Friday, July 5, 2013

Some Rambling on the Passing Game and a Brief Overview of the R4 Progression System

My guest author has contributed another article:

It is time again for me to give back to the coaching community that I am so grateful to be a part of. I love going online and searching for articles and videos to help me learn more about the game. Sometimes I even stumble upon something that I thought I invented (OK, that happens a lot). With that being said, everything I’m about to talk about has roots in something that other coaches before me came up with (or maybe they stole), so don’t hate me if this article is not anything revolutionary. My goal here is to help out my buddy Coach Hoover in creating material for his blog, and to share some of my research/creations.

This piece I’m writing now is sort of a preface to the next thing I will write on my Four-Vertical package. I want to share some thoughts and establish some terminology to make the next piece easier to understand. A lot of this stems from me incorporating the R4 system into my passing offense. As many of you know the R4 system is a something that any coach can incorporate to streamline his passing game. When I read the message boards (Huey) it almost seems like knowledge of R4 is a requirement if you are coaching the passing game.  In addition to the progression system, there are also other components of the system that can help coaches, and as a result, help QBs improve their play.

I think it is pretty cliché for coaches to say that they are always striving to get better. But are they really? Are they willing to take an honest look at what they do, how they do it, why they do it that way, and then make wholesale changes if that is what the situation calls for. I’ll admit that it can be difficult for me to make big changes. I have been an Offensive Coordinator for four years. During this time I have had four different starting QBs. Each of those QBs brought a different skill set to the table, and experienced success. Each QB completed around 60% of his passes, and rarely threw interceptions. While I love the low INT stat, I think it was no coincidence that each QB was hesitant and indecisive when throwing to a receiver who wasn’t wide open. None of the QBs were good at throwing to receivers right out of their breaks into open grass. Four different guys, but yet somehow they all shared these traits. What could it be?

The one constant in each of those four seasons was me and how I coached them. It was my coaching, or lack thereof, that caused these QBs to hesitate and not throw with great timing and anticipation. Since we have been fairly successful on offense, it would be easy to just stick with the status quo since we were moving the ball OK and not turning the ball over. As we all know, easiest isn’t always best. There had to be a way to help my QBs get better and more aggressive with their passes without putting us at risk for more interceptions. Basically, I was looking for a way to coach better. This is where the R4 system came in. I am not writing this article as an endorsement for R4, and in fact I haven’t even coached it for a season to be able to speak from experience. What I do know is how the system forced me to look at how I do things, and how I could do them better. My goal here is not to sell you on the system, but instead use it as a medium in which to communicate. This article is about establishing a system of communication, which will allow me to then talk about how my offense coaches the Four-Vertical play.
There are many components of the R4 system that have to do with pre-snap looks and accelerating the QBs decision-making process. If you are interested in learning that, check Huey or get the R4 book. I want to focus more on how the R4 system of building a read progression has influenced my play design. This assumes that the QB already has a solid foundation of throwing mechanics and footwork.

As far as the throwing progression goes, it all starts with establishing a “Rhythm” throw. The Rhythm route is the first option for the QB, and is designed to be thrown on the last step of the QB’s drop. Ideally, this is a route that has a chance to win deep. Examples of vertical Rhythm include Seams, Fades, Posts, Corners, and non-vertical Rhythms include Speed-Outs and Spot routes. For timing purposes, the QB must make this throw when his back foot hits, or he will move on to another route in the progression. With this in mind, route breaks must be set up to allow for this timing to work. For example, if your QBs back foot hits and your receiver is on his 7th step, then that is when your Post route should break if you want to throw it on rhythm. Just because Spurrier has his post route break at 15 yards doesn’t mean that is what you should do. It is all about syncing the route break up with the QB’s drop.

If and when the QB eliminates his Rhythm route, he moves his eyes and hitches (or resets his feet) to the second part of the progression is called a “Read” route. These are longer-developing routes, which allows for deeper vertical stems, multiple breaks, get-open routes, or double-moves. Examples include Curls, Digs, Post-Corners, Corner-Posts, and Out-n-Ups.

The third part of the progression that the QB goes to if the first two options are covered is called the “Rush” route. Rush routes include a wide-variety of routes that function to stretch the coverage (often opening up Read routes), offer the QB a place to get rid of the ball if pressured (or rushed), or as a check-down route to get the ball out of the QB’s hand when his downfield routes are covered. Examples of Rush routes include Flat routes, Flares, Shallow cross, and RB Check-downs.

The final component of the R4 progression is called “Release.” The by-the-book R4 system allows for three primary routes in the progression, then the QB is instructed to release, or look to get out of the pocket. Depending on the protection and or pass-rush, the release could be as easy as stepping up in the B-gap bubble and scrambling for yards, or could be a move to break contain and get to the perimeter. This is a part of the progression that is often overlooked, but is critical for avoiding sacks, and extending plays to move the chains or hit explosive plays downfield. The release plan could vary from play to play, but the QB should be given some instruction about where he should try to go if the protection breaks down. A daily scramble drill period will help to train the QB to not sit in the pocket forever, and also to train the receivers to recognize that the primary play has broken down and they need to adjust to help the QB.

 Now that I have established the basic components of how an R4 passing progression is built, I will use this structure to look at how these principles can be applied to the Four-Vertical play. Part one of a two-part series should be posted very soon.

Great Links:

The Mother Lode of Zone Running Game Resources  (go ahead and add this to your list 
of Favorites)

Creating Explosive Plays in the Passing Game - Dan Gonzalez


  1. Great article Coach!

  2. And I almost thought you were done posting on this blog!

  3. Coach Dub Maddox and I are grateful for the kind comments about the impact of R4 on your guest coach :-). We developed the system to do just what the coach described. I would recommend you take a deeper look at the "accelerators" of cushion, collision, and cap as a means of really taking the max benefit out of the system...those are key concepts that can tend to be absent from the discussion leaving coaches to think R4 is just a fancy progression scheme...thanks again for sharing this story.

  4. Very true Coach Slack!