This is the continuing story of my “Worst to First” youth football coaching experience in Reno, Nevada this year. I took an 8th grade team that had won about 6 games in the last 6 years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area. This was filmed for an upcoming reality television show “Worst to First.”
Week 3 in this league means 5 days a week of practice. This was an 8th grade team who was so far behind everyone else in the league that instead of the usual 3 days a week practice plans I normally worked off of, this was 5 days a week. We continued to have the Line come in from 5:30 and leave at 7:30 and the Backs work from 6-8, which allowed me more time with each. This week would see us work Offense on Monday and Wednesday, Defense on Tuesday and Thursday and both on Friday along with some initial Special Teams player evals.
With 5 plays in along with the hard count play, we added in the strong side inside power wham style play we now call 14 Blast, a weak side play action pass off of a power fake and our Spinner Series. The Spinner is an integrated mesh style series that threatens 4 different points of attack on every play. It includes a strong side power, weakside counter, play action sweep pass, middle wedge, inside wham and a weakside trap we would install in week 6. While this may seem like a lot, it really isn’t. The linemen already knew the blocking schemes from what they learned in the 5 play series we already had in. The backs were in the same boat, the blocking schemes were the same for this series of plays, power is power, counter is counter, wedge is wedge it was just a change in the backfield action.
Want to fail miserably with your youth football offense and have your kids not believe in a play? Install it before you have the base skills down you need to run the play. This week, that meant teaching the Right End and Power Tackle how to block in space for the Blast play. We also got more complex in simulating defenses. In group offensive line fit and freeze reps, now the “defenders” weren’t just hitting gaps, they were stemming, stunting and slanting. We also added simulated blitzing Linebackers. These are all rapid fit reps used to help the offensive linemen develop confidence in who they were supposed to block along with making sure their technique is strong as well.
The backfield was another story. We were razor thin depth wise. This became painfully evident when one of our starting backs had to miss due to a family issue. That same day another starter was limping around on a bum knee after a full speed tackling drill and another player morphed in and out with an ankle sprain. He would be cured when we did a non-contact drill, but quickly go back to limping when we got back into contact.
The immediate fix was every Back was taught 2 positions right from the start. We also moved a Power Tackle to Blocking Back, he was even or a step behind the probable starter there. The rest of the Offensive Line was shaping up nicely, we were strong at 3 spots, average at 2 others and serviceable at 2 more. We also simply had to limit contact. Like any youth football coaching job- you have to play musical chairs to maximize the equation.
The goal for this team was to win the 11th game of the season, the League Championship game. To get there with this equation, limiting injuries and being able to reasonably execute when we had players out, was going to be key. More on how we did that this week.
Defensively we had defended the off-tackle, Iso, base sweep, counter and boot well in the scrimmage. We struggled a bit against the orbit rocket sweep, the wide screen game and basic passing game. Again, with a shortage of in-space players, we cross trained Defensive Ends, Linebackers and Defensive Backs. Progress was slow and for one player it was simply too much. He was confused and frustrated, because he couldn’t pick up both positions. We relegated him to one spot and saw a huge turnaround in comprehension and attitude
We added in adjustments for motion and worked the defense against bubble screens, rubs, slant wheel and orbit sweep along with the usual powers, split flow bucks, Isos and sweeps. Practice was still about 60 minutes of individual drills, 20 minutes of group and about 40 minutes of team. As much as we were tempted to forge on in team and install as much as fast as we could, we held back. At the end of this week we would be 2 short weeks away from the first official game, one that would test the fragile ego of this team. We just couldn’t short change fundamentals just so we could have x number of plays in and all of the defense installed.
This team had potential, but the margin for error against the average of better teams was going to be razor thin. That first game would either give them some confidence that what they were doing was producing results or that we were “Same Old Sparks” the team most everyone blew out.