Monday, March 07, 2022

Signaling In Plays

I have been thinking a lot lately about the strategy of signaling.

Getting the call into the offense is a balance of time, efficiency, accuracy, and security.

Former Alabama QB and kicker, Danny Ridgeway was Coach Bryant's messenger. He would run onto the field, tell the huddle, and run off to the sideline before the NCAA changed the rule that if a player came onto the field, he had to stay for a play.

I remember how Bob Finley, (the hall of fame high school coach of Hoover back when it was Berry High School) would have Stan White would run over after every play to the sideline and Coach would tell him the play and he would run back. There were no play clocks back then and I don't remember many delay of games.

Most teams used to (and a lot still do) run in the play with players from the sideline.

All teams had signals for 2 minute offense- but with the rise of no huddle teams which led to nascar pace teams created the need to signal.

Stealing signals is as old as baseball.

I know personally of coaches and games at both the HS and college level where a big part of the win was the stealing of either offensive of defensive signals from the sideline. All an offensive coach needs to do is know the coverage and whether the defense call is a base or blitz and you can scheme wise make a good call.

Of course, most offensive coaches today just check snap and look to the sidelines where the defense has tipped where it is anyway.

I do know of some teams who change or bluff change the defensive call after that.

Stealing an offense's signals requires a longer study but I know it happens. 

I think teams who are vulnerable are those who signal all the time, even in pre-game, at freshmen games, at JV games, in 7 on 7 tournaments- if you watch a team for any length of time in those situations you will know their base runs- what are their runs, their slip screen calls (dangerous to get that one), their pass concepts, and their boots.

I have been coaching long enough to have run the gamet of how to signal.

We have used:
  • colored hats- no joke- we had three guys who wore different hats to signal our quick game.
  • colored cards- same system but less cumbersome
  • wristbands using numbers- and we either put up 3 numbers on a whiteboard or put them on flip cards and poles which I made at Home Depot
  • wristbands using a pod system- ex: signal NOSE 1 or Golf 2- and players would find the nose pod on their wristband
  • signal live the play- have a signal that is associated with the name of the play
  • use combination of signals and pictures- the pictures are fun because you can get all kind of random stuff (we have used Oregon Ducks logo, Big Plane, Bush, Obama, and even one time a picture of the opposing coach)
  • Barrage of cards, numbers, charts, multiple signalers, and pictures (sometimes a big bluff): it turns the sideline into a zoo.
Problems with the 'systems'
  • Running in from sideline is slow and requires a player change, can be especially slow inside the 25 yard line and far hash, and you better hope the guys transfers the info correctly. A mouthpiece and a missed syllable can be tough. You have to have a 2 min system anyway.
  • The whiteboard with numbers is hard to see and can be a failure in the rain
  • Wristbands are slower that live and can get mis-read if all 11 players are getting it- the play caller has to turn his call to the code, the code is signaled, the players must find the code on the band. I also worried that other teams may get the wristband card or make their own as plays are called (tough in the number system if you signal 3 numbers- but doable). Or the card gets soaked and becomes unreadable. I also had a player with poor eyesight who had a hard time reading the foggy band.
  • signal live- it is too easy to find the primary signaler and you can decode his signals fairly easy.
SO what do I suggest?
  • Use multiple signalers and have them either signal 2 plays (1 live and 1 dummy) or use an open signal/close signal system like baseball.
  • IDEA: Instead of a spread, no huddle- line up in an attack huddle (4yds) with everyone but the 2 wideouts. That way only 3 players need to get the signal- QB and X,Z who stand on the #'s. Signal, say it, break and go fast. You can go as fast as a no huddle because the officials have to put the ball in play and it creates more panic on the defense.
  • Use multiple signals for the same base plays. Teach your guys that you have 3 ways to call inside zone or 3 ways to call tunnel screen. Don't use multiple signs for ALL the plays- just the ones that you use over and over.
  • Have a universal signal for "do it again, same play"
  • Have a universal signal for "flip the formation and do the same play"
  • Have a universal signal for "quick play" and change what that play is every series.
  • Have a secondary signal system- card, picture, or wristband handy- and use it for a series.
  • Do NOT use your normal signals in 7 on 7's or pre-game. I wouldn't even use them in Middle School, Freshmen, or JV games. Run kids in... get more people playing time or use a different system.

Psychological Warfare:

If you play a team that signals and you can't break their code- act like you know their code- it demoralizes the other players. I had an offensive tackle in full bore panic one game because he said "THEY KNOW OUR SIGNALS!". Our guard looked at him and said, "No they don't, they have been saying stuff like that the whole time and mostly wrong"- but it did impact that player's confidence.

If you do crack the code- try to NOT SHOW IT- take the cheese all night without ever displaying that you know where it is.

Finally, there is the story of Tennessee playing UCLA one year where the offensive line coach from UT had gone to UCLA. It caused a debate among the UT coaches of whether or how much to change checks and calls because UCLA would know a lot about their language and signals.

Coach Cutcliffe and the staff decided to do nothing different and it stayed that way for 3 quarters. But in the 4th quarter, Peyton Manning checked to the quick game hitch like they had done ...forever. But the coaches, counting on a steal, had instructed to run a double move, hitch and go.

Sure enough, The Bruin corner bit hard and the UT receiver scored the game clinching TD.



Hope this discussion helped stir some ideas...what do you think?

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