Bill Hughes Talks Football
ON ATTACK or on defense, successful football strategy must be based on team play. It must be the combined efforts of twelve men on the field, each man with his own job to do, each man doing that job in his own backyard, and no man leaving that backyard until his job is completed. The success or failure of any coach’s campaign depends pretty much upon how far his team’s performance is based upon this conception.
It is true, too. that the best defense is an attack. I think Rough Riders demonstrated that idea pretty thoroughly last season. The thought is perhaps more valuable from the psychological point of view than from any other, but in my experience the team that is “up-and-at-’em,” whether or not it has possession of the ball, is the team most likelv to win.
In the first article of this series I stated that any forma-
Continuing a master coach’s exposition of the fine points of Canada’s autumn sport
tion adopted by a coach should lend itself to a variety of attacks. This has always been a fundamental principle of my coaching system. At times I have been criticized for the seeming lack of deception in my theory of attack, but I have maintained that the simpler a formation appears, the more deceptive it actually is. There is always a larger opportunity to produce a variety of plays from a simple formation than from one which discloses its intention the moment it is shown on the field.
On the principle, too, that a coach should think always of his attack in terms of his opponents’ defense, I have developed a General Purpose formation which has been used successfully by all my championship teams. This formation, shown in the accompanying diagram, illustrates perfectly what I mean by starting a variety of plays from one formation.
There are eight intervals along the opposing front line. From this basic formation, a coach can send the ball into any one of those eight openings. Eight plays on a right shift, and eight corresponding plays on a left shift, are available to accomplish that purpose. If you number these intervals from one to eight, starting from either end of the line, you have the numbers of your plays. All your players need to know is whether a right or a left shift is called and the same plays operate.
This is a cycle of running plays. For example, they could be numbered in the twenties—twenty-one to twentyeight. Forward passes off these running plays might be a series in the thirties. Kicks and fake kicks might be a series of sixties. These are simple illustrations, but they embody the important thought that not only should a formation be a cycle of plays, but the numbers attached to the plays should be related, all with the object of simplifying the learning and memorizing of signals.
THE PLAY shown in the diagram is a right shift. The intervals are numbered from the strong side of the line back to the short end. one to eight. Suppose that our series is in the twenties. Twenty-one calls for the ball to go
outside of the opposing outside wings, across the line of scrimmage. I have done this in two ways—a direct pass to a halfback who starts the end run, followed by laterals that eventually get the ball to that interval. Behind this is a pet theory of mine— the quicker you get the ball to the point of attack, the stronger are your chances of success.
When my teams were attacking inside opposing middles, it was better that the quarterback should handle the ball, to add a greater element of deception; but when the play was aimed to hit outside the middles, then a direct pass got the ball there a bit faster. On the other hand, granted a slight delay when the quarterback handled the ball in faking a pass to a line bucker, it still made a very effective method of getting the ball to the number one interval.
To hit number two, you fake number one with your running halves and shoot your bucker into number two Continued on page 33
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with the ball. The front bucker, coming up inside the quarter, is always able to hit number four interval.
In the plays so far considered, the quarter in his shift has taken up a position just outside the spot occupied by the player second from centre. To hit numbers three, six, seven and eight openings, his shift is not quite so wide. The front bucker, whom we aimed at the number four interval, is able, by a spread of his legs and a drive off his left foot, to reach that number six interval. The back bucker can fake his number two interval and, with a drive off his right foot, can hit the number three opening.
Attacks on the numbers seven and eight intervals, must necessarily be reverse plays. The front bucker fakes his number four interval. The back bucker fakes his number two interval, but flattens out to allow the player on the end of the line to turn on his outside foot and come tearing around in front of the bucker, to take the ball from the quarter and go through the short end between the defending middle and the outside. While this is happening, the man next the centre on the strong side can come out of the line, sprint around to the short end to block off a waiting outside wing or a secondary defenseman.
Hitting the number eight interval is a variation of this play. The centre half fakes to the right, but comes back around
with the ball carrier and takes a lateral from him, well to the outside of the opposing outside wing.
There remains only one interval we have not hit; number five. A quarterback sneak, prior to which the quarter takes a half or a full spin, according to the timing found most effective with individual players, is effective against the number five spot.
There is a complete cycle of running plays, all from the same basic formation. Quick kicks and forward passes can be, and should be, combined with these. We suggested making our forward passes a series of thirties. Very well. The thirtyone pass would be worked off the twentyone play, and so on, throughout the series. The quick kick can he effectively employed in similar fashion; hut please note carefully that in all these plays each one of the players has a definite job to do, in his own backyard.
Importance of Kicking
SO FAR we have considered line plays and the forward pass. Now we have to give some thought to kicking, a vitally important division of our Canadian football.
By the time a senior coach gets his hands on a kicker his habits are usually so firmly fixed that, if he is at all consistent in his kicking, the coach would be foolish to
attempt to make any drastic changes in his methods. If there is one place more than another where overcoaching may ruin a perfectly good performer, it is in this matter of booting the ball.
It is my personal opinion that younger players these days have been oversold on the forward pass. The Pep Leadlays of yesteryear, the Tiny Hermans or the Rocky Roccanos of '36, are few and far between in the ranks of the school and junior players. If I were coaching a team of youngsters, I would do my level best to impress upon a would-be backfield star that he must learn thoroughly how to kick, run and pass, and that he should not concentrate on any one of the three to the exclusion of the other two.
Kicking demands a very definite technique, and only constant practice can develop a really great kicker. For punting, the player should take a stance with his feet slightly apart, his toes pointed in the direction he wishes to kick, and his kicking foot drawn back half a stride. If it is necessary to face the ball, his body should be turned at the hips, arms extended about shoulder height, palms of the hands turned inward. The player watches the flight of the ball toward him and gathers it in between his hands, giving with the ball at the instant of contact. He reverses any hip action and, from the moment the ball reaches him, he keeps his eyes fixed on it until it leaves his foot. He pushes the ball out as he drops it to the curve between his toes and his instep, with the forward point turned slightly upward.
With his kicking foot drawn back, he can get a full drive in two steps. His knee and ankle should snap into the ball at the instant of contact, with a follow-through that will carry that leg so far forward and up that it will almost bring him off his back foot and into the air. By lowering the forward point of the ball slightly, and meeting it closer to the ground, he will get distance as against height, and vice versa.
For the drop kick, also an almost forgotten science among the younger players, the ball should be punched with the toe or the instep at the instant it rises from the ground. It is a mistake to attempt to drive the ball with any great force, and here again it is absolutely imperative that the kicker should keep his eyes fixed upon the ball. The stance is very much the same as for the punt. The feet should be six to eight inches apart and pointed directly toward the bar of the goal post to be cleared. An experienced kicker will have learned to vary his stance according to the direction and velocity of the wind. Certainly no great kicker was ever developed without hours of practice kicks from all points on the circumference of a half-circle in front of the goal posts.
Place Kicks and Kicking Plays
THE PLACE kick is a two-man business, like the forward pass. Although the kicker usually gets the credit for the score if any, unless the man who holds that ball does his job skilfully and with perfect timing, the kicker will not see his name in the headlines on Monday morning.
For the place kick, the two players combine to determine the exact spot where the ball is to be placed. The kicker takes his position on a line behind that spot and facing the direction of the estimated flight of the ball. I like to have a place kicker mark the spot with his kicking toe, then draw it back along that line one full stride. He then takes his other leg back another full stride, and stands with his feet together, his body bent slightly forward at the waist. If he has measured his distance accurately, one full stride forward with his off leg, enables him to swing his kicking toe downward at the ball.
The ball is passed to the holder, who has knelt on his back knee, with his front foot turned at right angles to his body and along the line of flight. Taking the ball between his outstretched hands, he drops one end to the ground, and holds it
upright and tilted slightly back, with his lingers pressed firmly on the top.
When he comes to consider kicking plays, it is, in my opinion, the coach’s job to provide all possible protection for the kicker, and to let him do his stuff in whatever fashion he thinks suits him best. The Punt Formation diagram illustrates a standard kick formation that has stood up for me through all my years as a coach. It lends itself not only to good protection for the kicker, but also to forward passes and line plays—more properly sneak plays—at the same time.
Having my middles back off the line in my general formation has permitted me to get these men back quickly into key positions for protection. Middle wings are usually big, rugged men, who can take a lot of pounding. It seems logical to me that they should be the ones to bear the brunt of charging opponents.
In all kick formations, the basic idea is to make the centre safe against invasion, thereby forcing the opposition to take the long way round. If the kicker uses his right foot, he should stand a little to the left of centre and, in my formation, about ten yards back. Thus, when he steps up to kick, he brings himself midway between the protection on his flanks, and well inside the fortified area. Again, if the kicker is right-footed, the quarter should be the extra man on the right side of his protection. If left-footed, the quarter will shift left.
As the diagram shows, the two outside wings are well out where they can dodge their respective covers and be away down the field with the snap of the ball. The flying wing may go up on the line either to the right or the left. If necessary he can be used to bump an aggressive opponent before he starts down. Usually these three are the only players who can leave at once. For full kicker protection, each man from centre should block high and viciously on his inside. On the extreme flanks, if opponents are teaming up and charging in tandem, the defenders can meet the charge with a full-length body clip and pile it up successfully.
While this is essentially a kick formation, forward passes and line plays can be planned, using the same formation. The quarter from one side, and the halfback from the other, can cut through with the snap of the ball, and either fan or crisscross to become potential receivers, in conjunction with the work the outside wings are doing on their way down the field. The kicker should fake his kick, before he straightens up to throw, in the case of a forward pass. The quarter and the half, by turning in toward the ball at the instant it is snapped, can receive it from the centre and be on their way across the line of scrimmage. Another example of a varied attack from one basic formation.
IT IS necessary for a defending team to shift with the attackers in order that their centre of resistance may be opposite the power of the team carrying the ball. That is the first point I would make as we come now to discussion of defense tactics. At the same time, as they shift, each player must keep his relative interval in order that no spot in the defense shall be overmanned while other spots are left open —which is the basic idea behind the thought that each player must do his job in his own backyard.
One sure sign of ]x>or coaching appears when players overshift, lose their regular intervals, or leave their position to lend overanxious assistance to teammates at an apparently threatened point. Study of the right middle, right outside, and right secondary positions in the General Purpose Formation diagram, will show what I am getting at.
If the right middle shifts over to his left past centre to assist his inside, or if the secondary does the same thing to assist the centre, then the defending team will be “suckers” for short end plays. Those
three men must hold their positions and he absolutely certain no reverse or cutback can come through their territory before they dare leave it. The whole setup on defense is designed to make it as tough as possible for opponents to advance the ball directly down the field. The idea is to force the attack out and around, with the collateral notion of flattening out the attack and nailing it with little or no gain.
In the actual work of defense, players must team up with one another to meet whatever type of attack may be hurled at them. For years past I have used a charging outside against the strong wing of the opposing formation, with the thought of getting this player in behind the opponents’ line and either forcing the play to develop or stopping the ball carrier; in this connection it should be noted that a buttonhook charge is preferable to a straight angle charge.
Insides and middles also charge with the idea of getting to that ball carrier as speedily as possible, but in the case of middles against flanking plays, their charge should be out rather than in. The idea in mind here is of a triangle, with the charging middle at one corner, the ball carrier at another, and the point for them to meet at the third. If the middle runs as fast as the ball carrier, he will have to aim at the apex of the triangle in order to hit him squarely.
Defending in zones where forward passes might be expected, my outside on the short end did not charge. This has been a strong feature of my defense against this play.
Fans with good memories, who can look back over the past three or four years, will recall many occasions on which right outsides, like Seymour Wilson of Hamilton and Tony McCarthy of Ottawa have intercepted or batted down forward-pass threats, deep in their own territory. They were able to do this because they followed the first man across that line of scrimmage wherever he went.
My general defense was a combination of zone and man-to-man. Sending the right outside back with the first man over from his end, enabled me to shift the right tertiary well over back of centre, where he could quickly cover dangerous passes down centre, or move either to right or left as circumstances demanded. Also, sending the right outside back has the distinct advantage of allowing the right secondary to stop, look and listen, before he makes a move. His zone was then the flat zone on the right, which he could reach with any potential receiver who entered it.
Methods actually employed both in attack and defense must vary greatly, according to the position of the ball on the field, the score, the time remaining for play, and other factors that demand special consideration. A team in possession of the ball, back against its own goal line, will play safety first, unless last-minute desperation demands an out-and-out gamble. Any plays called in this territory should be of a very safe ball-handling type.
A stationary quarterback is a much better target than a running halfback, and the ball should be passed to him by preference. As the middle-of the field is reached, reverses, sweeping end runs, open play generally, and the forward pass begin to dominate the attack. Here the idea is to make a substantial gain, if at all possible, in order that the ball may be retained and carried into scoring territory.
Shorter but surer gains should be the thought uppermost in the players’ minds the closer they get to that goal line, and the reverse is true on defense. Once my opponents got within kicking distance, I brought up reserves and attempted to force them to kick, at all costs. In midfield the defense had to remain spread to guard against the open type of play to be expected. Near the opponents’ goal I aimed to have my teams charge the opposition as hard as they could. A fumble, a blocked kick, or any sort of a
loose ball, often provides a golden oppor| tunity in such circumstances.
Sometimes my teams have been called opportunists. That is all right with me, because I regard it as a compliment rather than a knock. The ability to take full and quick advantage of all the opportunities afforded them, often marks the difference between a winning and a losing team.
How to Tackle
VV 1 ICH brings me back again to the W vital issue of sound teaching of fundamentals. Such basic things as tackling, catching, or falling on a loose ball to gather it in, must be completely taught if success is to be assured and continuing.
Take the tackle—one of the very first things a football player must learn to do correctly if he is to be a valuable man for his side. Hard tackling is a direct result of good coaching, for few boys are born tacklers. They must be taught.
First of all, the man to be tackled must be contacted, and that is by no means as easy as it may look from the stands. Contact is easy only when his opponent is coming right at the tackier, with no room to dodge. Down field or open-field tackling, is quite something else again. A smart halfback who sees a tackier coming and has room to move about in, is as hard to hit and to hold—and remember it is as important that he should be held as that he should be hit—as the proverbial slippery eel.
The posed photograph that shows me tackling Doug Kerr is a fair illustration of the tackling methods I have taught my players. The tackler’s objective should be the opponent’s hips, never his legs. Good tacklers will glue their eyes on this centre of gravity as their one best bet. The tackier should have his legs spread apart as he closes in, so that he can change direction with his target, take off from either foot and reach the runner in a fairly wide arc.
A skilful tackier hits with his arms outstretched, elbows slightly bent and fists clenched with the palms down. He makes his contact with his shoulder at around the region of the knees, keeping his head comfortably tucked down on the opposite side. One thing all football players, especially the youngsters who are just learning the game, should always keep in mind is that a head loosely held, bent downward or back, is dangerous. A blow in such a position may injure the spinal cord; but, as I have described it, the contact shoulder takes the major shock and the opposite shoulder serves as a cushion for the head.
As the tackier leaves his feet, he should shift his gaze, never closing his eyes, from the hips to the point he is aiming at. As he makes contact he must hit, not just reach for, his mark. He drives that shoulder through, while at the same time his arms are hooked together—a sort of gorilla clutch and he hangs on for dear life.
Catching a Loose Ball
CATCHING a ball or trapping a loose ball have many points of similarity, although in one case the ball is in the air and in the other on the ground. In both cases, the basic idea is to gather the ball in. The player must always remember to keep his eye constantly fixed on that ball. The actual catching should be done with the thought in mind of making a basket of the forearms and the body.
An illustration I have used successfully is to ask a boy what he would do with his stomach muscles if he saw a blow aimed directly at them. He tenses them, and at the same time draws them away from the blow, and this is precisely what he should do to complete the basket idea when he makes a catch. The elbows should be kept in, touching the lower ribs. His fingers should be slightly bent, and fingers and wrists should be limp. If he has trouble
trapping the ball this way, then the practice of bringing one knee up as the ball reaches him will help him to get the required result. In difficult catches or dangerous spots, where a fumble would probably result in a touchdown, I have seen such great halfbacks as "Pepper” Leadlay give with the ball until they were almost crouched on the ground.
To teach players the correct method of gathering in a loose ball, it has been my custom to place a ball on the ground four or live feet in front of the player, and show him how to fall around it, rather than on it. With a rolling motion that brings the arm around the ball with the shoulder turned under, the player really lands on his hip and his shoulderblade. If his knees are drawn up as he comes down, a pocket is made between his arms and the pit of his stomach, in which the ball will rest securely. The rolling motion will allow him to turn over, with the ball in his possession. Great care must be taken that
inexperienced players practicing this dive for the ball do not alight on the point of the shoulder, for if this happens, painful injury may result.
My squads have played such games as soccer and basketball regularly, not only to teach them to dribble and handle the ball with confidence, but also to give them the idea of being eternally on top of the ball.
Perhaps the first of my fundamental points is that players must follow that ball. Vigilant attention to this factor has, on many occasions, placer! a player in a position for a short lateral pass on a breakaway that has meant a touchdown, where the runner with the ball was hemmed in and about to be stopped.
And if that's opportunism, it is also good football !
Note: This is the second of a series of three articles by Bill Hughes. The third mil appear next issue.