Everything in a youth football offense, starts with the Center. It doesn’t matter if you are under center, in a deep shotgun or in a short shotgun formation, if your Center Quarterback exchange isn’t consistently great, your offense is going to sputter. Turnovers are a youth football teams kryptonite. In the last 18 seasons the teams I’ve head coached have lost 24 games and in 21 of those games we had more turnovers than our opponent, in 18 of those games we had two or more turnovers than our opponent.
We are all in agreement, turnovers can kill a team and botched Center- Quarterback exchanges are nails in your coffin. It’s aggravating, so how do you solve that problem if it has reared it’s ugly head on your youth football team?
We attack the problem four different ways with: personnel, technique, practice reps and creating pressure. A lot of youth football coaches get it wrong right off the bat because they don’t choose the right player. Day one of practice you are always looking for two Center candidates. I’m looking for that average or above sized kids who are calm, coachable and processes information well.
That excitable kid who always has all the questions and has a hard time picking up even some of the basic drills in the first day of practice, he isn’t your guy. Some guys think they have to have their best Lineman at Center. The position is very important, but most of us coaching youth football in non-select leagues need good Linemen at the Guard or Tackle spots, depending on the offense. Very few of us have the numbers or talent where we can “waste” an athletic player at the Center position.
Selecting the right player is important and you have to select at least two kids. You don’t want to be the guy whose team failed because he put all of his team’s eggs into a single basket and then that basket, your Center gets sick, injured or just flat our craps his pants. You always need a qualified back up who gets plenty of reps. That reserve player can always be a starter from another position, where of course you play the musical chairs game with other positions to optimize your new equation when you make the switch.
As to technique, I’m not going into great depth on that one, all of our coaching points and progressions are in the Offensive Line DVD and it’s 90 page e-book. Technique is important, but so is who you have at Center and how you are practicing him. http://winningyouthfootball.com/offensivelineyouth.php
If your Center gets to practice early, he should always be getting pre-practice reps snapping to kickers, punters or Quarterbacks throwing warm up reps. During individual time which should make up about half of your practices, it’s always wise to move the Center over with the Quarterbacks or Running Backs.
After the first two weeks your Center should spend about half of his practice time with the Back groups, getting quality and high quantity snap reps. Our practice methodology requires our indy groups to practice at a pace of one rep every six seconds. So in a single ten minute drill segment the Centers should be getting about 100 reps. Those reps can be split between two Centers or if you have a separate Quarterback and Receiver group, the other Center can work with them. Another way is alternate the amount of time each Center works with the group, number one gets the first fifteen minutes, number two gets the last fifteen minutes.
On every one of those indy group snaps with the backs, a coach, dad or brother should be over the top of the Center with a shield of tall bag and make contact with the Center. Make sure to contact the Center at various angles and speeds. Then move over to either “A” gap and try to penetrate.
The Center has to get comfortable at snapping and stepping and get used to constant contact. We train our Centers to shoulder block, double team block and crab block. Crab blocking can be very effective against big aggressive Nose Tackles or for filling in a gap for a pulling player. Make sure your Centers are using a variety of the techniques when they make that block on the bag in indys.
You can also help the Center improve their snapping during Offensive Lineman indys or group. In every drill you do, make sure the Center has a ball and is snapping before he uses his technique. Add the ball AFTER you have introduced the technique and he feels good about the technique progressions. I like to do lots of first and second step drills in group. We added a “QB” behind the Center on these group drills as well as someone with a shield over the Center. The Center had to snap on every rep before he was allowed to go through the progressions. As players rotate into the group, rotate at the QB spot as well.
We like to do a lot of Fits to practice our ball gets offs, blocking technique and blocking assignments (who to block). Put a “defense” in just standing up in their positions and have the Offensive Line take their steps and fit on the defender. Both players freeze in place until a coach releases them with a tap on the shoulder pad after doing a quality control check on angle of attack, hip level, pad level, head placement hand placement and of course making sure they are blocking the correct player on that called play. We always do a handful of live reps in group at the end of Fits.
With the Reno group, the Fit drill with a QB was probably the one that helped our Center out the most. We rotated one of our Linemen at “Quarterback” and put someone with a shield over the Center providing constant contact. We also did this during our Wedge fit segments. By adding the snap to the individual and group drills, you can get your Center an ADDITIONAL 250 plus contested snap reps every offensive practice.
If you are following our “Worst to First” story from Reno, we went to the above approach after game two. I’ve been coaching this offense for 18 seasons now and rarely had any significant problems with QB Center exchanges. We’ve gone entire seasons with just two or three. But after suffering from three botched exchanges in game one and five turnovers in game two, we went this route. I’m happy to say we didn’t have a single problem in game three.
Having another Center waiting in the wings who had gotten as many reps as the starter, helped our Reno Center to focus. The starter was a great kid who had started at Center for this team for five years and he desperately wanted to do well. He was smart and worked his tail off. He just had a problem with speed and elevation of snaps when under pressure, this approach helped him a lot. I know in future seasons I’m not going to wait until my Center is struggling to use this approach. It’s very simple and is going to be standard operating procedure from this point forward.