Butch Jones has quickly turned the Tennessee Volunteers program into a legitimate competitor in the SEC. One play that has fueled their ascension is the double post concept. Mark Schofield takes a deeper look into how Jones uses this concept to beat both man and zone coverage schemes.
Long has it been predicted to no avail, but now at last the anticipated revival of Tennessee football may finally be upon us. After starting the Butch Jones era with seasons that saw the Volunteers notch five and then seven wins, Tennessee finished 9-4 last year and, as stated by Phil Steele, they were, “four plays away from being undefeated and in the playoffs.”
The Volunteers return 17 starters to campus for the 2016 season, including nine starters on offense. Among the nine are quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd who, while they may not be household names, are very well-known in SEC circles. But a relative unknown among the returning starters is tight end Ethan Wolf, a rising junior. However, thanks to one of the staples of Jones’s offense, the double post concept, Dobbs to Wolf might be the connection that really puts UT back on the map.
As illustrated at the 2016 Nike Coaches Clinic, this is the basic design of Tennessee’s Double Post play:
This example is drawn out of a 3X1 formation. The backside receiver runs a vertical route, but is not one of the primary reads on the play. The outside receiver in the trips runs a bang post route – in Jones’s system this is a seven-step post pattern, with the receiver breaking at a depth of 12 yards. The inside receiver runs a thru route, meaning he reads the middle of the field and, depending on the coverage, he aims for the inside shoulder of the nearest safety. If the middle of the field is closed (Cover 1 or Cover 3), the inside receiver will break over the middle, looking to run through the safety’s inside shoulder. Should the middle of the field be open (Cover 2 or Cover 4), he then takes a more vertical route while still looking to get inside of the safety shaded his way so he can attack the middle of the field. Against Cover 2 or Cover 4, that inside thru route is the first read for the quarterback, as the route is designed to get the receiver inside of the safety and into the open area of the field.
During his presentation Jones stressed certain key points. First, Tennessee likes to use this design all over the field, whether in the red zone or in the middle of the field. Second, while he drew it up from a 3X1 formation, the Volunteers use it out of every formation. Finally, as you can see from the design, this is a play that works against both man or zone coverage. But watching Tennessee’s tape from 2015, one variation of this play in particular stood out: The Volunteers liked to run this from formations where Wolf, their TE, was running that inside thru route. With very good size (6’ 6” 245) and athleticism, this design allows the TE to work against safeties and even linebackers in coverage, and it led to big plays for Tennessee.
Against Bowling Green in the season-opener, the Volunteers face a 1st and 10 on the Falcons’ 18-yard line. The offense aligns with 11 personnel on the field and Dobbs (#11) in the shotgun, with slot formation to the right and a receiver split wide to the left, with Wolf (#82) in the wing just outside the left tackle. BGSU has its 4-2-5 nickel defense in the game, showing Cover 2 with both cornerbacks in catch-man alignment and the safeties split outside the hashmarks:
Prior to the snap, the slot receiver comes across the formation in jet motion, but he is only a decoy. Tennessee runs its double post design:
With the defense showing – and staying – in Cover 2, Wolf (#82) is tagged with running the through route and is the first read for the quarterback. He aims for the inside shoulder of the safety to his side of the field and bends his route toward the middle of the field. The run action from the jet sweep gives him a step on the underneath linebackers, whom he clears with ease before bending into the middle of the field on his route.
Dobbs, seeing the coverage, takes his shot:
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Wolf works open right at the goal-line and, making an impressive adjustment on the throw, secures the football and crashes into the end zone with six points, extending the Tennessee lead.
As this still indicates, the design of the play works to perfection:
The vertical route from the backside receiver holds the backside safety in place, preventing him from making a play on Wolf. In similar fashion, the vertical route run by the playside WR occupies the cornerback, leaving the middle of the field open for the TE.
Here is another example of this concept, this one from Tennessee’s game against Arkansas. Trailing by seven midway through the third quarter, the Volunteers line up with 11 personnel on the field with slot to the left and a pro alignment to the right. The Razorbacks 4-2-5 nickel defense shows Cover 2 before the snap:
The Volunteers run the double post concept again, this time with Wolf tagged with running the through route from his spot on the line of scrimmage next to the right tackle:
The Razorbacks run a Tampa 2 coverage scheme here, with linebacker Dre Greenlaw (#23) tasked with getting vertical after the snap to cover the intermediate middle of the field between the safeties. Up front, the Volunteers show run action, pulling a guard and faking a handoff to Hurd (#1). This freezes both linebackers (including Greenlaw) in addition to drawing cornerback D.J. Dean (#2) forward. With the middle of the field open at the snap, Dobbs looks to his first read, Wolf on the through route:
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Due to both the design of the play and his own athleticism, the TE has more than a step on the coverage as he breaks toward the middle of the field. As with the previous play, Wolf makes a great adjustment and pulls the pass into his body for a huge gain before he is dragged down from behind by Greenlaw. The long pitch and catch sets the Volunteers up with a fresh set of downs in Arkansas territory.
Having seen how effective this play can be when the middle of the field is open, we can look at how the design works when the defense closes the middle of the field, as with Cover 1 or Cover 3. In this situation, the TE adjusts his thru route by bending more across the middle to occupy that middle of the field defender. This will create a true one-on-one situation to the outside.
In their game against Alabama, the Volunteers face a 2nd and 8 on their own 46-yard line. They line up with 11 offensive personnel on the field and Dobbs again in the shotgun. They use a stack-slot formation to the right side of the field, and split a receiver wide to the left with tight end Alex Ellis (#48) in a wing alignment outside the LT. The Crimson Tide 4-2-5 nickel defense shows single-high coverage before the play, with the cornerbacks watching the football, an indication of zone coverage:
Prior to the snap, the slot receiver comes in jet motion. As with a previous play, he is a decoy. The Volunteers run their double post concept once more:
Alabama drops into a Cover 3 look. With the middle of the field now closed, Ellis must bend his thru route across the middle of the field. Remember, his coaching point is to aim for the inside shoulder of the nearest safety. He does just that and, with the defense in Cover 3, the effect is that it occupies the free safety. Meanwhile, on the outside, WR Johnathon Johnson (#81) is able to bend inside of the cornerback on his post route. Between the coverage and the route design, Johnson is able to gain separation from the defense, and Dobbs takes his shot:
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The throw is high, but the receiver pulls it in and makes the catch for a big gain. Once more, we see how this design works to occupy defenders and create separation for the offense:
Because Alabama is in Cover 3, the cornerback has outside leverage on Johnson, allowing the WR some separation as he works inside on his post route. But because Ellis is working inside across the face of the free safety, that defender is late to rotate over to the outside post pattern. Johnson secures the pass, and the Volunteers have a first down.
Wolf and the double post design are just two elements of a talented, and experienced, offense. With so many starters returning and a few solid years of growth to build upon, the Volunteers are poised to finally breakthrough in the the SEC East – and beyond.
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