Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Playing Against the Best Players

Youth football players seem to fall into three types, and every youth team has certain numbers of each. I call the types Stud, Decent, and Learning. This is just my own terminology, and a gross over-generalization of course. Every player can improve, and no player is hopeless. Nevertheless, I offer you

  • The STUD. This is one of the best players on the team. He can beat blocks, tackle, and run. He's a do-everything-well type of guy.
  • The DECENT player. This guy doesn't hurt the team. He's average, or sometimes just above or just below average. He isn't a stud because of some flaw. He may be a little bit slow, or small, or not competitive, or not athletic. But he also typically brings some other abilities to the game that let him make plays when he is in the right position. The majority of the players that we coach fall into this category.
  • The LEARNING player. Often this is a new player, very small, or slow, or all three. He can probably position himself correctly at the snap, and he may not lack for courage, but athletically he can't handle the stud player. Even the decent players can block and tackle him relatively easily.

These categories are relative to all the other players on the field. A 'stud' in one league might only be a decent player in the next league up.

Every youth defense that we see has some stud players, and some decent players. Some of the youth defenses we see, at least some of the time, will also have learning players on the field. In our football league there is a minimum play rule, so the newer, smaller, or slower guys will absolutely get a chance to play. Those kids are more prevalent in the B divisions than in the A divisions.

So where are those stud defenders? What is the likelihood that any particular defender will be a stud or not a stud?  We usually find studs in the middle of the field as middle linebackers and safeties. We regularly see them as the EMLOS, which stands for End Man on the Line of Scrimmage. Linebackers are also quite often studs.

We don't usually see studs at cornerback. And usually only one defensive lineman, if any, will be a stud in youth football. Defensive line and cornerback are two common places teams put their decent or learning players.

For the offensive coordinator of a youth football team, I've always thought that a key part of the job is to put the offense in a position to get the ball past the stud defenders, and then let our ball carrier take on the decent or weak players.

One of my favorite things about option football is that while our guys may not be able to block a stud defender one-on-one, there are four other things that we can do to try to handle him.

  • We can Angle block him. If he is already lined up away from the play, and we bring a decent blocker into him, the defender's effectiveness is cut in half at least.
  • We can Double Team him. Even if he's a stud, we can probably control him briefly with two decent blockers.
  • We can Run Away from him. If he's clearly on one side of the field or the other, we can run to the other side.
  • We can Option him. If we don't block him, but instead force him to choose incorrectly, then our ball carrier can run right past him.

The first three strategies are available to ANY offense of course.  But only an option offense introduces that fourth way of handling the stud defender.

Below is a drawing of how our option can handle the stud defenders on a defense we ran into last year. I've designated the Studs on both sides of the ball with the letter S and the Decent players with the letter D. Our opponent had four really great defensive players, and they played them at Safety (Ss), Defensive End (S2), Middle Linebacker (Sb), and as a stand-up Defensive Tackle (S4).  The rest of their players were what I would call Decent.

And at the bottom of this post is a video that shows one of the plays we ran.

They aligned pretty much like the drawing above, but it is a little confusing because none of their defensive linemen were in a three or four point stance.

S4 lines up in the B gap, so he would be relatively easy for our decent offensive tackle to block down - but in the video he stands up and tries to blitz the A gap, and takes himself entirely out of the play. He'd have been much trickier if he'd played a 4 technique, but they had him line up in a 3 tech much of the night, and that's an easy read for our offensive tackle.

S2 was a hard charger. We'd run so much outside veer against them the first time we played them that they were determined to get him (#17 in the video) into the mesh. Fortunately on this play we were running inside option, so our QB had already faked and was thinking pitch as he came in hot.

D3 is decent but small and somewhat unaware. He gets crushed by our split end on a crack block.

Sb is in the middle of the field, and looks for the fullback and QB Dive Follow first. Since he hangs around inside, our fullback is able to pick him off as he attempts to flow over the top.

Ss is far enough behind the play that we chose not to block him. His ability is such that we won't get many breakaway touchdowns against this team, but by playing him at safety we've got a better chance to make positive yardage then if they played him up one level as an OLB.

Our Stud running back (who is very small, but a fabulous blocker) is lead blocking on this play, isoloated on the cornerback, and just wipes him out. You can see them both on the ground as the play gets outside.

Even though our ball carrier is just a decent, not great, runner, he IS somewhat hard to bring down, and gets some extra yards after they try to tackle him.

Here's a video of Option Right, and a pretty good example of working the option to isolate and defeat the other team's best players.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Just What Coach Requested

And now Kevin Ross has been selected to the Chiefs Hall of Fame.


If I could get my family to respond as quickly as the Chiefs did to my request - see Favorite Players, #6, in this post from January - well, I guess I wouldn't be a dad would I? I'd be a mom or something.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Football vs. Soccer - Guessing Numbers

I confess to starting this project with the assumption that boys youth soccer would be found to be far larger than youth football in Johnson County. I think I may be wrong about that.

I started comparing 4th, 5th, & 6th grade numbers of teams to their roughly corresponding soccer age groups (U10, U11, and U12) by looking at the Football and Cheerleading Club of Johnson County, the Blue Valley Football Club, and the Heartland Soccer Association.

I know there are more clubs for both football and soccer. Leawood, Shawnee, and the YMCA have recreational soccer teams that I'm not counting. Likewise DeSoto, Lees Summit, and CYO have sizable tackle football programs. And there are probably dozens of Parks and Rec programs for both soccer and flag football that might skew the numbers some. But I had to start somewhere.

In the Football and Cheerleading Club of Johnson County (FCCJC) last year there were 61 fourth, fifth, and sixth grade teams playing last season. For those same three grades in the Blue Valley Football Club, there were 59 teams, making a total of 120 teams playing tackle football in those grades in our area.

By comparison, in the fall of 2010 there were 175 premier and recreational U10, U11, and U12 boys soccer teams playing in the Heartland Soccer Association.

I only studied those grades and ages because Olathe middle schools start playing school football now in the 7th grade, and some 2nd and 3rd graders play flag football rather than tackle. In addition, soccer has larger recreational programs in the individual Heartland member clubs at younger ages, that then subsequently gravitate toward Heartland competition beginning at about U10.

Bear in mind that the soccer teams have smaller rosters. U10 teams play 6 v 6 with maximum roster sizes of twelve, and U11 and U12 teams play 8 v 8 with maximum rosters of fourteen. In my experience, the 6 v 6 teams often carry ten or eleven players, and 8 v 8 teams average about fourteen players.

Football teams play 11 v 11 at all ages, and rosters can become quite large - but coaches and area directors don't really like that, and we usually see teams try to have between fifteen and twenty-two players. I estimate eighteen as average.

Soccer is far more stratified than football. Both FCCJC and Blue Valley Football seed their teams, placing them in A and B leagues. FCCJC occasionally has divisions within a league for scheduling purposes, but they are equal. 

Soccer has as many as five premier divisions, and sometimes 2 or 3 recreational divisions. These numbers consolidate somewhat at higher ages 11 v 11 teams, but there are almost always three or more divisions, even through high school. Their seeding meetings can sometimes be quite contentious.

Finally, all these numbers are somewhat cloudy due to players that play both sports. Not every soccer team has a football player, but an awful lot of football coaches I talk to have kids rostered that also play soccer.

Just doing the math of my unscientific estimates (10.5, 14, and 18-player rosters) here's a snapshot of how football numbers might look versus soccer in Johnson County. I looked at top divisions, then second level divisions (usually one B division in football, and as many as six in soccer), and then a grand total.

Football Soccer Teams Estimated # Players Comparison FB TeamsS TeamsFB PlayersS Players
4th Grade/U10 A Divisions  167 288 75
4th Grade/U10 B and C-G Divisions21 46 378 483
4th Grade/U10 TOTAL All Divisions37 53 666 558
5th Grade/U11 A Divisions16 8 288 112
5th Grade/U11 B and C-G Divisions25 58 450 812
5th Grade/U11 TOTAL All Divisions41 66 738 924
6th Grade/U12 A Divisions21 7 378 98
6th Grade/U12 B and C-G Divisions21 49 378 686
6th Grade/U12 TOTAL All Divisions42 56 756 784

All 3 Grade-Ages, A Divisions 53 22 954 285
All 3 Grade-Ages, B-G Divisions 67 153 1,206 1,981
All 3 Grade-Ages, All Divisions 120 175 2,160 2,266

I'm not sure what, if any, conclusions to draw from these extrapolated numbers. Both FCCJC and Blue Valley are 1/2 the size of Heartland Soccer, but taken together are right there in terms of numbers. And that surprised me.