As we entered week 4 the pressure was beginning to mount. By league rule we were now limited to 3 practices per week. That meant we now had just 6 practices to prepare this team for that all important first game. The coaching staff was pressuring me to install more of the passing game, special teams and defense. Some of them were starting to get a little uptight, now realizing some of their sons who had started last year, were no longer starters, had changed positions or were living on the edge playing time wise. Things were heating up.
The problem at this time of year is always is what should be the right mix of individual drills, group and team? Everyone wants to get to team, the coaches, players AND parents. BUT the foundation for winning youth football is always fundamentals. I focused our group on developing rock solid fundamentals for each position group. That was going pretty well, thanks to our coaches using the detailed practice plans, the cheat cards and pre practice and water break demos. I still had to jump into drills from time to time to wrap up the precision and pace. The 5:30-7:30 practice for Line and 6-8 practice time for Backs was a big help.
Before we added anything in on offense we had to be perfect on 19 of 20 reps for the first team. Perfect means every linemen 2 steps correct angle, direction and pad level, every back attacks at correct angle and speed and all blocks are on correct defender with correct toe, head, hip and head placement on the “freeze” which is a coach holding a bag. The Line struggled in weeks 1-2 with assignments, but with rapid rep 2 step freezes, we had solved the problem and all but 1 starter was to be trusted. We still wouldn’t be adding in anything else in week 4, because our ship had sprung a leak.
As we firmed up the offense, we had a glaring weakness, we had just 1 player who could consistently catch the football. He was our starting QB, so that would be tough. There aren’t many plays where the QB can throw it to himself for positive yards. Even on air with catchable passes, we only had the QB who would catch more than 5 of 10 throws on air with no defenders. I had never seen anything like it, with kids this age. We had 3 pass plays installed and we were awful at all of them.
So we invested in both working on our receiving fundamentals and developing several other Quarterbacks so our starter could play Receiver as well. Running short on time, we started our QBs with some of the Darrin Slack throwing progressions. We concentrated on footwork, grip, good elbow placement, trunk rotation and follow through. It looked like we were going to be able to develop 1 additional thrower. However our 3rd option was a first year Back who was playing just his second year of football. He was just too stiff to make it work. Our 4th option had been last years starter at Quarterback and he never completed a pass, so it was going to be options 1 or 2, there would be no other options. Musical chairs, that’s how you put together a maxed out youth football roster.
So where did the other thrower come from? He was my starting Blocking Back. So now the domino effect has my starting Fullback moving to Blocking Back and last years starting Quarterback now starting at the Fullback spot. This years starting QB, who is the best Receiver is now the starting Wingback and Jet back when we are in Spread Single Wing, which we hadn’t got to yet. We were still trying to develop other Receivers, we went back to the base atomic level of Receiver fundamentals.
Unfortunately it was almost comical how awful we were at catching the football. It was as if our kids had some type of ball repellant or anti football force field applied very liberally to their hands. Literally I expected Alan Fundt to jump out and tell me I was the blunt of some kind of Candid Camera practical joke. Some of the kids, I understood, 2 had never played in the backfield before. But the others, it was like some kind of grand conspiracy, they just couldn’t catch the football. My second best Receiver was my 221 lb starting Pulling Guard, who by rule wasn’t allowed to touch the ball.
Defensively we were very poor at tackling in the open field. While not as bad as the Receiver conspiracy, we just weren’t very good open field tacklers. Many of our back 7 defenders just didn’t have good body control. We worked pursuit, breakdown and tackling fundamentals, but every time we went live, we would end up with the limping, the all dreaded injury bug to the group of players where we had zero wiggle room for attrition.
How to solve that quandary- more this week. I was starting to have my doubts. There were some very sleepless nights ahead in that lonely Reno hotel room.