside the end of line and pivot to a 45 degree angle in towards the hole directly over the offensive center, once there sit down over the center and wait for QB check down.  Do not allow RB to get deeper than five yards.  The RB becomes a check down receiver for the QB and could create spacing issues in the defense if the LBs cheat up on him.
Seam – The RB will move up field outside of the end of line and head up the field vertically to fit into the seam.  This could be a quick hitting route or one that the QB must let develop to hit deeper down the field.  Be sure to rep both styles in practice.
Hitch – The RB should work outside the end of line at an angle and then work up field as he would during the seam route.  Now he sinks his hips, and comes back in towards the QB settling over the alignment of the TE.  The player should turn with hands out for quick delivery by the QB.
Wheel – This route is very useful when teams try to match up a slower ILB on a quicker, more athletic RB.  You can get very technical on specific landmarks for the RB, or just let him run the route and take advantage of his athleticism instead of technical route running.  Either style works, so long as the RB ends up on an outside vertical path up field.  This also can be a quick hitting route or a deeper route, so both styles should be practiced.
Rice – The rice route is used to take advantage of deep dropping LBs so that you can hit the RB or WR underneath on the move.  This route should not be any deeper than 2 yards and should work directly down the line of scrimmage and into the flats.  You can have a great mesh with a drag by a WR and a Rice by a RB to put pressure on the linebackers, or simply use the Rice route to take advantage of blitzing LBs or deep dropping LBs by hitting a short route behind the blitz or underneath the drop.  This allows the athletes to get the ball and make a play very simply.
Bubble – I have visited with various upper level coaches who coach specific landmarks on where to turn up field given your field position and so on.  If you do not have the time to practice and teach these landmarks, then you need to let your athletes be athletes and run the route.  Just emphasize that the running back should be working directly out facing in towards the QB and slowly move up towards the line of scrimmage and the sideline.  You can have the RB sit in the flats if he does not get the ball right away or have him turn it up field for a deep threat.
Hole – This route takes advantage of LBs blitzing by replacing the LBs with your RB.  Immediately when the ball is snapped, the RB should take the path of least resistance to get to the whole, or five yards directly over the offensive center.  The RB should turn around with hand up to receive a quick pass if necessary.  This is a great check down route for the QB or an emergency hot route as well.  You should practice having the RB get out of traffic as quickly as possible.
By Greg Mitchell
Please feel free to contact Coach Greg Mitchell at email:

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