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The Tree of Life: How to Throw the Ball to Space

In this week's installment we look over the Pass tree and how it has changed the game of football since the early 1970s.

Brad Kaaya looks to make a check down pass against the Game Cocks.
Brad Kaaya looks to make a check down pass against the Game Cocks.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports


Each week State of the U brings to light different strategies or personnel packages used during a given football game. To the common fan these tidbits often are glossed over due to enjoying the experience of the game but each decision counts and we're here to go over those in this weekly breakdown. To date we've gone over the following:

Defensive Line Gap Assignments

Offensive Line Blocking Scheme's

Secondary Coverage Types

In this piece we'll go over the history of the passing tree, how it is used on game day and how the wide receiving corps on Miami could use it to accelerate into 2015-2016 season.

Definition and Benefits

The "Passing Tree" essentially is an overlay of the many types of routes that a pass catching option (mainly the wide receivers and tight ends) would run on a passing play. The tree itself usually is designed by the offensive coordinator. There are three main benefits to having a passing tree in an offense.

First, the tree is designed by the coaching staff to accentuate what the quarterback or quarterbacks in the offense are best at. Repetition is key for the passing game so being able to throw the same 7-10 routes over and over for the gun slinger does nothing but help them prepare.

Second, the repetitions for the pass catching options are beneficial too. Practicing the same routes over and over with the same quarterbacks adds chemistry to the relationship as well as preaches awareness of where they should be on the field to make each catch at any given time. If a mistake is made while practicing the routes it can quickly be remedied in more repetitions.

Lastly, the route tree helps drill the offensive game plan into the passing attack. Each route is usually designated by a name or number given so that the practice as well as the play calling can be as simple as possible. Again, practicing the same 7-10 routes and calling out the play gives both the quarterbacks and their compatriots the added reps to thrive come game day, especially if they're playing in a hostile environment.

Background of the Passing Tree

The exact origin of the tree cannot be for certain pinpointed but many believe that Offensive Mastermind Don Coryell started the practice of using it back in his days with the San Diego Chargers. Back in the 70s and 80s it was widely accepted that Coryell's offense was second to none in the passing game. While teams like the Dolphins and Redskins were plodding through the trenches with Larry Csonka and John Riggins; Coryell used the strong armed Dan Fouts to stretch the field both vertically and horizontally with Kellen Winslow Sr. and his other cadre of wide receivers. Due to the widely successful passing attack the "Air Coryell" passing attack was born.

The Passing Tree in the 2015-2016 Miami Hurricanes Offense

Each quarterback views the practicing style of the tree differently. Some quarterbacks make sure to use it in the offseason to build rapport between themselves and the pass catchers. Others like to use it come game days to get in a good rhythm before going out in "live action." Probably the most famous quarterback to swear by using the practice tree in Peyton Manning. It is usually reported every Sunday morning that he and a few of his top targets will go out hours before their game and practice running through the route tree a few times each per person just to make sure all are on the same page.

From what I've gathered with studying Brad Kaaya is that he's a huge proponent for the practice. If you went to a game last season it was evident that he and his pass catchers had excellent chemistry. The plays that struck me the most were the wheel routes thrown to both Braxton Berrios and Duke Johnson during the GT and VT games respectively for touchdowns. Both throws were made three to five seconds before both players was deep into their routes and both throws were made while Kaaya was under pressure. Not easy throws at all but with lots of practice and repetition it becomes easier.