http://ad.doubleclick.net/clk;276390040;103714799;h  The National Football League is promoting a “share your story” with an opportunity to win a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII and they are engaging various celebrities to reflect on childhood memories.  When I saw a promotional picture of young kids in uniform of my era, it really stirred memories.  Nothing but good memories.  So I went into my archives and found this piece.  After I left the Washington Redskins in 2005 and prior to joining Drexel University’s Sport Management Program, I began writing about my life and how football has been absolutely intrinsic.

I haven’t posted on here in quite some time.  I now am out of coaching and working in the representation of NFL athletes.  It is rewarding work as I help prepare young men for the riggers of the combine, draft, and their transition into professional football.  We have been successful in this initial season with three players selected in the top 95 and two other free agents making their respective squads with one working his way into a starting position.

Here is the beginning of the seven chapters or so that I have written.  Don’t know if I’ll ever really write it all down.  We use to joke as coaches about writing a book but no one would ever believe the realities of the experiences.  If some feed back is positive perhaps I’ll post more but this is my base truth.  This is why I could never dream of really doing anything but being on a football field.  When I worked with Mike Hollway at Marietta College in the early 1980′s he spoke of, “not being singular in purpose” and that is why I’ve ventured into some of the avenues I have but at the end of the day we all have a definition and “coach” is what I will always inherently be.  Hope you enjoy this snippet.

PART I:  It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do…

Chapter 1                                            FULTON PARK

My dad pulled our white ‘64 Ford Falcon on the grass next to small boulders that were evenly spaced parallel to the street, used as a barrier to keep vehicles off the outfield of the baseball diamond in Fulton Park.  I couldn’t wait to jump out of the car as my legs stuck to the red vinyl seats.  It was a typically hot, muggy, late summer New England day in Waterbury, Connecticut and football season was approaching.

From across the street I could see my hero’s emerging from the shadows of the pine trees.  I could hear the clattering of the steel tipped nylon cleats as they came off the grass having walked up the hill from Wilby High School and crossed the street to reach the practice field.  Groups of two, three, five all wearing black mostly high top leather Riddell football shoes with white laces, practice football pants that were once white and now had a worn beige look to them, and white cotton tee shirts, no dryfit  back then.  In their hands that beautiful white MacGregor helmet with the protruding ear area, only single and double bar white nylon face masks, and a single green stripe down the middle with their practice jersey’s jammed inside and used to carry their floppy hockey like shoulder pads.

Pulling up and parking behind us was a convertible Cadillac.  The long, heavy driver’s side door swings open and out steps a round imposing figure.  It’s Fred O’Brien the head coach and my dad’s best friend.  Fred and my dad could pass as brothers.  Both are bald, my dad was 5-11 and probably around 225 at that time and Fred was 5-10 and I’d say 250 pounds. They are young, strong, and confident and are having the time of their lives coaching football.  My dad handled the offense and Fred the defense.  They trusted each other and the passion they had for what they were doing was evident.  They had mapped out practice the night before between playing hands of pinochle with my mom Hilda and Fred’s wife Barbara.

The entire squad has now arrived and is gathered under the shade of the trees that border the intersecting streets and are located in the deepest of straight away centerfield of the baseball diamond.  The infield is skinned and dry and has the look of a miniature patch of desert.  Behind the beaten and battered backstop is a hill with a path that gradually climbs from the third base line up and around the plate and declines as it wraps around to the first base line.  There are tennis courts behind the path on the first base side.  It is an idyllic setting in my mind for this is where the Wilby Wildcats hold their practices in the outfield, an open green space that is the most important patch of grass that I will ever know.

Coach O’Brien and my dad Coach Jim Kelly, simultaneously blow their whistles hanging from shoestrings around their necks.  They too have on football pants, white socks, black Riddell ripple soled shoes, gray tee shirts, and green caps and have the look of excitement and anticipation on their faces as the pea rattles in its chamber.  The team dons their helmets and begins to jog from centerfield toward the left field pole onto the path that inclines up and around the backstop, down the slope toward the right field pole and into precise exercise lines in what is normally right field but is now anointed as a practice football field.  The captains stand with their backs to where the second baseman would be located and the rest of the team is in eight rows of about six to a row.  The captains lead a variety of stretches and calisthenics that were typical of the times.  Neck roles, bridges, push-ups, sit-ups, up/downs, windmill toe touches, trunk twisters, forward and backward arm rotations would lead into wind sprints by each line of a 20 yard burst, to bear crawls of 50 to 100 yards, and who could forget the infamous duck walk for the same distance.  Forget water at the end of these drills.  Water was for the weak.  Sissie’s needed water.  Take a salt tablet and move on to the next set of drills.

I was taught to stay out of the way but I would push the limits as far as I could.  I would take off and run with the team around the field being passed by young men two and three times my size.  I’m six years old and the pounding sound on the dry ground, the dust in my face, that distinct odor of a pubescent football player’s sweat, and the sense of team sends a jolt through me as nothing else did.  This is where I belong.  I would mimic the exercises as best I could at the back of the line.  While the players conditioned, I would bounce over to the rusty two-man sled and stand on the back like my dad would be doing in a matter of moments exhorting on two young men to drive with their legs, keep their pad level down, head up, and push that thing around until you thought you were going to drop but you didn’t dare.

Next came “bull in the ring” where a single player would be in the center of a circle of players keeping his feet moving and head on a swivel, as the coach would then call out the number of a another player making up the circle to sprint out toward the player in the middle and deliver a blow, forcing the “bull” in the middle to quickly react to this immediate threat in a hitters position and deliver a blow himself or get knocked on his ass.  If the ‘bull” remained on his feet another player would be called from the circle in rapid succession, one right after another until an alternate “bull’ was chosen.  Once these two young coaches were satisfied that toughness was being instilled, onto the “Oklahoma Drill” they went.  A ball carrier, quarterback to hand off, an offensive lineman to open the hole against an interior defender, and then an end to block a defensive back.  All are aligned in a row bordered by blocking dummies to appoint a confined running lane.  These drills were exciting, violent, team building, and man producing.  I loved it.

The scrimmage phase of practice demonstrated the importance of paying attention to detail.  If a running back was too anxious to get to the exchange in a draw scheme, my dad would hold the back of his pants and then let him go when the timing was proper to teach patience.  If the steps of an end to arc release with the proper removal of surface area from the defender attempting to disrupt the release was proving difficult, time would be taken to demonstrate and teach the footwork, perhaps even staying at the end of practice and mapping out the steps in the dry dirt of the infield so that the player could visualize the exact arc needed.  Nothing was left to chance.  Specifics were to be taught.  Repetition was the key.  You didn’t have to do a lot, just do the things you do have correctly and never, ever quit.

It has been very rare over my career when running an offense, have we broken the huddle or aligned on the line of scrimmage in the same configuration we executed the play from when not using a quick snap count.  The early teachings of the true Tubby Raymond Delaware Wing-T had a tremendous effect on my way of thinking in terms of creating flank advantages, coverage declaration, personnel mismatches, flow deception, and series recognition.  I was taught, “if we shift one and they move two, we win…and it we shift two and they move four, we win even more”!

When I first entered the Canadian Football League in 1992 viewing six men in motion, two moving laterally and four attacking the line of scrimmage, it unleashed a flood of new opportunity to assist the quarterback in pre-snap reads and enhanced releases by the receivers and running backs.  When I entered the XFL, they allowed for one in lateral motion with another in horizontal motion. It was no mistake that in the 2001 XFL Championship Play-offs, three of the four remaining teams had offensive coordinators that at one time had been OC’s in the CFL (Joe PaoPao in San Francisco, Jim Barker in Los Angeles, and me in Orlando).  We knew how to attack the line of scrimmage and create advantages before crossing it with quarterbacks that were tuned in to defensive reactions.

United States high schools, NCAA/NAIA, and the National Football League only allow singular lateral pre-snap motion but so much can be told prior to the snap by using all your skilled players in the shifting of formation and motion.  Motion will assist a spread offense in a variety of ways.  See how these suggestions can enhance your concepts.

Here are some advantages to think about when motion is employed by the slot(s) and backs:

  1. Gives the quarterback a pre-snap read determining man or zone concepts
  2. Improves releases
  3. May cause the defense to show blitz early
  4. Improves the “hot” and dump read
  5. Assists in creating advantageous blocking angles
  6. Removes defenders from the point of attack

Extended motion by the slots and backfield allows a change in formation and should answer these questions:

  1. Does it cause man coverage problems?
  2. Does it assist in flooding a zone?
  3. Will it make the offensive play more successful?
  4. Will it improve the performance of the executing player?
  5. Will it make the job easier?

We will also use our wide outs in motion simply by shifting the slot onto the LOS and stepping the WR off and then executing movement.  The slots and wide outs must think:

  1. Can I take the strong safety away from the point of attack?  (POA)
  2. Can I enlarge the hole at the POA to make blocking easier for myself and my teammates?
  3. Can I release more easily on pass routes or blocking down field on either an outside or inside release?
  4. Can I make them show blitz early?
  5. Can I force the coverage shell to declare early for recognition of the middle of the field open (MOFO) or middle of the field closed (MOFC)?  This is important for “sight adjusting” our routes and declaring how many men will be in the box.

Running backs must be cognizant of:

  1. Does the outside linebacker follow me?
  2. Does my movement change the defensive front?
  3. Can I achieve a better “hot” or dump read?
  4. Is the FS assigned to me creating cover 0?

Provide a motion “name” for each position.  A “named” movement will speak specifically to the player you desire to change the strength of formation, balance the formation, create three receivers to a side, or simply to enhance the release or create a diversion.

  1. H/B-back = Ram/right      Lion/left  (the suffix ‘STOP’ will extend him outside of the WR and settle)
  2. A-back = Ray/right        Lil/left     (the suffix ‘STOP’ will extend him outside of the WR and settle)
  3. Y-slot or a TE depending on the personnel group = Rip/right      Liz/left
  4. S-left slot or slot in a TE personnel group = Rose/right      Load/left
  5. Z-right wide out = Lex/left (suffix ‘IT’ extends his motion across the mid-line (past the QB) releasing outside the tackle predetermined by the pattern requirement
  6. X-left wide out = Rex/right (suffix ‘IT’ extends his motion across the mid-line (past the QB) releasing outside the tackle predetermined by the pattern requirement
  7. The suffix ‘RETURN’ begins you in the called direction and brings you back to assist the QB in a pre-snap read and an easier release

Communication and keeping calls as simple as possible is always a challenge.  Over the years, using this type of named approach has proven to be very efficient and as you develop it and cultivate it into your vernacular you will find you can shift formation and use movement to create advantages for your offense.

The mandate of an offensive attack is to dictate that the opponent defends the entire dimensions of the field.  Over the next few posts I will provide a basis for the spread attack providing variations for you to consider and implement into your current scheme.  Formationing, motion, personnel, blocking schemes in protection and the run game, and launch point differentials will be explored.

There is no question that the Hal Mumme/Mike Leach scheme has become extremely trendy and the Rich Rodriguez tailoring of the zone read option to Manny Matsakis and his tripleshoot have changed the way we think about offensive football, to name a few.

Exploring variations of the spread to fit your personnel is paramount.  Simply deploying a scheme that works for someone else does not necessarily translate into success for your squad without the proper skill sets of your players.

When putting together your approach, a reason for it must be considered.  Remember that a system should appear complicated enough in conflict to the defense but is easily implemented as a solid base attack to build from.  Ask yourself and your staff, “why use a spread attack”?

I am going to provide a bit of a differing approach than that of the aforementioned coaches yet there are definitely similarities in all our philosophical approaches.  The biggest of course that we all spread the field and push the clock but I’m going to provide you with a few things to consider to modify what these highly successful coaches have been able to accomplish.  The key to remember is that at the collegiate and professional levels, you can recruit to your system.  As a high school coach you will not always have the luxury of having the players to fit those schemes precisely.  My hope is to give you something to modify the scheme so that your kids have an opportunity to experience success and that is what coaching is ultimately all about.

For a run and pass offense to complement one another, they should operate from the same offensive sets.  Formations must force the defense to cover the width of the field without sacrificing the run game and that is why I used a two back/three wide receiver grouping (four wides in the CFL) so often to provide a direct conflict to the defensive thinking.

The three wide receiver set dictates a philosophy that widens the windows in coverage schemes while reducing opportunities for the defense to put eight in the box.  By spreading the formation it allows for full expression of the route combination forcing the defenders to expand in coverage across the field while providing the quarterback with a distinct view of the patterns and the coverage.

Two back sets are required to truly effectively run the football.  It provides a solid inside zone scheme allowing for the “downhill” attack of the defensive front as compared to the slower developing lateral run schemes.  Two backs strengthen the flank attack with lead blockers and extenuate the play action pass attack as every run has an accompanying pass.  Two backs will also create personnel mismatches in the pass game as motion will remove defenders from the box placing them in open space where they are less comfortable and continuing to provide a run threat with a ball carrier other than the quarterback still in the backfield.  The use of a hybrid fullback/tight end or “H” back is what we looked for to compliment the featured tailback motioning out to create new flanks or staying in the box as a run blocker and occasional carrier.  Part of the package included two true tailbacks which provided conflict in the double screen concept and in the broom sweep from the slot, to name a few variations.

In the early winter of 1992, I was the Associate Head Football Coach at San Francisco State University.  All of the coaches were required to teach a class in the department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation.  One particular class was geared toward coaching football and several of us took part instructing various aspects of the syllabus.  I shed light on the history of offensive football.  I took the class through the evolution of the single-wing, wing-T, straight-T, wishbone, split-back veer, and run-n-shoot (the Tiger Ellison version and the Mouse Davis ideology).   

Legendary SFSU Head Coach Vic Rowan had been forced into retirement two season’s previously but was still very much an influence on the Daly City campus.  Coach Rowan would come to my class and pull up a seat in the back of the classroom.  He would intently listen each session and as the class concluded would depart without a word.  Coach Rowan provided the first college coaching opportunity to Super Bowl winning head coach Mike Holmgren, NFL coaches Andy Reid and Dirk Koetter to name a few and his presence in my classroom was quite frankly a bit disconcerting.  It was obvious I was being evaluated but for what?

One day after class, Coach Rowan approached me and said, “let’s go get a cup of coffee”.  I had established a great relationship with him as we would discuss football and life in private settings but we didn’t go get coffee on a regular basis.  As we gathered our cups and found a table at an on campus coffee shop, Coach proceeded to tell me that he had been speaking with an old friend that is a general manager in the Canadian Football League.  He advised me that if I received a call from the gentleman to accept his offer.

A week later as I was packing to fly to Colorado with our offensive staff to visit the staffs at the Air Force Academy and Colorado State University. The phone rang, “Hello Mike, this is Cal Murphy with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Canadian Football League.  I understand you are flying into Denver tomorrow.   There will be a ticket waiting there for you to transfer a flight to Winnipeg.  I’ll pick you up at the airport.  See you then”.  It proved to be the most influential phone call of my life.

Cal picked me up as he said he would and provided me with a quick tour of the facility on 1465 Maroons Road, grabbed a bite at Finger’s restaurant (best club sandwich I ever had!), and dropped me off at the Viscount Gort Hotel in possession of a three-inch thick playbook with diagrams of twelve men, six in motion, and explanations of coverage I had never seen.  I fell asleep with that playbook on my chest.  My Winnipeg experience had begun.

The next morning I sat with Cal and he explained how he wanted a new staff with fresh ideas.  His plan was to hire coaches without Canadian Football League experience.  He was tired of conformed thinking.  A new jolt of energy and thought was needed.

He walked me down the hallway to a vacant room.  One wall had shelving with neatly enumerated beta cassette tapes from floor to ceiling.  Urban Bowman, the only returning staff member, pulled Bomber game tape from the shelves and placed them on a table and returned to his office across the hall.  I slipped the first beta cassette into the machine, watching for several hours without disturbance.  I stuck my head out the door and no one was around so I returned to the darkened room and proceeded to view more tape.  Six hours passed and finally, Cal came to door and we returned to his office.

I sat on an old, weathered, royal blue couch with stained arm rests while Coach Murphy sat behind a desk that was entirely to big and disproportionate with the room.  Cal asked me  a single question, “what did you see”?  Little did I know that 16 years later I would be removing those same couches and desk to make that office my own.

I must have said the right things as I was hired along with Frank Spazziani (current Boston College head coach), Charlie Carpenter (who I would later hire as my line coach of the Bombers in 2009),  and Ron Calcagni who had been serving as the inside receivers coach at the University of Houston.  Later, Budgie Hamilton would join us from San Francisco State University.  Cal had accomplished exactly what he set out to do, hire a staff with fresh eyes as to how to look at the CFL.

Our learning curve was very sharp and Cal would teach all phases of the game to us with Urban assisting with special teams and defense but I was learning offensive football completely from Cal.  We would clinic all day and into the night.  Beer and peanuts would conclude the evening.  Getting to know each other, he and I played off of our Irish heritage, his mixed with German and mine with Hungarian just seemed to fit.  He reminded me of my father.  Tough, straight forward, no-nonsense but with compassion and caring for people.  He thought I was mentally tough and told me so.  He also recognized how much I wanted to learn the game and he made extra time for me.

We went to camp at Brandon University in Manitoba with great enthusiasm and desire to get the Bombers back on track after a 9-9 season in 1991.  As a staff we were still far behind in our understanding of the finer points of the game.  Player evaluation was also difficult for the new staff and often Cal would sit back in his chair, peanuts always by his side, listening to position coaches complain about the skill level of a player when Cal would begin to take his index finger and scroll on his own chest.  He was drawing a “maple leaf”, the designation and emblematic symbol for a Canadian player.  The all important “non-import” that will make or break your roster.

We would meet sometimes until 2 or 3:00 in the morning arising at 6:30 to start another grinding day.  It was frustrating for Cal but he remained patient, forever the teacher.  However, you could see it start to take it’s toll on his energy level and repeated mistakes or missteps were no longer being tolerated.

We played our first pre-season game in Regina, Saskatchewan against the arch rival (do people use that term anymore?  It is still fitting for those two franchises!) Roughriders.  A prairie storm blew through with tremendous lightning and hit a transformer blowing out a bank of lights delaying the game.  Cal wanted me on the sidelines next to him so that we could converse face to face.  I was invigorated.  This was the most exciting experience in football I had to this stage of my career.  Everything to me was perfect.

After the game we headed to the airport and sat in the Air Canada lounge laughing, talking about the game, about Cal teasing former Bomber Tyrone Jones and Tyrone taking his rath out on me and I didn’t even know who he was!  We sat in that lounge drinking beer and eating peanuts. I was in pro football and I was learning from man that was held in the highest of esteem.  Life couldn’t be better than this…

As we prepared for our second pre-season game in early July tragedy struck.  Cal had another severe heart attack, a series of which started I believe, in his mid 40′s.  Emergency by-pass surgery was performed and he was flown to London, Ontario.  A heart transplant was required to save his life.

We had to pull together.  Urban was named Interim Head Coach.  Lyle Bauer who the previous year was the starting offensive center and was in his first half year as Assistant General Manager was moved into Acting GM.  Urban would continue to coordinate the special teams but offensively and defensively it was to be handled by committee.  We had our most important resource in Cal, removed.  It was a devastating blow to all of us and the building was so somber.  We adorned our helmets with red heart stickers on the back near the numbers and the coaches wore red heart pins on our game shirt collars.  Somehow drinking a beer and eating peanuts at the end of the day wasn’t the same.

We struggled through the season and in early October were soundly beaten by the Eskimos in Edmonton.  Our starting quarterback and now Canadian Football Hall of Famer, Matt Dunigan, injured his knee and would be out indefinitely.  We were sitting at 6-7 and the previous 9-9 record didn’t look so bad anymore.

When I returned home in Winnipeg the phone rang.  It was Cal calling from his hospital bed in London.  The transplant had gone well and he was recovering nicely but still had a battle in front of him.  He had watched the game on television and had seen enough.  His strength was coming back and so was his sternness.  “You take that offense and straighten it out”! bellowed from the other end of the phone.  “Are you telling me I have the power to do what I think is needed”? I asked.  “What the hell do you think I just said? Take it over”! was the response.

I went in that morning and both Urban and Lyle were already informed as to the conversation.  I immediately took over the quarterbacks along with the receivers.  Danny McManus would now be our starter and I was calling the plays.  We would go on to win our last five regular season games finishing 11-7 and winning the division.  Dunigan returned for the Eastern Final against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and we won 59-11 and headed to the Grey Cup to face Doug Flutie and the Calgary Stampeders in Toronto.  We lost the Championship Game that next week but Cal was in attendance.  The pain of losing the game was deep but shallower than it could have been because Cal was well on the road to recovery.

We all took only half the play-off money and had our salaries reduced by 8% to aid the club’s bottom line.  The community owned team was floundering financially and everyone had to do their part in order for it to survive.  The coach I demoted was never replaced and for the next four years it was just me and a line coach with Cal stepping in to help with the running-backs during individual period.  I never received another raise and none of the coaches I originally was hired with stayed for the remainder of Cal’s tenure which ended unceremoniously after the 1996 season in which we went 9-9.

Those years in-between were the best of my life.  I was the offensive coordinator and Cal allowed me to grow and provided guidance but never interference.  I did my job and Coach Murphy trusted me to do it.  Cal holding court in the Presidential Suite in Ottawa or in another Air Canada lounge somewhere drinking a beer and eating peanuts, laughing…hard and loud, learning, maturing will forever be with me.  Cal and I flying to Toronto to hide in the baseball press box of the SkyDome watching the Argonauts play the Calgary Stampeders and stealing Offensive Coordinator John Hufnagel’s signals before the play-offs began then returning to the hotel lounge to drink a beer and eat peanuts discussing what we saw, eventually helping the bar staff put the chairs up on the tables.

He taught me so much.  Cal let me in on how to handle the operating budget, salary cap, negotiating contracts, evaluating players, building a roster, the importance of a cohesive locker room.   He was set in his beliefs of media access and the limits of players using the club as a platform for their own personal gains.  It was about being a Winnipeg Blue Bomber.  About the importance of the Blue and Gold and never, ever the individual player.  For Cal it was God, Family, and the Blue Bombers.  He kept life simple.  He was tough.  He was intelligent.  He was at times a pain in the ass.  He was kind.  He was caring.  Next to my father, I learned more from him than any other man in my life.

I was with Coach Murphy nearly everyday for five straight years from February of 1992 to January of 1997.  We went 54-36 in the regular season winning three divisional championships, made the play-offs all five seasons, and appeared in two Grey Cups.  He always said the 14-4, 1993 team may be the best to never win the Championship.

He came to visit me when I became the Head Coach at Valdosta State University in 1997 as he was now with the Saskatchewan Roughriders providing me with more insight and we drank a beer and ate peanuts.

Cal passed away on February 18, 2012 at the age of 79.  He got the most of that replacement heart but it was his soul that was so absolutely wonderful.  I will keep most of my memories, particularly on the personal side for myself, and how he helped my family during difficult times and how he always stood by me and believed in me even when I know some of my actions frustrated him.  Sometimes “Kindly Cal” wasn’t the most likeable but most true leaders aren’t because they are ones willing to make the most difficult decisions for the betterment of the whole and not always of the individual.  Cal had foresight and vision like no other and frankly it scared people because they did not have the capacity to stand by their convictions like Mr. Murphy did.

I love Cal Murphy and for just one more time, I wish I could drink one more beer with him…and eat peanuts…

Often this vitally important aspect of the program is an after-thought.  This position can virtually be placed anywhere in your roster building after quarterback.  These young men have more pressure, scorn, ridicule, and lack of respect directed towards them that in a moment of a single contact of foot to ball, can turn them into heroes.  More than any position on your roster, they are taken for granted and are expected to be 100% each time they trot onto the field.

The “talking heads”  continue to make comments when a kicker or punter is drafted in the fourth round or higher and will be the first to comment if a team plays a game and is consistently losing the field position battle or a missed extra point or field goal is the difference in the score of the game.

Many programs recruit these players as “walk-ons” with the promise that if they win the competition in camp or spring ball, scholarship funding will be made available.  A pro player struggles in a game or two and the next thing that happens is competition is brought in and the player has to compete during the course of the week.  They can be the most under-coached or over-coached players in the program. Yet always, they are expected to be perfect when called upon.  After-all, it’s all they have to do, right?

Extenuate the positive with these men.  Build them up and let them know that you believe in them.  They NEVER mean to miss a kick or shank a punt…NEVER…so show them you care and empathise.  Send your recruiters and scouts out on the road with these tools in mind and find the right:

                                                                        KICKER/PUNTER

HANDS                          Type: soft, stiff, eye/hand coördination, extends hands to the snap or body catch, adjust to bad snap, is punter the holder for PAT/FG

GET-OFF                       PUNTER – 2 or 3 step, distance covered/time, snap = 0.8 seconds or less, tough to toe = 1.4 seconds or less, launch = 2.2 seconds or less     KICKER  - 1.3 seconds or less on snap, pin, to contact

LEG STRENGTH        Distance, explosion into the ball

HANG TIME                 Height of ball on punts and kick-offs (check for cover patterns on tape to determine hang time, ie. on kick-off cover the team should be across the 30 yard line when the ball is caught by the returner)

HANDLE WIND         Against wind, with wind, cross wind, can he “drive” the football

ACCURACY                  Leg control, placement, field goal percentage for kickers

PRESSURE                  Game intensity, rush, bad snap (hand and adjust to kick), general demeanor, composure

TACKLE                        Cover ability, courage, willingness to be the last line of defense

RUN/PASS                   Bonus, check high school positions played, athletic ability, other sports played

PRODUCTION            Statistics, opportunities, does he get the job done, consistency

MECHANICS               Smooth and fluid, consistent, athletic, flexibility, extension, plant foot, drop

NOTE:                             Soccer style or straight on conventional (the last conventional kicker drafted in the NFL was my good friend and fellow coach Manny Matsakis by the Philadelphia Eagles), shoe or barefoot (am I dating myself?), right or left footed

                                                                     CRITICAL FACTORS  

Leg Strength, Accuracy, Distance, Production

We can have discussions that will go on and on with this position being listed last as we build our roster and this decision is solely based on past experiences and schemes most employed.  The “power forward” basketball type athlete that is now emerging in this spot is very intriguing.  Big, agile, strong, and possessing field awareness utilizing court presence with the understanding of running away from man and sitting in zone have made these athletes a hot commodity.

I have been known to use more of a “spread” set running a “loose wing-T” with three backs and two wides, our version of spread with two backs and three wides and single back with four wides.  In the Canadian Football League I believe utilizing a tight end is an effort in futility as you need to exploit the additional width (a CFL field is 65 yards yard as compared to an American field which is 53 yards) using two back/four wides or single back/five wides (again, the CFL utilizes 12 men while the U.S. game plays with 11).  Even in U.S. football, I have been a proponent in short yardage to go four wides with a single back in motion.  If a LB runs with the back and removes himself from the box, the QB sneaks.  If the LB stays in the box, we turn and deliver to the back in open space.  Placing 22 or 24 men in a five yard box simply has not proven beneficial in our experience.

That being said, the essence of coaching is providing your players with an opportunity to experience success in a scheme that fits the available player’s skill sets.  As a coordinator and a head coach only one time in my career (with the Orlando Rage of the XFL) did we possess the players at the tight end position that truly made an impact on the scheme.  When Coach Joe Gibbs returned to the Washington Redskins in 2004, a premium was placed on the tight end position and we were activated in the Pro Personnel department to find as many tight ends or over-sized fullbacks as we could to fill the desired “H-back” position along with many two tight end sets.

The development to these highly skilled athletes are causing match-up advantages for the offense and create personnel grouping and formation recognition nightmares for defensive coordinators.  They are important cogs in the run game, play-action, and are vital to most red zone schemes.  Use these tools to find a game changer at the position of:

                                                                     TIGHT ENDS

RUN BLOCK INLINE                    Strength upper and lower body, base, balance, stays on feet, initial contact, works through the belt buckle up into the numbers, drive and sustain, leverage, production vs willingness, drive off the line of scrimmage (LOS) or position, secure the point of attack (POA), wall off type, type of blocks (drive, down, double, angle, cut, butt-n-cut, seal), stick and stay, push and pester, knee bend/sink hips, finish, proper footwork, arm length

SUSTAIN/FINISH                           Base, balance, body control, play strength, inline, on the move, vs DL, vs LB, effort, determination, toughness

BALANCE                                            Ability to retain body control in the execution of various techniques required of the position as a blocker and receiver, regain body control temporarily lost, lower body strength and base to stay on feet

DOWNFIELD BLOCK                   Effort, angle, adjust on the run, stay on feet, balance, cut block without lunging, zero in on a moving target and strike

HANDS                                                Type: soft, stiff, snatch, pluck, extend and make finger tip catch, body catcher, double catch, adjust to the flight of the ball and frame the throw, ability to make the tough catch, secure the ball upon contact, catch in traffic

INITIAL QUICKNESS                   Movement off the ball, first step out of stance, burst into pass routes, coming out of breaks

RELEASE                                            Escape hold-up at LOS, stance (2 or 3 point), techniques, foot quickness, agility, hip and leg drive, fake and go, head and shoulders, comes off hard every play, doesn’t get knocked off route, speed release, swim

ROUTES                                              Type of cuts; sharp, rounded, body control, gathers feet to cut, stride coming out of cuts smoothly with a burst to separate, change of pace within pattern stem, fake and cut ability, read coverage and adjust, fluid not stiff mechanical movements

SEPARATION                                   Acceleration,burst and body movement to create space from defender and get open, change of direction (COD) without wasted movement, horizontal, vertical

AWARENESS                                   Understanding to locate open area, knowledge of coverages and defenders, cognizant of first down marker, boundary, clock management

RECEIVE SHORT                           Ability to find open windows in zone coverage and settle in the biggest area, catch in a crowd, run through the catch, separate vs man to man, read coverage, awareness, cutting ability, adjust to the ball, feel for the underneath passing game

RECEIVE DEEP                               Speed to go long, vertical threat, close cushion, burst to separate, adjust to deep ball and frame throw, make over the shoulder catch, battle for a jump ball, leaping ability, timing, concentration, accelerate to the ball

REACT/ADJUST                             See and realign to the ball in flight, body control and flexibility to make the difficult catch, cradles low throw, throws behind and over-head, or any off target throw, squares shoulders and frames the throw

REACT IN A CROWD                    Courage, concentration, take a hit and maintain security of the ball, competes for the ball in traffic, between the hashes, use of body to shield off defender, provides a good target

RUN AFTER CATCH                      Athletic, determined runner, fight for yards after catch (YAC’s), open field instincts, acceleration, stop and start quickness, change of pace, weaver or darter, able to turn a short reception into a big gain, breaks tackles

                                                                   CRITICAL FACTORS

SIZE                                                       Height and weight according to chart and level of play

MENTAL                                              Football intelligence, ability to acquire and maintain knowledge, ability to thing and react during competition, normal reps, ability to assimilate strategy and to adopt prescribed solutions to different game situations

BLOCKING                                         On the LOS, second level to wall off, base, leverage, balance, sustain, finish, play strength, aggressive, effectiveness, desire

QUICKNESS                                      Ability to initiate body movement in a desired direction in a single thrust, able to move hands, arms, torso and feet in unison and rapid succession

HANDS                                                 Ability to adjust, extend and catch with hands, dependable, consistent, natural vs body catcher, makes the routine catch routinely, can make the tough catch

I struggled, albeit briefly, on whether to continue building our roster with a tight end next and certainly with the success being experienced by many NFL clubs this season using tight ends as a major component of their scheme, having a solid running back trumps the tight end position for us.

An instinctive, hard-nosed runner allows you to control the time of position and may be the single most important component in the identity and personality of your ball club.  A physical run game will wear down an opponent and as the secondary must be involved in support, allows you to utilize play-action to gain explosive plays.

A dynamic quick twitch runner that can score from anywhere on the field will not allow the pass rush to “pin their ears back” and disrupt the drop-back game providing a cleaner pocket to deliver the ball downfield, be effective in the draw scheme, and if the defense is overly aggressive the screen game becomes paramount.

There is still a place for two-back sets and a solid fullback as a lead blocker and a powerful quick hit dive back and trap carrier will always carry merit.

Having a solid run game has proven over the course of time to be the lynchpin of championship football teams.  Throwing the ball all over the park is fun and exciting but ultimately if you can not effectively control the ball with a run game you are applying undo stress on your entire club.  Now go find this vital cog by using these evaluative tools for the position of;

                                                                      RUNNING BACKS

INITIAL QUICKNESS                     Movement upon snap of the ball, explosive start, straight ahead, lateral, type of stance, hitch or false step, quickness to the hole, get-off from 2 or 3 point stance

INSTINCTS/VISION                        Natural feel as a carrier, peripheral sight, focus on the point of attack (POA), quick reactions, ability to create or alibi positive yardage on poorly blocked plays

INSIDE RUNNER                             Vision, presses POA, pick, slide and accelerate through the hole, ability to find and hit a crease, body lean, pad level, strength, power, break tackles, short yardage and goal line, follow and utilize blockers, cut in the hole, pound type, gain yards after initial hit, leg drive, effort, ability to finish runs with authority, make aggressive tough 2 and 3 yard runs, step over trash, traffic burst in the hole

POWER/BREAK TACKLES           Play strength to break tackles, gets behind pads, can be own blocker and move the pile, leverage, short yardage and goal line, leg drive, refuses to be stopped, slasher, hard nosed, not afraid to initiate contact

SHORT YARDAGE RUNNER        Efficiency in converting short yardage situations, run skills, power, desire, pad level, leg churn

OUTSIDE RUNNER                          Speed and quickness to turn the corner and take the ball wide, game breaker, can score from anywhere on the field, elusiveness to make tacklers miss, instincts, plant and cut, attack downhill

ELUSIVENESS                                    Makes defenders miss, type: darter or weaver, deceptive, dancer, quickness, balance, agility, plant and cut without loss of speed, can dip in and out, gear change, straight line limitations, create, avoid, slip and slide

BALANCE                                             Ability to retain body control in the execution of various fundamentals of carrying the ball and in blocking, regain body control after temporarily lost, lower body strength to stay on feet

ACCELERATION                              Burst, 2nd gear, amount of time it takes to be at top speed, ability once you’re moving to get to a hight rate of speed

BALL SECURITY                             Chronic fumbler, ball protection, carelessness, physical make up, number of fumbles, pad level entering contact

PASS ROUTES                                   Ability to get out of the backfield and into routes quickly, type of routes, experience as a receiver, awareness, vs man/zone understanding, comfortable in open space, hand placement to the throw, allows blockers to to get in front in screen game

HANDS                                                  Type: soft or stiff, body catcher, extends to throw, adjust to the ball, able to make difficult catch, frames throw, relaxed, natural

RUN BLOCKING                               Willingness, attitude, effort, aggressive, initial contact, base, balance, knee bend, power and explosion, stays on feet, follow through, finish, react to games and stunts, chop blocker or face up, experience, courage

PASS BLOCKING                              Willingness, attitude, effort, initial contact, base, feet, balance, stays square, face up, strike and recoil, shadow defender, does not over-extend or lunge, dogs and blitz recognition and pick up

DURABILITY                                     Physically able to perform consistently over a long period, doesn’t miss time – game or practice, understands the difference between pain and injury, number of carries (game/season), stamina, maintains concentration when in pain or tired late in the game

                                                                   CRITICAL FACTORS

TAILBACK/SINGLE BACK

RUN SKILLS                                      Over-all talent, inside and outside, production as a carrier, creates, avoids

INSTINCTS/VISION                       Natural feel as a carrier, quick reactions, eyes, ability to create, makes something out of nothing

SPEED                                                   40 time, burst, acceleration, play speed

QUICKNESS                                       Ability to initiate body movement in a desired direction in a single thrust, able to move hands, arms, torso and feet in unison and rapid succession

HANDS                                                  Comfort level in all routes, production as a receiver, natural or body catcher

FULLBACK

INSIDE RUNNER                           Vision, feet, agility, strength, power, pad level, short yardage and goal line, finish runs, courage and toughness

QUICKNESS                                       Ability to initiate body movement in a desired direction in a single thrust, able to move hands, arms, torso, and feet in unison and rapid succession

BLOCKING                                         Run/pass, willingness, attitude, toughness, production

HANDS                                                 Comfort level in all routes, production as a receiver, natural or body catcher

MENTAL                                              Intelligence, schematic understanding, assimilates strategy, adaptability, toughness