Coach's Look: Incorporating the Tight End

Last year after the Rice game, I wrote an article on the &quot;bunch&quot; formation, and how it fit well with the Texas offense. What was the end result? We never saw it much after the Rice game. It was abandoned, scrapped, and left for dead. I hope I don&#146;t jinx the UT tight ends by writing an article about their increased touches, because <B>David Thomas</B> and <B>Bo Scaife</B> are two dangerous weapons to use.

If you haven’t noticed, tight ends for the Longhorns are doing a lot more than blocking this year. They are catching the ball and, more importantly, scoring touchdowns. Compare this year’s statistics through three games to last year’s total statistics.

Statistic

2003

2004 (actual)

2004 (projected)

Catches

30

13

52

Yards

424

270

1080

Touchdowns

5

4

16

The projected numbers for the tight ends are pretty amazing, and would probably guarantee David Thomas All-American status.

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What’s the difference? Why are the tight ends’ numbers being called more? What plays are being used to get them the ball more? It is a combination of factors: 1) the wide receivers aren’t as good as years past, 2) the two tight ends are probably two of UT's all-around best athletes, and 3) the influence of the zone read.

Most of the catches for the tight ends have come from passing plays with one formation, and I’ll do my best to describe it. If you have a copy of the Rice game tape, you might want to cue it up to the 2:49 mark of the second quarter. The two main plays I’m describing will start there…

The formation: Most of the pass plays to the TE are coming from a "three receiver" set (there is technically usually five receivers on every play). It is the same formation that UT often uses for the Zone Read play. Cedric Benson (or another RB) lines up beside the QB in the shotgun to the weakside of the formation (away from the strength or the TE). There is a split receiver on the weakside, and there are two split receivers on the strong side in a "double flanker" formation. Something like this.

The multiple split receivers give the opposing defense fits: Do you bring in another DB? Do you keep the same personnel because it might be the Zone Read? Do you play man, man-under, or do you play zone and respect the run more? There are many ways to kill a defense from this formation, and Greg Davis is seeing (and showing) most of them. The only thing the Longhorns are lacking right now is a deep threat on the outside.

A lot of offensive coaching is finding the matchup where you have the most advantage, and in this formation, the best matchup for the Horns is when a LB has to play the TEs man-to-man. Most defenses will defend this formation one of two ways. They will either bring in another defensive back (removing a LB), and play man-to-man across the formation with two safeties as deep help, or they will play zone and widen their safeties a little bit to get more help on the outside. Either way, seams and "bubbles" are created for the Longhorn TEs to exploit. Let’s look at both ways.

In this formation, the defense plays man-to-man across the front, and has deep help from the safeties (commonly known as man-under or 2-deep man). The weakside LB is responsible for Benson out of the backfield, and the strongside LB is responsible for the TE. Given this example, the Longhorns, usually run a "loop" route. The TE starts the drag across the middle, plants his foot, and starts back outside once he reaches the middle of the formation. The LB playing him man-to-man is usually not athletic enough to change direction so quickly that he can break up the pass. The outside receivers run deep routes, and Benson flares to the weakside, removing the weakside LB. The Longhorns take advantage of their superior athletic TEs and come away with a nice 5-15 yard play. This actual play occurred at the 2:48 mark of the second quarter (3rd and 7). The next play, the Owls defended it a little differently. They removed the defensive back for a LB, played more zone and lined up like this (with the LB stemmed some and the safeties playing 2-Deep Zone a little wider than normal):

If you will notice on the game tape, David Thomas recognizes the zone as he steps to the line (points to both safeties deep), and, consequently knows the route he is to run. Instead of the "loop" route, he will be running a post between the two widened safeties. This is the home run play, and one that has already provided some scores for the Horns.

As you can see, football is a lot like chess. I may not always agree with everything Greg Davis does, but he’s got a good thing going right now. Let’s just pray that he doesn’t scrap it since we are turning the calendar is about to turn to October.

Mark Kissinger has coached high school football in Texas and Tennessee, coaching OL, TE, WR, DT, DE, and serving as both an offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator. In high school, he was coached by the legendary G.A. Moore. Mark recently retired from coaching and received his M.B.A. from Rice University and is in his third season of writing for IT. His 'Coach's Look' column appears after each game during football season on InsideTexas.com.


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