Ten Ideas For Putting Together Your Opening Script
Bill Walsh was a famous proponent of planning as much of the game as possible in the office during the week in order to reduce the number of decisions and potential headaches come game day. This post is full of ideas that I took from other coaches, including Walsh himself. A couple of the points I talk about here were inspired by things I read in clinic notes from the innovator during the 1980’s. You can read those here. ((I highly recommend checking out WestCoastOffense.com. When I was first starting out in football, I was able to learn all the verbiage of the offense and understand the coaches mic’d up on the sidelines when they were talking to their players, and it was all thanks to resources on that site.))
1. Vary your formations. Changing up your formations may not seem like a new idea (mostly because it’s not), but it’s even more important to do so early on in the game.
This is especially useful if you run a different offense than the rest of your conference, or conversely, if the film you watched features a defense playing against an offense that bears no resemblance to yours. If you’re a spread team, you probably won’t get too much out of film that has the opponent defense facing off against a Wing-T.
Don’t just think about the formations themselves, but also where you’re lining up your passing and running strength. If you’re facing a defense that likes to set their extra adjuster to the field, make them adjust right away.
2. Test motions and/ or shifts in your game plan. Is there something that you have a question about, or you’re unsure about after watching film during the week? Well you’ve got a perfect opportunity to find out how the defense will react in the here and now.
Have your guys up in the booth keep track of key defenders, especially the defensive adjusters like outside backers and safeties, to see how they’re lining up to the different looks they’re given. Remember, the earlier in the game you can find out what doesn’t work, the more time you have to use what does work.
3. Make the defense think about your playmakers. Again, nothing revolutionary here, but notice that I didn’t say ‘Get the ball to your playmakers.’ A deep fade to your stud receiver that is batted down or a hand off to the All-American running back in your backfield that’s stopped for no gain is effective simply because it forces the defense to account for that guy.
Your opponent has been practicing all week to stop your top players, so you may as well find out what they’re planning to do. The opposing defensive coordinator is dying to show you how brilliant he is, so let him. Do it early, so you have enough time to adjust later on in the game.
4. Get your QB in a rhythm. Does your QB have a favorite play or group of plays? Is there something in your offense he feels comfortable with more than something else? Make sure that goes into what you’re calling.
Sometimes something as simple as a WR bubble screen can get your QB and the rest of the offense rolling. Think high-percentage plays. This is especially true if you’ve got a young or inexperienced QB. Show him that you’ve got confidence in him.
5. Move the pocket Defenses these days are getting stronger, quicker, and smarter. Why make their jobs easier by letting them tee-off on the QB who isn’t moving around in the pocket? Whether it’s sprinting out, a bootleg pass, or even just a run to the perimeter, force the defense to defend the whole width of the field, and make those defensive linemen work for every stat.
6. You don’t have to stick to the script every play Any experienced coach knows that things rarely go according to plan. An unfortunate sack on second and medium can turn what was supposed to be a first down into a third and long. As such, you’ll probably have to deviate from your script, in fact, you really should. An opening script is all about experimenting and analyzing the way your opponent reacts, but on third and long your focus should be on keeping the drive alive. You can always get back on schedule once you pick up the first down.
7. Set up certain plays for later on This comes direct from those Bill Walsh notes I talked about earlier. If you’ve got a particular set of plays or progression that you’re counting on to help you win the game, why not start setting it up as early as possible? If you want to have the ‘Sticko’ route in your back pocket for when the time comes, why not run the stick concept several times in the first quarter, especially during your openers.
Another example would be if you’ve got a reverse call you’d really like to use, the natural thing would be to throw in at least one play where your QB fakes the reverse in the backfield after handing the ball off to the tailback. I’m sure you can think of others, the list goes on and on.
The great thing about this approach is that it doesn’t matter if the defenders you’re playing against are aggressive or not. If they’re aggressive and cheating toward the first play you’ve ran, now it’s time to run that reverse you’ve been keeping in your holster. Conversely, if you’re playing a team with defenders who may think a little too much, they may hesitate a little too long when you fake the reverse in the backfield and let that tailback run right by them up the middle. Now you’ve got them playing slow.
It really doesn’t matter if the defense is playing too fast or too slow, as long as you can get them to stop playing sound football.
8. Build a hard count into your calls We’ve all seen it happen, the defense is so psyched up at the beginning of the game, they’re just bursting at the seams with energy and excitement. Give them an excuse to use it.
I’ve found that doing this on the second play of the game, especially with a hurry-up tempo where everyone is rushing to the line, is incredibly effective. That being said, if you’ve got a lookover system as part of your offense, you’ve probably got this built in as well.
9. Change up the tempo. Speaking of the hurry-up, even if you’re not a traditional up-tempo team, you can “hack” your way to a speedy offense, at least for a series or two. By creating a pre-determined series of plays, maybe no more than 3-5 that are practiced over and over, you don’t have to huddle or signal from the sideline.
The advantages of the hurry-up have been stated over and over again by people much smarter than me, but it’s not just the hurry-up itself, but what it forces you as an offense to do. A series of successfully-executed plays carried out at high speed at the beginning of the game can set the tone for the rest of the evening, and give your players some confidence going forward. It’s the same principle involved with getting your QB in a rhythm early.
10. You don’t have to run your openers in a specific order. One of the coolest things I learned when working at Indiana State was the unique way the QB coach, Dave Telford, approached putting together the openers. At the time, we scripted our first twelve plays (calling it the ‘Dirty Dozen’), but midway through the season, Coach Telford suggested that there may be a better way. Instead of running a set of plays in a pre-set, rigid order that may not match the situation you find yourself in, why not plan 2-3 plays for each down and distance situation that you were going to run before anything else. This way, you were still able to plan exactly what you wanted to run, but wouldn’t get stuck in a bad call for your situation.
This has the added benefit of getting you to think about situations and how the defense is playing it early on in the game. Either way, it’s my favorite way to prepare a game plan ever since I first learned about it.
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