Mini Camp Preps

Mini Camp Preparations

As we finish OTAs and prepare for minicamp, I am reminded of some great advice I received before going on a vacation.  A good friend told me to put out all the clothes and money I would like to take, then put back half the clothes and take out double the money!

The philosophy on clothes is what I have used ever since for vacations, as well as for preparing my “Installation Book,” (The book of plays we plan to install).   Playbooks are like closets.  They contain all the clothes you never wear but refuse to get rid of.  I must have 50 t-shirts in my closet but I only wear about 12 of them, and I would only take 6 of them on a vacation.

Let your Playbook serve as your closet, but make your Installation book your suitcase.  The longer the vacation, the more you can take.  Our Mini Camp has 5 practices during the last week of July.   Mini Camp is a short camp (5 days of only 1 practice/day).  It is geared toward teaching alignment, assignment, techniques, drills, and base plays.  Mini Camp is conducted in shorts and T-shirts.  There is no contact in drills.  It is also the first time we invite incoming freshmen to join us which allows coaches an evaluation of new players prior to training camp.  Mini camp’s limited time and focus equal a “small suitcase” of plays.

Training Camp last for 2 weeks with 14 Practices, 3 Walk-Throughs, and 2 Scrimmages. We are in full pads by day 4 and drills are full contact.  That may be a bigger suitcase, but it is not the entire closest!  Do not spend your valuable time teaching plays that you will never call.  Focus only on the ones that would make it in the suitcase!

One additional note:

Next Saturday, July 28th, we will host the Northeast Kingdom 7 v 7 tournament at St Johnsbury Academy. 7 v 7 (sometimes called 7 on 7) has quickly become a great opportunity to build team chemistry and evaluate potential. We have ten teams from Vermont and New Hampshire signed up to compete and have room for two more. 7 v 7 is a non-contact passing scrimmage with no blocking permitted. Quarterbacks have four seconds to release the ball and teams compete to move the ball down the field and score on one another.  Games are timed and officiated, and we’ve developed quite a tradition for friendly competition.

Further, we will also host the OLine Challenge and Strong Man Competition for offensive and defensive linemen. This event gives student athletes the opportunity to compete in both individual and team-oriented events designed to both showcase talent and build team cohesion.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for your time!

Summer OTA’s Week 5


In Week 5 of Summer OTAs, we install the Slide Protection used in our drop-back passing game.  Our Slide Protection is a half slide.  We NEVER full slide.  We want to get the Running Back out as a receiver if there is no blitz and we do not want to have the matchup of a Running Back pass blocking a Rush End.  We want offensive linemen pass blocking defensive linemen.

Our Slide protection combines two schemes discussed in earlier blogs:  Man & Gap.  Half the offensive line is in a Man scheme while the other side and the Center are in a Gap scheme.  The Running Back blocks to the Man side.  This allows for a 6-man protection with 3 blockers on each side of the ball.

Just like the Man Schemes in our running game, the Man side Guard blocks #1 on the Line of Scrimmage and the Tackle blocks #2, regardless of their alignment.  The Center begins the Gap scheme Slide away from the Man Scheme.  The Center has the A Gap, Guard has B Gap and Tackle has C Gap.  The Running Back has a check release vs any blitz to the Man side.

On day 1, we will have the offensive linemen communicate from Tackle-to-Tackle on the Man side then the Gap side as follows:  “I have #2, I have #1, I have A, I have B & blitz (with no DL in the B), I have C”.  As we advance to protect vs stunts, the Man side Guard and Tackle can switch vs twists but those two offensive linemen have those two defensive linemen.  The Gap scheme of the slide already accounts for all twists and blitzes.

2018-07-12 Slide Protection

If a defense attempts to blitz our protection to keep the Running Back from getting out into his pass route, we will bring the Running Back across the formation in his protection.  Since the Man and Gap sides are predicated on the side the Running Back is going, the offensive linemen must identify where the Back is protecting then call the protection accordingly.

2018-07-12 Play Action Slide Protection

Note the importance of communication on the line of scrimmage. As discussed earlier in the OTA Blog Series, we are also working on team building and interdependence. Our team plays a high tempo scheme and we use offensive tempo as a key component of momentum. The only way to support that tempo is to communicate. Communications further reinforce roles, responsibilities, and convey a sense of understanding, purpose, and confidence. When we have a common vision of success and communicate effectively to achieve that goal, it feeds tempo strengthening both our offense and our team.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for your time!

Summer OTA’s Week 4

Communicating on another level…

As we begin Week 4 of Summer OTAs, I am reminded of a phone call I received last week.  The call was from legendary New Jersey high school coach Fred Stengel of Bergen Catholic.  Sometimes when I receive a call from another coach it is to get information.  Other times it is for affirmation.  This call was most definitely the latter.  Fred wanted to talk over their Pin & Pull scheme vs the defense Grayson HS (GA) runs.  Knowing he was preparing to face the preseason #2 ranked team in the nation, Fred did not want to leave any stone unturned.  Fred knew exactly what he wanted to do.  We just went over it step by step for every position on the offensive line.

As coincidence would have it, we introduce our Gap Scheme Pin & Pull play in Week 4 of OTAs.  Gap Schemes are characterized by some offensive linemen blocking down or back, while others pull to the play-side.  Although the play is called Pin & Pull, it would be more appropriately named Pin OR Pull.  Every offensive lineman will either Pin or Pull based on the defensive alignment. When running Pin & Pull to the Right, if you have a defensive lineman in the gap to your Left, you Pin him.  If you do not have a defensive lineman to your Left, you Pull to the Right.

2018-07-05 Gap Scheme Pin-Pull 1

The bulk of my conversation with Coach Stengel centered around the steps, visual target and strike points for the Play-side Tackles block in the 4i, how to handle the 0 Nose, and how to block the wide 9 technique on the Tight End.  The rule of thumb for every offensive lineman and Tight End is that when running Pin & Pull to the Right, all Pullers step with their Right foot and all Pinner’s step with their left foot.

2018-07-05 Gap Scheme Pin-Pull 2

Getting back to the topics of our conversation, the play-side Tackle will take a bucket step with his inside foot to see that the 4i does not penetrate and knock off pullers.  He will have a visual target of near Pec and strike points of sternum and near shoulder to see that the defender is pinned from play-side pursuit.  Since the Nose is head up on the Center, he is in the Play-side Guard’s backside gap.  The Guard will take a bucket step with the same visual target and strike points as he down blocks the nose.  The Center is the puller.  Since the Tight End does not have a defender in his Left gap, he quick pulls to the wide 9 technique with a visual target of far pec and strike points of sternum and far shoulder.  I then shared that this generally causes the wide 9 to widen so as to not get reached allowing a good running lane between the down block on the 4i and the expanding wide 9 for the pulling Center and back to run through.

As we discussed in Weeks 1-3, communication between offensive linemen is critical to their success.  The same can be said for communication between offensive line coaches.  If there is anything you wish to discuss, I would look forward to hearing from you.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for your time!

Summer OTA’s Week 3

Adding the Zone Series & Reinforcing the Team

During Weeks 1 & 2 of summer OTAs, we installed our Man Scheme Plays.  In Week 3 we introduce our Zone Scheme.  In our Man Schemes, the offensive lineman blocks a particular defender regardless of his alignment.  In the Zone Scheme, we focus on play direction.  Zone Right or Zone Left.  In our Man Scheme Plays, we have a very specific point of attack.  We are running the ball to the play-side Guard.  On our Zone Scheme Plays, there is no point of attack.  The ball carrier can run anywhere from tackle to tackle.

On Zone Right, every offensive lineman must step with his right foot and account for the defender to his right.  This causes two important reactions from the defense.  One, the defensive linemen laterally displace themselves to the direction all of the linemen are stepping.  Two, it keeps Linebackers at their pre-snap depth.  The combination of those two effects, creates the running lanes in our Zone Plays allowing the ball carrier to bang it up inside, bounce it to the right or bend it back to the left.

After teaching every lineman to step with the same foot, we teach them to identify if they are covered (a defensive lineman aligned on any part of their body) or uncovered.  Lastly, they are taught to identify if they have a defensive lineman to the call side (ex: to their right on Zone Right).

This creates the 5 Zone Scenarios we teach:

  1. Covered to the call-side
  2. Covered head up
  3. Covered to the backside
  4. Uncovered with a defender in the call-side gap
  5. Uncovered with an open call-side gap

The gap is defined as the area from outside one offensive lineman’s call-side shoulder to the nose of the offensive lineman to his call-side.

These 5 scenarios create a variety of blocks along the offensive line:

  1. Covered to the call-side = 1-on-1 Reach Step Drive Block
  2. Covered head up = Reach Step Combo Block with backside OL
  3. Covered to the backside = Base Step Combo Block with backside OL
  4. Uncovered with a defender in the call-side gap = Reach Step Combo w/ call-side OL
  5. Uncovered with an open call-side gap = Reach Step and climb to 1st LB to call-side

2018-06-28 Zone Plays

These scenarios require a great deal of communication along the offensive line.  Everyone has to be on the same page stepping with the same foot and accounting for every 1st and 2nd level defender in the box.

The OTA series of Blogs is a little heavy on the X’s & O’s, but reflects where we are as a team this time of year. We’re working through team building concurrent with teaching plays and techniques. The evolution of both techniques and understanding from Man Series to Zone Series parallels the teambuilding goals of increased awareness and interdependence. As players grow in confidence in their own abilities, we expand their responsibilities to tasks they can’t accomplish alone. We force communications, interdependence, and foster trust among teammates. As coaches, it’s our responsibility to play a multi-dimensional game developing not only good technique, but good teams, and teammates.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for your time!

Summer OTAs: Week 2

Continued Focus on Fundamentals

We build on the Man Scheme from Week 1 as we enter the 2nd week of summer OTAs by installing our Dart Plays.  These are they plays I shared when I spoke at the USA Football National Conference in January.  As discussed in Week 1, covering our Man Scheme plays, the Guards block #1 on the Line of Scrimmage (LOS), the Tackles block #2, the Center blocks the Mike and the Back blocks the Sam.

Making the complex seem simple: We have 12 different backfield actions on our Dart Plays (IZ, Counter, Q Counter, Draw, Sprint Draw, etc). To the casual observer, the Dart series of plays looks like one of many unpredictable alternatives, but they are all blocked exactly the same up front and only vary slightly from the Iso, Lead and Draw plays from last week.  On all of our Dart Plays, the backside Tackle pulls to block the Sam.  The pull technique we use is a Lead pull.  On the lead pull, the Tackle runs parallel to the LOS behind the offensive line with his chest angled towards the Sam and shoulders slightly banked towards the LOS so that he does not drift in his turn upfield to the 2nd level.

With the Tackle blocking the Sam, we now need to account for #2 on the backside of the LOS.  We have a number of ways to account for him.  The Back can block #2 on the backside and have the QB run the ball.  We have the Tight End block #2 when we hand the ball to the Back or run to the QB in Empty sets.  We can also not block #2 and account for him with a QB read.

Versus a 3 down front, we do not have to account for #2.  We consider the Nose to be #1 on the playside so the backside Guard blocks the defender on the backside pulling Tackle as his #2.  Anyone outside of that block does not affect the play.

2018-06-21 Dart

2018-06-21 Dart Counter

This series of plays is our most versatile and most successful.  We averaged over 8 yards per run with our Dart Plays during our 2017 championship season. Whether orchestrating an offense or tackling any other problem you encounter, ask yourself, “What would it be like if this were simple?”

In the case of the Dart Series of plays, we gain more than a dozen options built upon the same foundation. The repetitions this foundation affords our linemen reinforce muscle memory and conditions them for success. Hard work on these fundamentals now and this summer will pay off during the season. As you have heard me say before, (and our players and coaches hear daily) “Championships are not won on Saturdays in the fall…”

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for your time!





Summer OTAs Week 1

Focus on the Fundamentals…

We begin our summer Organized Team Activities (OTAs) this week.  During the next 6 weeks, my blog will discuss how we teach/train our offensive linemen during that period.  Although we have returning players, we teach OTAs as if it is the first time we are installing it.  While the next few weeks topics are likely a little heavy on X’s & O’s, the focus on fundamentals and establishing a foundation of success is the consistent theme. Back to basics!

During week 1, we introduce our Man Scheme.  Man schemes differ from our Zone and Gap schemes in that we block a particular person regardless of play direction and defender alignment.  In its simplest form, the Guards block #1 on the line of scrimmage (Defensive Tackles in a 4 down front), Tackles block #2 (Defensive Ends).  The Center blocks the middle or backside Inside Linebacker (Mike) often in combination with one of the Guards if their #1 impedes the Center’s path to Mike.  The Running Back blocks the 1st Linebacker to the playside (Sam).

In Week 1, we introduce QB Iso, Lead, and Draw.  For our OLine, all 3 plays are blocked the same (simplifying the scheme breeds early success and confidence!).  Only the backfield action differs.  Iso is a downhill QB run to the side of the running back’s offset alignment.  Lead is run to the side of the line of scrimmage opposite the running back’s alignment.  The QB rides the running back as he would on inside zone then follows him.  Draw is run to the side of the running back like Iso but is done with a pass set by the running back and a drop step by the quarterback.

Offensive linemen can use drive blocks or jump sets.  The jump set can only be used if the defender has outside alignment (ex. 3 tech on a Guard or 5 tech on a Tackle).  On the Jump set, the offensive lineman takes a base run step with his inside foot but makes a pass set with his upper body.  The step defends the inside gap.  The show of “high hat and hands” in the pass set invites the defender to get into a pass rush and has him remove himself from his gap responsibility opening up running lanes.

Examples follow:

2018-06-14 ISO Play

2018-06-14 LEAD Play

2018-06-14 DRAW

You’ve read here how we reinforce the mantra “Championships are not won on Saturdays in the Fall.” This back to basics approach to teaching fundamentals is the next step in our process of reinforcing who we are and how we think about our roles, responsibilities, and commitments to the team. While understanding and appreciation of individual assignments are imperative to getting the play right, I’m equally focussed on helping teammates recognize their interdependence in pursuit of collective success.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for your time!

Shotgun Snap

2018-06-07 shotgun-snapI recently received a text from an old friend whom I played against in high school and then with in college.  He was inquiring about how we teach the shotgun snap.  When he was playing next to me in the 80’s I was a 205 lbs center in a split back veer offense with one hand on the ball, the other on the ground, and two hands under my butt.

Shotgun snapping is something I learned as a coach 20 years ago when we went from the I Formation to Spread at The College of New Jersey.  I teach it the same way now that I did then.  The Shotgun snap is faster than a QB dropping the same distance, and it affords the quarterback a wider field of view than when under center, ultimately improving both perspective and ideally decision making.

I will start by saying that if you have a guy who can already snap, do not change him.  Our starting Center the past two seasons could just grip it and reliably rip it back there.  Not 1 bad snap in 2 years…. (Amazing!)  He grabbed the ball with a QB grip and just fired it back there like he was born to the task.  Those guys are rare.  Have a new guy try for the first time and you are going to see balls sailing over your QBs head.

At St Johnsbury Academy, we teach every offensive lineman to shotgun snap.  Just in case…  It not only builds depth in capability but conveys additional responsibility to the lineman and reinforces each players’ potential contribution to the team. (Reinforce teammate interdependence at every opportunity!)2018-06-07 Thumb knuckle grip (1)

When I teach a new shotgun snapper, I have them grip the ball with their thumb knuckle on the top lace.  Do not have them use a QB grip.  I then have them slightly flex their wrist and lock it.  When their forearm contacts their thigh on the snap, they open their grip.  Taking wrist flexion out of the snap minimizes the opportunity for a ball to sail over the QB’s head.

During last summer’s OTAs we introduced the “back tip grip”.  Our players did not like it.  With the back tip grip, they did not feel they could get their snapping hand back to the strike point of the block after the snap.  The “Thumb-knuckle” grip has worked for 20 years.  No reason to change.  I trust it will work for my old friend’s players as well.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for your time!