Chalk Talk: the Screen Pass

The Bears decided on Monday to move Devin Hester from defense to offense, but the question remains, how do they get him the ball? One way is to throw him a screen pass either as a running back or wide receiver and just let him improvise. Correspondent Jeremy Stoltz breaks down the essence of the screen and how that might be the best way to get Hester in open space.

The Chicago Bears announced this week that electrifying return man Devin Hester will be moved to the offensive side of the ball in 2007. Bears fans across the Windy City were elated to find out that the most explosive player in the game will be getting more opportunities to score touchdowns. After setting an NFL record in his rookie season with six TD returns, Lovie Smith and his coaching staff are looking for ways to get Hester more touches.

"I think Devin Hester is one of the most exciting players in the NFL with his hands on the football," Smith said on Monday. "There are a lot of different ways we can go. He's an offensive weapon right now. That's the only limit we put on him."

Offensive coordinator Ron Turner now has the enviable task of developing creative ways for Hester to get the ball. The entire league has seen what the second-year player out of Miami can do in the open field, but now it is just a matter of designing plays that will allow Hester the opportunity to showcase his talents even more.

Said Smith, "There are only a few guys in the league who can make people miss and do the things he can do with the football."

One way the Bears are considering using Hester is as the focal point of the "screen pass." Whether as a running back or wide receiver, a screen pass will get him the ball in open space, which is the perfect place for him to use his natural athletic ability.

The screen pass is just one of many offensive plays designed to offset the speed and aggressiveness of opposing defenses. Ask any defensive lineman in the league what his favorite aspect of the game is, and he will explain the euphoric feeling that comes from sacking the quarterback. In today's NFL, where on-field celebrations have become the norm, no play elicits as much hoopla as a defensive sack. It is the dream of almost every defender to get his hands on the QB and drop him for a loss.

The screen pass looks to exploit this sack-crazy mindset of opposing defenses.

Ahman Green helped keep Brett Favre upright in the pocket with screen passes

It starts out like every other passing play: the quarterback drops back deep, the linemen pass block, the receivers take off down the field, and the running back stays in the pocket to pass protect. After a second or two, the offensive linemen release the opposing rushers, allowing them a free run at the quarterback. When a defensive end, tackle, or blitzing linebacker sees a clear path between himself and the signal-caller, visions of an impending sack dance appear in his head.

Once the defensive linemen have cleared the line of scrimmage, the offense sets up the screen. Two of the offensive linemen break off into the flat, with the running back following them. Once they are in place, the quarterback lobs the ball over the heads of the rushing defenders. The back catches the pass in the open field, with the defensive line behind him and two offensive linemen in front of him. If the receivers have done their job, the safeties and corners have been run deep down the field and left plenty of open room for the running back. He then follows the "screen" of offensive linemen in front of him for a big gain.

The screen pass can also be run using a wide receiver instead of the running back. At the snap of the ball, the receiver will turn and run toward the center of the field. At the same time, the tackle and guard on his side of the line of scrimmage sprint out to meet him. If the play is executed properly, the receiver will catch a quick pass in the flat at the moment his blockers reach him. He can then swiftly turn upfield with two linemen in front of him and only the secondary to beat.

The screen pass is simple, adaptable, and effective from a variety of formations, which is why using Hester as a part of these packages is so appealing. He can line up in the slot, at split end, at H-back, or at running back and still be able to catch a screen pass. If the play is run well, Hester will have the ball in the open field with blockers ahead of him.

Take a look back at the first play of Super Bowl XLI to see what happens next.

As Bears fans are all too aware, Brett Favre and Green Bay have been running the screen pass effectively for 16 years. Every time a defense begins putting constant pressure on their Hall-of-Fame quarterback, the Packers call a screen pass that racks up big yards. The defensive line then has to be wary of the screen, which makes them think twice about barreling in on the lead-footed Favre.

Like Favre says, "Sometimes it's just a matter of throwing a screen pass."

Jeremy Stoltz is a graduate of the Columbia College Story Workshop program in Chicago. He is a regular contributor to Bear Report and

Jeremy Stoltz's Chalk Talk Archive
05/10/2007 - Draw Play
05/03/2007 - West Coast Offense (Part II)
04/26/2007 - West Coast Offense (Part I)
04/19/2007 - Zone Blitz
04/12/2007 - I-Formation
04/05/2007 - Zone Blocking
03/29/2007 - Cover 2
03/22/2007 - Counter Trey

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