One of the best ways to combat a good pass rush, assist a QB without the strongest arm, and attack defensive coverages by extending the play duration is the sprint out – sealing the edge and rolling your QB out puts all his reads and progression in his line of sight, adds the fourth threat of the QB running, and thins the defensive coverage while forcing pass rushers to chase in pursuit, taxing their output by about three-fold. It’s a great tactic, especially for young quarterbacks, that increases their chances of success, as long as they have the mechanics to execute correctly. The fact of the matter is that throwing the football is the most complex mechanic in sports. Throwing the football while running full speed is even more so. Fortunately, a few key points to implement makes throwing on the run a low-risk, high reward tactic you can use to move the chains, balance your offense, and put points on the board.
Whether a straight sprint out or a play action bootleg, the first objective is to get the edge. All of the benefits of sprint passing come from rolling outside the defense’s containment. So protection is the first key. There are many ways you can choose to design your protection, but the key is to pin the edge. Do whatever you have to in order to make this happen, and don’t be naive enough to think your 12-year-old, or perhaps even your 17-year-old, offensive tackle should be able to consistently hook block a defensive end to his outside. Help him with someone like a slot or running back.
“Protection is the first key.”
As for what your QB can do to help: it is imperative to set the launch point – the point of attack that rushing ends are aiming for as they anticipate a 5-step drop. You need them to pin their ears back on their familiar pass rush path, bend aggressively to that 6-7 yard launch point directly behind the center, making it possible to reach or pin with your tackle and additional blocker if needed. The simple steps for the QB are to work straight back, shoulder down field, eyes at the safety, feet parallel to the LOS, for the first two steps of the drop. These two steps are enough time to set the pass rush, hold the secondary symmetrical, and allow you to gain the edge.
During the first steps of the drop the QB should get his eyes to the edge player, the contain man whom you have to block to successfully gain the edge. This allows the QB to help set him, as well as widen him and then hitch back up if he maintains contain. The second component of the sprint is the “apex”, the deepest point of the arc. I coach that point to be at least 9 yards deep, allowing the QB to get enough depth in order to come back downhill to the LOS getting hips totally turned toward target.
The advantage of the sprint out is pressing the defense, so it’s important to be fast, and no part of this tactic gives QBs more problems than the apex. The QB should lean into the curve, work on the edges of the feet, like hockey skate blades, and “reduce the shoulder” by “showing his back” to the defense. This rotation of the shoulder creates a “counter-steer” effect used by motorcyclists and downhill slalom skiers. It is a counter-steering maneuver and therefore it is also counter-intuitive, so the QB has to work at making it feel natural, but the effect is to allow gravity to pull the QB through the arc and back to the LOS more rapidly, creating a more aggressive path and approach.
The most essential component of throwing on the run is the hips. The QB must do his very best to get his hips snapped to his target on every throw. Allowing his lateral momentum to affect his throw will have unwanted consequences and create avoidable incompletions. I use the fighter jet analogy for my young QBs: before the pilot of an F-16 fires a million-dollar missile at his target, he has to steady his jet, align it in the same flight path as his target, acquire the digital “lock”, then he can fire and be sure that he has the best chance for a hit.
Don’t do this, and you’re firing off very expensive warning shots. After the throw, the QB should follow his ball, running down the same vector that his throw travelled. Of course, getting hips square to the target, and following the throw are the ideal and intended mechanics for every throw, but good defenses will do their best to make QBs uncomfortable attempting to prevent them from making uncontested throws by keeping them unbalanced, hurried, compressed, or intimidated. QBs will need to make a variety of throws in imperfect situations, but we never want those situations to be self-imposed.
The throwing mechanics themselves are not something this article will discuss in depth, but at its simplest, there are 5 things that need to happen on every spring throw.
- Front shoulder perpendicular to the target
- Elbow open at 90 degrees
- Dominate foot under hip, toe at target
- Ball releases from one foot, before non-dominate leg comes down
- Run through the throw, following the ball
The key to a strong, accurate throw is the synchronization of the first three bullet points.
The sprint out is a great offensive tactic as long is it’s executed offensively and not reactively. Expect to get the edge, get your eyes in the right place at the right time, and attack. String all the elements discussed in this article together, and go out and shred defenses.