This is an excerpt from Survival Guide for Coaching Youth Football by Jim Dougherty & Brandon Castel.
It’s important at this level not to spread yourself too thin offensively. NFL playbooks can be dozens of pages thick, if not hundreds, but yours better not fill up much more than the front and back of a page if you want your kids to have any chance of remembering what they should be doing on the field. You will need a go-to play you can fall back on when things get tough, and the first thing every running game must have at any level is a quick-hitting play, or dive play. We recommend using the midline option play (see figure 5.2), but regardless of what play you choose, the basic idea is a quick, hard-hitting play that goes between the guard and tackle split (or B gap).
You should be rotating players through different positions, so it may not always be possible, but the midline option play works best with your top ballcarrier playing quarterback and your second-best ballcarrier lined up behind him at running back. The play itself hinges on what the opposing team’s best 3-technique defensive tackle does. It might sound strange, but your offensive line will not actually attempt to block this player at the point of attack. Instead, it is the quarterback’s job to read him, making him the key for the offense. If the defensive tackle is rushing hard up the middle at the quarterback, the running back should have a big day taking the handoff and running the football right past him. If the tackle is playing the run, and therefore keying the running back, your quarterback will fake the handoff, after which he should be able to step up and slip past the defensive tackle at the line of scrimmage using the running back as a lead blocker.
Keep in mind that the success of this play is largely predicated on finding a quarterback who can read the play and decide whether to keep the ball or hand it off. From where you’re standing, that might seem like a tough task for kids at this age, but it will be a lot easier to find a player who can make that read than to find a kid who can sprint out and throw a strong, accurate pass on the run. Although the play is designed as a sure-bet quick-hitter, it also provides the kind of unpredictability needed to survive in today’s football world, as the defense can’t predetermine on any given play whether the quarterback is going to keep the ball or hand it off to the running back. Ultimately, the idea is to force the defensive tackle to choose between tackling the dive back or the quarterback. Whomever he leaves alone should have a nice hole to run through.
One issue you are likely to encounter with this play is a running back who wants to take the handoff every time instead of leaving the decision up to the quarterback. Most young players don’t understand the idea of a fake handoff, so explain to them that the dive back should not take the football from the quarterback but rather wait for the quarterback to give it to him. Your players will need to practice this play frequently if it is going to be one of your go-to plays. This is also a fine opportunity to introduce your team, especially your quarterbacks, to the concept of reading keys, something that will also translate to the passing game.
Learn more about Survival Guide for Coaching Youth Football.