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!


Seize The Day!

Seize the Day

(Photo by Paul Hayes)
(Photo by Paul Hayes)

There are lots of inspiring quotes from great historical leaders. I came across one years ago that I have on the wall outside the door to my office.  It gives me daily motivation and reminds me of the responsibilities I carry forward.  Another is placed for our players to see as they exit our locker room.  It inspires our team throughout OTAs, Camp, and the season. I hope it gives you and your team the same inspiration:

“This is the beginning of a new day. God has given me this day to use as I will. I can waste it or use it for good. What I do today is important, because I am exchanging a day of my life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever leaving in its place something I have traded for it. I want it to be a gain, not a loss; good, not evil; success, not failure; in order that I shall not regret the price I paid for it…a day of my life.”

Little reminders matter, and reinforcing themes of teamwork, purpose, and sacrifice are daily reminders of who we want to be as teammates, and who we aspire to be as a team. These quotes remind us of our team’s culture, our role, and our privilege to earn a place on this team and carry forth its legacy.

What reminds you to be a worthy teammate in your team, club, job, or family?

Find a quote, an image, or another reminder to reinforce the culture you aspire to be part of and set out each day with a reminder to be your very best!

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!

Endings & New Beginnings…

At St Johnsbury Academy, we are in the final days of school.  Senior capstones are behind us and finals are only a week away.  On June 4, we will graduate 14 seniors from our undefeated state championship team.  On June 11, we will begin our summer Organized Team Activities (OTAs).  In Vermont, we have the good fortune of not having too many restrictions on our summer schedule.  We train 3 nights a week (Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday) for six weeks.  I know it is a lot to ask but we believe that giving players and families weekends and Fridays off, makes it more palatable.  We do not make OTAs mandatory, although our players and their parents understand that the work we do in the summer is what allows us to win in the fall.  As we have said for the 5 years I have been at the Academy, “games are not won on weekends in the fall”.

We also structure every session of the week to be different to keep our players interested.  Mondays are Power days in the weight room followed by OLine practice.  Tuesdays are Speed days on the field followed by 7v7 practice.  Thursdays are Strength days in the weight room followed by 7v7 practice.

We will work our Stance, Steps, Visual Targets and Strike Points at every one of our 6 OLine practices, then do a specific scheme (Zone, Dart, Pin & Pull, Slide, Boot, Sprint) each week.  During the 7v7 practices, we will install a different passing play each night and work our Match Zone coverage concepts vs that play.

At the end of the 6 weeks, we host our weeklong minicamp culminating with our 7v7 tournament and OLine challenge.  Last year we welcomed 10 teams from Vermont and New Hampshire to our campus for the event.  When the event is over, we give our players and their families 2 weeks off before we report to training camp.  Every one of our families knows the first 2 weeks in August are their time for vacation.  By providing families with the weekends off and scheduled vacation time, we get great parental support throughout the summer months and strong attendance at OTAs and camp.

This has allowed us to change our motto from “games are not won on weekends in the fall” to “championships are not won on weekends 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!

Marv Levy or Bud Grant


2018-05-10 Levy Grant Combo1How do you perceive Marv Levy and Bud Grant?
As coaches, it is important to realize that we can impact the outcome of games but we cannot control them.  Thus, we cannot let the results of games or seasons define us as coaches or individuals.  During the month of May, I will be recognized at two banquets with Coach of the Year Awards after winning the 2017 Vermont Division I State Football Championship.

Such recognition and reputation can be a fickle thing. We were a play away from me joining Marv Levy (Buffalo Bills) and Bud Grant (Minnesota Vikings) as head coaches who regularly took their teams to championship games but could not win them.  We had earned our way into the championship game in 2014 and 2016 but came up short in both.  In 2017, we relinquished a comfortable halftime lead and had to make a stop late to win the game.  We made our stand on the 11-yard line, with 11 seconds to go, to win the game.  We made the stop… and I am elected Coach of the Year.  If we did not make that stop, I would have lost 3 state championships in 4 years.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m both flattered and thankful to be recognized by my fellow coaches. I’m thankful we had such a tremendous group of dedicated players, coaches, families, and a community who supported us. But I’m most thankful this game and this school give me the opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of our student-athletes and gives me the opportunity to pay forward the investments so many great coaches made in me. Super Bowl wins or not, my guess is Marv Levy and Bud Grant might say the same thing.

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!