Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Timing, Spacing, and Movement in the Passing Game

I have gotten a few requests to write another football post. 

As most schools in the state are beginning 7 on 7 summer work, I think it is helpful for us to remember that timing, spacing, and movement is the fine tuning that will have to be worked on continuously all year.

And you can't drill down on all of it yet because full pads will make you have to keep adjusting these points. However, you can begin the fundamentals right now.


An often overlooked part of TIMING, SPACING, MOVEMENT (TSM) in the passing game is the actual gun snap. And it even shows up more in the run game. Have you noticed the pace of your center's snap? Is it fast or loopy?

Also, it is super important to press your QB's on the type of drop your play call demands. Since we are primarily in the gun we have to declare now throws (turn 2 or turn toe), quick game, 1 step and gather, quick three, rhythm three, fast 5, roll out, and play action drops. Under center, it is still important to teach a skilled 3 step and 5 step drop.

A short drop can make a QB go nuts as he is waiting on the receiver AND a late throw is never good. 

Also short routes by receivers are huge time mistakes.

On some of our deeper cuts I often say "get all of it".

"A receiver is never as open as when he is INITIALLY open".

Many years ago, I did a clinic in North Alabama on time clock in the passing game. I received requests for that info for weeks after that clinic. I was able to show on film that all levels of football subconsciously throw on a 3 count time clock and the only difference is the depth of the routes. For example, the standard curl in HS is 12-10 yards, college 14-12 yards, and pro 16-14 yards... all on the same clock!

"Thousand 1, thousand 2, BALL!"- any longer is usually a sack or a scramble.

One final point in TIMING- I like to use "BURTS" by receivers as the "indicator" for the release- fast hands, fast feet, and a head bob.... it also helps sell double moves as well.


On film, if you ever see two of our receivers within 5 yards of each other on the throw, then we have had a MAJOR MISHAP in our concept. At the same time, if you see the space 2 counts before the throw, then we are probably wrong as well.

Using route stems and intended rubs can hurt many match zones because in reality, almost all coverage schemes turn in to Cover 1 by the time the QB is throwing. We just want to create doubts in the 'cutter picker uppers' and I get giddy if two defenders cover 1 of my dudes.... that means a DC is screaming because we have a guy wide open nearby.


One issue in particular I have been working on are DB's that aren't afraid of our speed and sit in the medium zones and just catch the routes or teams that sit 4 defenders at a conversion line or goal line and play that high percentage area very well.

We have to use speed changes to take shots over those guys and well as what I call ricochet techniques to run into those defenders and bounce open off of them. I saw a college team do that in a bowl game this past season vs a Tampa 2 low hole player. They geared down and punched by that defender with the #2  receiver and bounced off of him with the #3. The QB pumped the bounce and threw a laser to the #2 who sped into the hole just below the 2 wide safeties for 22 yards before he was tackled!

Both receivers were next to each other at the thousand 2 count and 7 yards apart at the throw after the pump. I put that in my playbook the next day and just call it "Tampa".

It reminds me that QB's can hunch and pump zones to create space as well! It just takes 1 half count more of protection so save it for the 2nd half when sone fatigue can help.


I so wish in my early years as an offensive coordinator I understood how stack, bunches, and short motions impact the leverage of defensive backs. I coached for 10 years with a static 3x1 and 2x2 passing game that was awesome back when defenses defended grass, but can now get shut down and out by well schemed match zones and variables of trips coverages used by teams- add pressure and simulated pressures and my old 1990's passing game would be totally ineffective.

HOWEVER... now all we do is dress up the old concepts with stacks, compressed formations, post snap switches, fast motions, moved to empty, collapse from empty and all of those coverages start to bust even simple 4 vertical concepts.

It takes the entire summer for receivers to understand the nuances of these enhancements... but the payoff is gold. And it is NOT COMPLICATED.


About mid-June, I start talking to our QB's about 'problem solving pressure' and we can't wait until full pads to understand hots and pass pro checks to help us get the ball off.

Instead of teaching hard fast rules to pressure answers, we talk about a myriad of ideas including fake claps, pointing and calling out issues, moving, using, and finding backs as well as run checks that can convert even 3rd and long.

Bottom Line:

In high school, I still think a good defense beats a good offense... but the new throw away allowance, the 40 second play clock, the personnel substitution rules in high school can frustrate even a good defense.

I have no doubt every DC worth his salt has answers to these issues.... but can their players do it?

3 mistakes on offense can lead to a punt.

3 mistakes on defense could be 21 points.

It is still a very fun game to coach- even after 30 plus years!

Send thoughts to I love to hear from coaches.

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