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The world of open grass reads in the passing game

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NCAA Football: Pinstripe Bowl-Wisconsin vs Miami Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

“Man, that (quarterback) can’t read a defense!” As football fans we hear this phrase all of the time and sometimes it just feels like a euphemism for saying a player is dumb. Sometimes it’s very true but also we have to ask ourselves- how convoluted is the passing system the player is in? Is he or she being coached to understand the passing concepts in front of them? Are we creating an offensive system that benefits the players and doesn’t hinder them?

The main questions that I like to ask quarterbacks before they take the field: what is open? What is the concept we’ve installed and called trying to accomplish? If you quarterback doesn’t understand what open looks like on a given play, and they don’t understand what the concept is trying to accomplish you’re a really bad football coach.

Quarterbacks have to understand where receivers are going, why, and when to know them as being an open target ready to receive the football. If the QB’s goals are to complete passes and avoid turnovers how can we achieve those goals with the most efficiency?


What is Open?

Dub Maddox is a high school football coach in Oklahoma that specializes in offensive install. He has created the R4 system for offenses that teaches coaches how to communicate with quarterbacks. I have written about R4 before on SOTU (click here), and I believe firmly in the the system.

Dub’s latest work is called, “What is Open?” As a leader of coaches, Dub’s been pivotal in educating us slappies in the best cognitive methods for quarterbacking. R4 is about creating a common language for QB’s and coaches to figure out who is open, how to identify it in a timely manner, and what concepts will help us to find open space.

Patrick Taylor is a high school coach in North Carolina. His work focuses on open space and open grass reads (check him out here). We’re going to discuss “6” as a concept later and Patrick has really reinvented the concept for someone like me who tries to use Trust-Based Coaching.

So what is open? Phil Longo (UNC offensive coordinator) would say when the receiver can “scream” and he’s covered when you see a “blur” of the opponent’s jersey.

Pre-snap and post-snap reads

Pre not worried that much about coverage but instead about CAP’d vs UNCAP’d and the shell. MOFO MOFC.

Focusing too much on what the defense is doing can be detrimental for coaches and quarterbacks. Defenses are running simulated pressures, trap coverages, and roll coverages at all levels of football. This is a modern era where while the offensive is trying to be complex to the defense while simplistic for their side of the ball, the defenses have caught up and are doing the same.

The first thing I like to look at as an offensive coordinator is the shell of the defense. How many players are “above the hard deck” (as Dub’s books would say). The hard deck sits around seven yards off of the line of scrimmage to put it around 2.5 yards deeper than a typical linebackers heels. If cornerbacks and safeties are seven yards or more off the ball they are truly defensive backs. If a cornerback is pressed he’s under the hard deck and thus not part of the shell.

Typical cover 2 alignment would mean the shell is two because the cornerbacks would be pressed or 2-3 yards off and the safety would be around 8-10 yards deep. How do you find what’s open against cover 2? Steve Spurrier would tell you the classic smash concept which is a hitch from the outside receiver and a corner route from the inside receiver.

Of course there’s always MOFO and MOFC. What do those mean? Middle of field open and middle of field closed. If the middle of the field is open- you had better be throwing a post route to your star wide receiver.

When the middle of the field is closed it’s time to work horizontally or by hitting the sideline. Mike Leach loves Mesh. We’ll get to Mesh at a later date. But he also love Shallow Cross and on shallow the quarterback can read a post/dig concept.

On the shallow cross above, the Z receiver has the option of a vertical route or a post. If the QB sees MOFO he can option route a post and read the safety. If the safety plays the dig throw the post, plays the post we throw the dig. Scream or blur, right?

If the MOFC the WR won’t run the post, instead he’ll run the vertical. Will the QB throw the vertical? Maybe. It’s his rhythm route. If the cornerback is playing press it’s worth a shot if you think you’re better than that CB. If it is capped by the CB the QB now looks to his read routes.


6 as a concept

This is where I get excited and Patrick Taylor has changed many of my visions of offense. For years I determined the quick game passing concept from the sideline. I told the quarterback whether they were throwing a slant-arrow concept or a vertical-out concept. We started running option routes when I was a lowly charter school head coach back in 2013. We went after “6” the traditional way (image above).

The traditional way of calling 6 is that the receivers are going to run vertical routes unless the defensive backs take it away. If the cornerback is playing above the hard deck the receiver isn’t going to run into the defender’s chest... instead he’s going to break his route off. Some coaches will have the outside receiver break outside on a comeback route, while the inside receivers break off inside.

Some coaches have both receivers break off inside, because it’s a much easier throw for young quarterbacks to make than comeback routes. But that’s not what changed, what changed was Trust-Based Coaching and allowing the quarterback, who is on the field, to choose the quick game concepts they like and tag them to 6.

An example is our quarterback might tag our h-back on a 5-yard out route. With simple hand signals at the line of scrimmage they can check to what they like. The coach has to trust that the quarterback is well schooled in the offense, can pre-snap read a defense based on the shell and defender leverage and ability, and then will throw pre-snap to the man that’s open (scream / blur).

If the QB does tag that out route the Z has to know he has to run the outside release vertical route. It’s all about intelligence and route replacement strategies in open grass reads.


What this means for Miami

So where do open grass reads come into play for Miami? The Hurricanes have to pick a quarterback who can prove to the coaches that they are willing to study not just the upcoming opponents but also the game of football. Trust-Based Coaching is a two-way street; the quarterback has to be as trustworthy as the coaches can put trust into them.

Luckily, gone are the days of jamming three locked vertical routes at defensive backs playing 10-20 yards off the ball. Dan Enos is all about short to intermediate option routes and quarterbacks who can get the ball out quickly, accurately, and without risk.

Who will be the beneficiary of a Trust-Based, option route, open grass system? Brevin Jordan, Will Mallory, KJ Osborn, and Jeff Thomas. If Thomas is in the slot running the cross, while Jordan is running the dig and Osborn is the Z running the post or vertical Miami has one hell of a crew of weapons.

Two questions remain: who is throwing them the football and can the offensive line protect long enough for the quarterback’s success?