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Sid Gillman: You Need to Know This Man if You Throw the Forward Pass

I like to think of myself as a football archaeologist. My mind wants to trace everything back to the roots from where it started. I like to find old books on passing the ball from its infancy years, and compare what we are doing now. I received Dutch Meyers Spread Offense book (that had been out of print for some time), as a Christmas present some years back. It is still one of my prize collectibles.

This off season I started reading everything I could find on Sid Gillman. Now if your mind does not seek history like mine, then his name maybe foreign to you. But if you want to know something about the forward pass, you better get to Google. Gilman has influenced many coaches such as; Al LoCasle, Al Davis, Chuck Noll, Ara Paseghian, Bo Schmebeclar, Bill Walsh, Chuck Knox, Dick Vermeil, George Allen, Bum Phillips, Don Coryell, and many other big names in football. If you do not recognize these names, then you should exit social media and start a self-taught class for football theory.

His team beat the Boston Patriots 51-10 for the AFL Championship. He crafted a game plan he entitled “Feast or Famine” that used motion, then seldom seen, to negate the Patriots’ blitzes.  Gillman was one of only two head coaches to hold that position for the entire 10-year existence of the American Football League (the other being fellow Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram. He won 5 AFL conference titles and 1 AFL Championship. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

As I started reading a .pdf file from the 1981 Philadelphia Eagles, I could not get over the amount of simple detail in his installation. every facet of every part of the mechanisms of offense is spelled out. it was a flash forward to the football we are playing today, and how we are playing it. I would like to take this blog post to pay tribute and provoke thought into his ideas of the passing game.

Even though this was nearly 40 years ago, there were people throwing the ball, and winning big games. In a time when football was starting to evolve, and defenses were changing, Coaches like Sid Gillman had been coordinating these offenses for years. The first part I will cover is the overview of the passing game. What he saw as the building blocks of necessity.

Sid Gillman  thoughts on the Passing Game:

1. The timing of the delivery is essential

2.Each route has its own distinct timing. As routes and patterns are developed on the field, the exact point of delivery will be emphasized.

3.Take mental notes on the field on timing of the throw.

4. If you cannot coordinate eye and arm movement to get the ball at it’s intended spot properly and on time you are not a passer.

5.Keeping the ball in both hands and chest high is part of the answer.

6.If you wait until the receiver is well into his final move, you are too late.

In these six rules he is explaining the 3 aspects of a quarterback: Anticipation, Mechanics and Timing. If you have ever studied quarterback play then you understand these are the three areas you read about in every book or media post you read. A coach can take these six rules and  expound on them to build a quarterback. This is what it takes to throw the football. It is as simple as read, reaction, and results.

Attacking Defenses

1. You must know the theory of all coverages. Without this knowledge you are dead.

2. You are either attacking man for man, or zone coverage.

3. Not knowing the difference will result in stupid interceptions

4. Study your coverage sheets, so that by merely glancing at a defense you know the total coverage design.

Man for Man Defenses

1. Hit the single coverage man, this will keep you in business  for a long time.

2. Stay away from receivers who are doubled short and/or long.

3. Don’t throw to post if weak safety is free unless you are controlling him with a route, even then it could be dangerous.

4. Flare action is designed to hold backers. If backers are loose, hit the flare man.

5. The secret to attacking man for man is to attack the single coverage man who is on his own with no help short or to either side.

6. You must know the individual weakness of your opponents and attack them

7. There are many methods of dropping off deep secondary members. Each method provides a weakness- know them.

Rule #4 in itself is a trade mark of the Air Raid offense. The flare (shoot or swing) is used to hold the linebackers accountable to cover or blitz, and also to give up or allow space on the football field.

Rule #6 is a staple in the offensive talks that we see today. Where can I find my match ups, and how do I attack them found in Rule #7. Most offenses now are set to put a lesser defensive athlete in coverage versus your best player.

Zone Defenses

1. To successfully attack zone defense, concentrate on attacking the slots (X-Z Curl, Y Curl, Cross Routes)

2. Flare action is a must to hold the backers close to the line to help open up the zones behind them.

3. Exact knowledge of defensive coverage and the patterns to take advantage of these is a must.

The basic theory of creating a passing pattern ( or what we now call concepts).

Field balance and distribution as is applies to the passing game.

1. Wide Area – 5 yards in from the sideline

2. Number Area – Just inside the numbers

3. Hash Area- In between the hashmarks

The basic theory is to spread the defense horizontally by having a potential receiver in each area of the field.

Mechanics or Route Releases

Definition of Release: A release is a movement made by a wide receiver while running the stem of a route on the way to the Breaking Point.

Definition of Breaking Point: the Breaking Point is a designated spot down field in line with the WR’s basic alignment.

A. The depth of the breaking point varies according to the route being run

B. Once to the breaking point, the receiver will break off the stem into the cut desired.

The Breaking Point will sometimes be referred to as the Point of Departure.

Interesting enough Gillman goes into setting up the route by initial alignment and also later will running the stem, the breaking point must be at the same point for each individual route regardless of how you get there. The only rule to live by first was to fake in vertical depth first, everything else is secondary.

Key Strategy for alignment.

The wide receiver can vary his split either In or Out according to how he wants to enter the Breaking Points, or line up in line with the Breaking Point, and make a double move as long as the WR ends up breaking at the same designated spot.

We sometimes get overwhelmed with perfect initial spacing, but here clearly Gilman makes a case for creating equal spacing post snap based on getting to the same landmark of the breaking point of the route. Hence the idea of bunch formations, and the spacing concepts.

By assigning the breaking points, the QB always knows exactly where the WR is going to make the break, regardless of what he sees the WR do while running the stem. With the breaking points always being the same, this also allows for the spacing integrity of the play to remain down the field in post snap sequence.

So where and when do you use the different alignments and releases. Gillman states that some releases are better suited for certain routes than others and some releases work better on specific defenders than others, The Game Plan will dictate what approach is best for each individual cut.

The Theory behind the Release

Inside Release: Line up 2 yards OUTSIDE the Breaking Point and drive off hard to the inside for approximately 1/3 the length of the stem. Once inside line with the breaking point, sprint for the breaking point. Stick’em and cut.

Outside Release: Line up 2 yards inside the breaking point and drive off hard to the outside for 1/3 the length of the stem. Once in line with the Breaking Point, sprint for the breaking point, stick’em and cut out.

Inside/Out Release: Line Up in line with the breaking point and drive off hard  to the inside for 1/3 the length of the stem, then push back upfield for another 1/3, then make the final drive back outside to the Breaking Point and cut.

Out/In Release: This is just the opposite of the In/Out Release. Come off outside 1/3, push up 1/3, sprint back to the Breaking Point, Stick’em and cut.

Fade Release: This release is also a release designed to attack a force corner either a Cover 2 Corner or Recognizing roll coverage. The WR now jumps outside the force and fades away from the rotating safety. If the receiver cannot get outside he should slip under the corner and then fade away. No FINAL CUT IS RUN. The original route is switched to a fade upon recognition of the force and the QB will get the ball to the WR in the seam between the rolled up corner and rotating safety.

Scramble Rules

If the QB is forced out of the pocket due to a heavy rush, the receivers observe the following rules:

1. If the QB comes out to your side:

A. The deep men in the pattern continue deep but run in the same direction as the passer. If running a post change to a corner etc.

2. The short and medium receivers should stay short and medium but change their direction to run in the same direction the QB is moving. If running a 6 change to a 5.

3. If the QB scrambles out in the opposite direction, change your course to a cross pattern parallel to your breaking point depth.

Basic Rules:

1. Backs who block or fake should run a course parallel to the LOS with the QB

2. RB who are running Flare routes should change their courses and run in the same direction as the passer, looking for an open spot.

3. All receivers keep vertical balance depth-wise on the field and keep running.

4. If you approach the sideline, short then start moseying back into the field area.

5. Deep men come back

6. Screw offs hurt scrambles.

Quarterback Drops

Three Steps: Think in terms of 5 yards

Five Steps: Think in terms of 7 yards

Seven Steps: Think in terms of 9 yards

Recognizing the Back End of Coverage

Gillman uses the B.L.S. (Best Located Safety) approach.

The BLS is that safety which is lined up in a position that is least likely to be able to assis in the coverage of a wide receiver. Determine which safety is the BLS and then attack his side of the ball with the pattern called. Confirm that he remains such on the first step of the drop.

The Buzz System

The second phase of the QB read is called the Buzz System. The Buzz System is that system the defense employs ot cover the short areas of their coverage.

1. The QB should ask where and how the LB’ers drop and where and how a defensive back or backs enter the BUZZ System.

2. Once the BLS is determined the QB confirms that he remains as such and focuses in on the Buzz System under the read side.

3. The Buzz System defines how they are covering the 5 areas of the field we plan to have receivers in .

4. The coverage called dictates how the LB’ers and secondary are going to cover these 5 areas. It is QB’s job to know how and who is covering the area he is attacking.

Crossing Pattern Mechanics & Principles

1. The basic principle is one man will come under another receiver cleaning out! The method of cleaning out is described withing the pattern numbers called.

2. Any crossing receivers will used two moves before breaking across the field! The crossing receiver takes the path of least resistance. A Y cannot always make 2 moves.

3. The running back lined up on the same side of the crossing receiver will usually be called to run an “under flare.”

4. The running back lined up opposite the side of the crossing receiver will usually run a loop or wide.

5. We always want to enter the onside of a crossing pattern by stretching the defense vertically with 3 receivers if possible.

6. The basis if the protection is the flare of the running backs

7. Crosses can be run from all formations to all receivers.

8. QB read BLS to the Buzz System. Study the Buzz system in the area the cross will actually take place. Do not lay the ball up. Drill between the buzz system.

As you can see in this example, there is an infant stage of the follow idea that is ran by many teams at all levels. We can see the idea of the Sail Concept, and the Flood. Gillman was getting 5 receivers into a route to force every coverage level to have to choose what to defend and what to allow.

This playbook goes deeper into play action passes, and a whole library of routes out of the back field. I omitted talking about the route tree, and the examples of how the series were called. As you can see for a man born in 1911 and a college football player at Ohio State in the 30’s, really the more we think things change, well they really stay the same. Sometimes looking back into history we can find the answers and thought provoking ideas, instead of looking to the future.

Patrick Taylor

Twitter: @patrick_taylor4

Air Raid / Offensive Coordinator / North Surry High School Toast,NC

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