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Copyright 2004 John T. Reed
I learn every year I coach. One of my big learning experiences of the last two seasons was the importance of hash position.
Hash position affects what formations you should call, what plays, and what defenses.
Generally, if you put more than one receiver outside the tight end area, they need to be out on the field (wide side), not the boundary (short), side. We were big on twins left formation in 2004. That has a tight end to the left, a split end and slot flanker to the right, and two backs behind the quarterback.
But we quickly concluded that we did not want to run twins left when the ball was on the right hash. There is only about 18 yards between the hash and the sideline. You need to put your weak guard and tackle in there. That leaves only about 15 yards in which to fit the slot and split end. Too tight. Against quick, three-step drop passeswhich should be the most common drop-back pass at the youth levelthey can almost be covered in zone pass defense by one guy. Furthermore, neither can run much of an out-breaking route like a flat, out, or corner. So the defender can and should play them inside.
In a 2004 game, I let my quarterback call one play. He called ACT 27 which has the fullback running straight to the sideline (flat route) and the tight end running a crack corner (fakes down block on the middle linebacker then runs outward at a 45-degree angle). Unfortunately, on that play, the QB did not have a hash-conscious play-calling sheet like I carry. He forgot that the ball was on the left hash and that both routes were therefore going into the boundary which was only about 15 yards away from the receivers.
ACT 27 is a play action fake of 27 power G (off tackle with a pulling guard kicking out the defensive end). As such, a right-handed QB has to take about four steps, fake a handoff, then turn 180 degrees to set up to throw. Receivers travel about eight yards per second (a 5.0 40 time). So the fullback is going to be out of bounds in less than two seconds and the tight end will be out of bounds in about three seconds.
Given the time needed to get to the fake point, which is out behind the tackle, fake, turn 180 degrees, read the appropriate defender, and the flight time of the ball, you cannot run that pattern into the boundary. You would have to throw such a pattern into the boundary only with a one- or three-step drop. Even then it would be tricky. Into the boundary, its probably just a goal-line or short-yardage, stop-the-clock type of play. Running the same play to the field (toward the sideline that is farthest away) would be just fine.
In the event, our QB threw to the tight end, but he was about to go out of bounds by the time the ball was released so it was incomplete out of bounds.
So we learned never to use the twins left formation when the ball was on or near the right hash. In those cases, our flanker was trained to automatically line up in pro left which means tight end and flanker on the left and split end on the right. I would call the formation from the sideline, but the receiver would have questioned me if I had mistakenly called twins into the boundary.
Where does the wide receiver line up? We used to tell him to go out there. If he was too close, we would say, Wider. If he was too far we would say, Closer. Thats not precise enough. This year, we told the widest receiver to align 18 yards from the ball, or the middle of the numbers, whichever was farther from the sideline. We picked 18 because it was about right for our level (high school freshman) and because it is the distance between the hashes. So when the ball is on one hash, the wide receiver aligns on the otherunless that puts him on the sideline, in which case he moves into the middle of the numbers. In our season, all but two of our games were played on state-of-the-art Field Turf or Astroplay. The yard line numbers are woven into such fields.
Our slot was told to align eleven yards from the ball or seven yards inside the wide receiver. We had much more success than ever before passing and we attribute that in part to standardizing our wide receiver alignments so the QB did not have to ask himself, So where are they lining up this time? before every play. We want the QB to be able to complete all our pass routes blindfolded. That way he only has to read the defender during a game. To achieve the blindfolded accuracy, you need to standardize your splits, have route discipline (same break point and cut angle every time), and to try to use the same personnel as much as possible in practice and games.
The defense should also be thinking about these same things. In my youth football books, I said to put your best corner, outside linebacker, and defensive end on the wide side of the field and flip flop them as the hash position changed. I also said to box your wide-side end against teams with a good sweep play, but to slide your short-side DE along the line of scrimmage because the sweep is not much of a threat to the short side of the field.
That was good as far as it went, but there is more. My GAM defense has you putting our slot defender in a walk-away position. Against a two-receivers into the boundary formation, thats even more appropriate. You may also want to slide your middle linebacker a bit to the wide side as a result. Twins into the boundary could be a ploy to get you to put too many guys into the boundary to they can run or pass to the wide side.
My defense also has you in bump-and-run man pass coverage aligned in an inside shade against all receivers. Again, that is even more appropriate when the offense puts two receivers out to the short side. They really cant run pass routes well to the outside from such a hash and formation.
Think through what running and passing plays they can run with multiple receivers into the boundary.
Coaches should have a sheet with their plays for the game. Most NFL and college coaches seems to have a sheaf of plastic-covered, color-coded pages. I use a card. It is 140-pound index card stock that I buy from a paper store. I do not cover it in plastic because I write on it during the game.
I color-code the slow-down plays green and the hurry-up plays red. But most important for this article, I divide the sheet down the middle. On the right side are the formations and plays that are appropriate for when the ball is on the right hash; on the left, left hash.
I used to just list the plays. But that caused me to call incorrect-for-the-hash formations at times. So now I choose a formation and play when I make up the card. For example, you would never see a twins left formation on the right side of the play card. And you would never see an ACT 27 play on the left side.
For each play, I list as many formation-play combinations as I think I will need in that game. For example, I might figure I need six 27 power G plays for a game. The left side of the play list would say something like, 27 Power Gtwins left T618, pro left Z829, twins left bunch N441, pro left S474, twins left Y185, pro left P107. The T618 and so forth are audible codes that indicate the play is 27 Power G.
In the game, I would look at the down and distance after a play and decide I need to call 27 power G. Then I would see which hash we were on. Then I would pick the next formation-audible code that had not yet been used in the game on that side of the play list and yell it out to the QB.
Most teams do their entire practice at the middle hash position. Thats incorrect. The games are played about 85% of the time on the right or left hash. Your practice must reflect that. We used cards with the play code written on them so we could silently, yet quickly, communicate the play to an offensive sugar huddle (right next to the line of scrimmage). Each card also had a hashL,M, or Rwritten on it. The coach would say, Run this play as he showed the card to the offense and he would simultaneously yell Left hash or whatever to the defense and they would place the ball appropriately.
Calling hash-inappropriate formations or plays or both is bad coaching. Make sure you are prepared to avoid that mistake when you practice and make up your game play list.
John T. Reed