A slam release is a technique for tight ends on play action pass plays. The TE moves with the run fake, often a zone run, and engages in a block to one side of the play before stopping, pivoting and releasing into their route in the opposite direction. Generally this is a short route to the flat, but can also be used to get vertical up the field.
The slam release helps to further sell play action, as defenders can tell it’s a fake when the tight end releases into a route immediately. The delay helps sell the run keys to defenders, leading to an easier passing play for the offense as a whole.
Here’s what veteran NFL and college football coach (Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Volunteers) and current Scouting Academy instructor and FirstDown PlayBook contributor Charlie Coiner had to about how to execute a slam release:
“Slam the C gap and stop penetration. Violently release to the flat after a 1 to 2 second count. Vs a head up or outside technique the TE can either slam the end and release or just hard inside release & hope the end bites. Every coordinator has his preference.”
Slam releases are most often employed on bootlegs, allowing the TE to run to the flat right in front of where the QB is rolling to.
Here’s an example of a slam release, courtesy of the Buffalo Bills and tight end Charles Clay. The Bills are in 12 personnel with two tight ends and one wide receiver in a bunch formation to the right of the offensive line.
The Bills are setting up a play action run fake of their counter trey run play, something they used a number of times in this game against the Bengals. Clay (#85) is at the top of the bunch formation, and he’ll be running the flat route at the bottom of the flood concept.
Since the Bills are making the fake to the left, Clay runs that way to start the play, selling that he’s going to run block. Then, once QB Tyrod Taylor (#5) fakes it to LeSean McCoy (#25) and boots back to the right, Clay pivots and runs back to the flat. Because Clay sold the run block so well, he outpaces LB Vincent Rey (#57) on his way to the flat and gets open for Taylor, who hits him for a gain of 7 yards and a first down.
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So the slam release is a common technique at the NFL level, but it’s also prevalent throughout college football as well.
In Boston College’s 2017 upset win over Louisville, they featured the slam release multiple times. In this example about midway through the fourth quarter, TE Chris Garrison (#81) will execute a slam release before releasing on a flat route.
The Eagles are in 12 personnel, with a tight end on each side and both receivers (plus Garrison) to the offensive left. They’ll fake a run to the right, with Garrison blocking the defensive end down with the rest of the offensive line. Then, as QB Darius Wade (#4) releases from his fake, Garrison will turn to the flat as an outlet option for Wade.
The Cardinals defense leaves this wide open for Wade and Garrison, and the former lofts it to his TE in the flat. Garrison gets upfield for 20 yards to get the Eagles near midfield.
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If you rewatch the play, both tight ends actually end up using slam releases, as the tight end opposite Garrison, junior Tommy Sweeney (#89), will fake a pin block on the right before turning and releasing to the right flat as well.
The slam release is a valuable tool for blockers at all levels of football, as it helps sell a run fake before opening an easy option for a QB. It’s generally used on bootlegs, as in the two examples above, but can be a valuable piece in a dropback passing game as well.