X's and O's Mailbag: Option Routes

In our new weekly series, GoBlueWolverine tackles your questions about anything football. Josh Turel and Victors Club Message Board poster "CoachBt" break down the onfield X's and O's. In this edition the duo tackles how option routes work in a passing attack.

This week's question was submitted by Victors Club Message Board poster, "tmac1154"

Question: "I'd like the coach to go over some points on option routes with us. For instance, what players are the receiver and QB reading pre-snap to decide which route to use? Just the CB? CB and S? CB, S and LB? Different from play to play - if so examples please. Do teams use signals for the WR to let the QB know what he sees or is it just up to both of them to make the same read? What percentage of routes run at UM are "option" routes? How often is the wrong route ran or wrong adjustment made?" (thinking Manningham vs. Iowa last year).


The First step in any passing attack is to read the defense. Route options will vary according to what the defense does. The quarterback goes to the line of scrimmage and makes what is called pre-snap read. This read will allow the quarterback to use what is called check-with-me. That allows him to change into a running or pass play depending on gameplan, reads, and tendencies of the defense. After the play is set the quarterback then makes a call to set patterns by the wide receiver.

Usually the quarterback and wide receiver have a number of options about the route to be run. In some situations especially loud crowds hand signals are used to communicate. All have seen quarterbacks come out from under center and give signals again after defense has stemmed or shifted. The quarterback's read depends primarily on three things. First is the defense, second is the route or play, and third is down and distance. With experienced teams false reads become less and less.

Nothing beats familiarity when it comes to just about anything in the game of football. The best example of how to read was told to me by Cam Cameron years ago and we still teach it with great success. If you are running a flood route (overloading a zone or one side of the field with receivers) to short side of field, quarterback has to decide which player is going to responsible for primary receiver in flat. If he reads cornerback in the flat with secondary rolling to boundary (side) the wide receiver will adjust his route to try and get between the cornerback and catch the pass before the safety can get over. If the outside linebacker has flat (zone) that means the defense is rolling to the wide side and quarterback has to get wide receiver ball early before the outside linebacker can get there.

So the more inexperienced a team or passing combination, the more mistakes there are. The biggest example of running wrong route was Mario Manningham in the OSU game. If Manningham runs the post or seam instead of fade there is no way that defensive back for OSU comes in and breaks up the pass to Bass. That was exact play UM scored on with Braylon the year previous. It was an absolutely beautiful call and read by Henne.

Josh Turel:

Coach hit on most of the key points so I'll just add a few things. Option routes are pretty popular with tight ends as well as receivers. Against a deep dropping coverage, a tight end will curl and sit down in the soft spot of a zone. If he reads man coverage, he will run away from the defender and try to gain separation. West coast passing systems usually use a lot of option routes because it the staple of their philosophy…i.e. reading the defense and taking what it gives you.

Option routes work well against combo coverages like cover-2 under. This is a two deep zone coverage with man coverage underneath. It is much easier for the receivers to defeat man coverage in this scheme.
Like coach alluded to, you need experience and timing in this system. In the offense last year, because of the inexperience at receiver and quarterback, many times the younger players were not on the same page. Henne didn't know when a receiver would break, and the receivers were not getting hit in stride and out of their breaks as a result. This is just a product of inexperience and will heal in time. Against zone coverage, your timing must be precise will reading and option routes and that only comes with experience.

The option route can, however, be a good thing for a young quarterback. When he is unsure of what the coverage may be, some coordinators have the inexperienced QB read one area…say the weak side corner. For example, if the corner is in a press technique, the signal may be for a fade. If their is a large cushion, the offense could run a quick hook. If the cornerback is playing the outside shoulder of the receiver, a quick slant could do the trick.

The other part of your question is tricky. It is hard to know just how many option routes UM runs without looking at a playbook but I can tell you that under Terry Malone, UM used receiver reads a lot. It is something young players can have a tough time with initially, as you saw with Manningham. That said, once they get the hang of it and QB and receiver are working in unison, it provides the offense with a very handy advantage. Under Debord you will probably continue to see option routes, but just how much remains to be seen.

Be sure to check back next week for another mailbag feature.

Want to submit a mailbag question? Join us on our Victors Club messageboard or in our weekly chats held every Monday night at 9pm.

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