Spread Offense Pass Protections

Spread Pass Protection
One of the best attributes of the spread offense is that its formations limit the amount of defensive fronts by forcing them to walk out linebackers to cover receivers.  This simplifies pass blocking, a bit, because there are only so many things the defense can do without leaving players unaccounted for.  It also allows other aspects of the passing game to "assist" the linemen, such as a quick passing attack and easier "hot" reads.
In our spread, we protect the passer with 6 factors:
1. Numbers - how many men "in the box"
2. The time it takes the QB to release the ball
3. Hot reads
4. Move the pocket
5. Check out
6. Throw to the back
7. Flypro
The base protection is numbers.  Ideally, if the defense only leaves 5 in the box, you run, run, run the football.  With 5 in the box, we have 5 lineman, and should be able to reasonably protect the QB on a pass play.  So, we'll use 6 in the box for the examples.  This is what you will normally find in High School football.  With 6 in the box, they will usually leave a Safety over the top.  If they put 7 in the box, that means they are covering 4 potentially deep receivers with 4 defenders, which should be easily beaten with Verticals, Quick routes, and throwing to the back.
It is always said that, beside the quarterback, the linemen have to be the smartest players on the field.  I believe this to be true; however, when you try to sell the spread to the "old school" coaches they're always claiming that it's all too complicated and "our players aren't smart enough."  Phooey!  Here's what we ask our linemen -- our smartest players -- to know: 1) How to count; 2) Left from Right.  I don't think it gets any simpler. 
Another thing I will add about my particular approach to line blocking in High School: a lot of the ideas and schemes that work in college and the pros just don't work in high school, across the board.  The reason is that it is a lot different working with 300lb. linemen than 165lb. or even 240lb. linemen.  Techniques that work for someone who bench presses 350lbs. don't always work for the average high school lineman.  It might take a day and a half to take a path around one of those monsters toward the QB; he might be able to pass set off the snap and say, "Try to move me, I dare ya'!"  I believe in the line being agressive on every play, including pass plays.  Fire out and give the blow, even when it's a pass ... never accept the blow.  This accomplishes two things: 1) It doesn't give the defense an easy "high hat" read on passing plays; 2) It keeps the linemen aggressive, not passive.
So, our base Pass Protection in the Spread is simple.  COUNT NUMBERS.  They have 6 in the box.  Including our FB, we have six to protect.  Divide the defense in half.  If everyone comes we have 3-on-3 on each side.  The center has to know which side of the ball the FB is set and he simply teams up with the two linemen on the other side.  The FB side must know the center is protecting away, and that their support is coming from the back.  Everyone protects inside first.  This needs to be drilled in practice so the 3-member "teams" learn to handle each combination of stunt and blitz the defense can throw at them.
If the LB on the back's side drops into coverage, he slips into the flats on a swing pattern.
A big factor in pass protection is the quarterback's concept of how much time it should take for him to get the ball away.  Many young quarterbacks have an unrealistic idea of what their protection should be like, and how much time the pro and college quarterbacks they watch on tv get to throw the ball.  I coached one such quarterback this year.  Early on in the season, if he was hit after the pass or he was pressured, at all, he would get down on the linemen.  Over the summer, I had worked extensively with him on his drop and delivery, but he didn't get an adequate sense of the timing.  What resulted was a kid who looked like an All-American in 7-on-7, but fell apart once a line was in front of him.
I addressed this by watching games on tv and timing how long it took for them to get the ball out of their hands from the snap of the ball.  I timed both pros and colleges, and even timed one high school game (you'd be amazed with the HS kid from Buffalo who was beating the clock on the collegiates and the pros!).  I tallied the results and was surprised, myself: The average was 2.3 seconds!  I took this information to my QB, and drilled him in practice with a stop watch.  The result was 209 yards passing the next game, against one of the toughest teams in the state.
Quarterbacks must develop a clock in their heads.  There are two elements that go into getting the ball away quickly: 1) How quickly they set and make the decision to throw, and; 2) How quick a release they have (meaning, once they've made the decision to throw, how quickly they get rid of the ball).  If their mechanics are lacking, they can only improve this time by making the decision faster, thereby reducing the number of reads they can make.  If they have great mechanics, then they can take an extra read.  Either way, you must drill the QB to get rid of the ball in the time you expect. 
One more thing.  The QB cannot wait for eye contact from the receiver before he delivers the ball.  This should also be drilled, with the QB throwing on the break and the receiver looking for the ball in the air. 
This element of time will assist greatly with pass protection. 
So, you might be asking, "If the inside 6 are taking care of the box, who picks up the Walk Out LBers if they blitz?  Simple.  The QB and slots are responsible for the WOLBs.  From the snap, the first read are the slots.  Both the QB and Slot have to recognize a blitz and go hot if it comes.  If the Wide Out is running a deep pattern, pushing the corner back, the slot will break off his route and run a quick out (a game adjustment would be if they were keeping the corner shallow and blitzing the LB, to hit the fade quickly; if your WOs are good, this is never bad anyway, just watch out if they're two deep; however, if they are, they have 5 in the box and you should run; if they're bring the single safety over, one deep post by the backside will stop that business for a while).  If the Wide Out is running a shallow route, the slot should curl and stem back to the QB hot.
We can also move the pocket -- occasionally or all the game -- to ease the pressure by not giving the defense the knowledge of where the QB is going to be every play.  Also, if the QB is a good runner, it gives him more opportunity to do so.  Now, smoke is different from a true sprint out, we basically just want to move the pocket with a semi-roll.  This is especially effective in high school where the hash marks are wider, so you don't lose as much of the field if you smoke the wide side. 
On a Smoke call, the line makes either a Right or Left call, depending on how many bodies are on each, and use slide protection to the given side.  The FB always leads to the Smoke side, and slips into the flats if there is no one to block, or if he misses a block, so that the QB can dump it off to him.  On a smoke call, one of the backside receivers will attack the safety.  If there are two backside receivers, one will drag.
If the defense overloads one side, making it impossible for 3 to pick up 4, the QB should check off to a running play to the opposite side.  Effectively, it's the same as 5 in the box to that side.  There is no need to have many running plays to check to.  One inside and one outside is fine.  For example, you could check to the speed option to get outside and the QB power to run inside. 
Another effective way to negate the pass rush is to throw to the back.  As discussed above, the FB slips into the flats if the LB does not come, and stays in to block if he does.  However, we can use the back to negate pressure by putting him into the route with the play call.  If there is a route for him tacked onto the play, the route is automatic and he does not stay in to block.  The line has to protect inside first, knowing that if they bring six they are outnumbered; the QB also must realize this and look for the back quickly.
If all else fails, we can motion a slot into the backfield, giving a "Maximum Protection" look with only 3 receivers in patterns.  Or, you can switch it up this way on the D, effectively switching sides that the back teams up with the line, sending the FB into a route.  The line must recognize the Flypro call combined with an F-(route) simply switches the 3-team pass blocking rules to the opposite side.  The Flypro also gives the defense a pre-snap look as if we are running the Jet Trap or Jet Sweep, so they might be thinking run if we motion the slot back.
The base pass protection plus the other six strategic factors should provide your spread attack with sufficient tools to protect the passer.  Of course, drilling in practice is the key, as with any fundamental aspect of the game.  In the Phoenix Lightning (c) attack that I've developed, all these aspects are "built in" to the terminology and flow of the total offense, so there is an easy continuity of learning the system and adjusting on the fly.
For more information on this article, contact the author at:
Scott Seeley

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