Grinding Tape: Chad Spann – Stiff arms and Green Dogs

NIU RB Chad Spann led the NCAA Divison I-A with 22 rushing touchdowns in 2010. That’s one more than LaMichael James and two more than Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton.

Recently, I had the chance to watch tape with the 2010 MAC MVP. This week we discuss two plays where there are problems with the execution, but the end results are positive due to quick -thinking from Spann and the offense.

As Spann breaks down these plays we learn about the art of a good stiff arm, why balance has as much to do with a runner’s head as his feet, and the meaning behind the term, “green-dogging.”

2nd and 5  1:00 1st QTR

Waldman: This zone-read from a three-receiver set has some confusion between you and the QB with the exchange. Describe what’s difficult about this exchange.

Spann: Like I said before about zone-reads, if the backside defensive end we’re reading shuffles down the line of scrimmage, it means he’s playing me and not the quarterback. So the quarterback should pull it.

Zone-read 2nd and 5 1:04 1st QTR

Spann: On this particular play what I see is the backside tackle getting up to the second level and he’s almost in the way of the defensive end trying to get there. You can see the defensive end trying to push him because the tackle is in the way. This is also what our quarterback sees.

Blocking scheme for zone-read: Note backside tackle getting to second level and RDE working off him.

Spann: So he can’t really tell whether the guy is up the field or if he’s coming down the line of scrimmage. So the quarterback holds onto it a little too long in his read and he tries to pull it late.

Position of DE working off backside tackle (RT) creating confusion for QB & RB with the exchange.

Waldman: What are you thinking on this play?

Spann: I’m thinking the same way that he is – that I’m going to hit it right inside the backside tackle and guard because the tackle has beaten the guy inside. So that’s what I’m thinking as well, but the quarterback sees it too late and tries to pull the ball. But I already have my arms wrapped around it and I’m trying to make this cut. So by accident, and with a little bit of athleticism, he pulls me back outside.

Waldman: You know, I didn’t even notice that on this play. I just saw what appeared to be a miscommunication with who was going to take the ball. On first blush, it appears as if you’re trying to back up after you plant your feet, but you’re saying that he gives you a tug in the other direction?

Spann: He has his hands wrapped around the ball and I have my arms wrapped around his arms. So by him trying to pull his hands out or pull the ball out, he’s going to naturally try to tug on me, which is why my shoulders turn like that. And that gave me the ability to see the hole and the backside defensive end [who came down the line too far, which allowed me to] make this cut.

QB pulls RB just enough before exchange is complete to orient RB's path to defeat DE.

If [the quarterback] just gave it to me I would have kept going down that same path and I would have gotten hit by that defensive end. But since there was a little bit of a miscue, he was able to point me in the right direction. It gave me the ability to stop, start, and get a stiff arm on that defensive tackle and get six yards.

Spann and defender's paths after exchange.

Waldman: What I really like about your run is how you lower your shoulder into the oncoming defensive lineman who is cutting back towards you and then the stiff arm to knock the defender to the ground as you turn the corner at the line of scrimmage for what becomes a six-yard gain. The balance is really nice considering that you told me earlier that you got hurt on the play before…

Spann cuts inside LB in flat to turn corner for six yards.
Spann dragged down by WILL and MIKE LBs at end of six-yard gain.

Spann: Yep. On the first down play, which was a zone-read corner blitz, they jumped off sides. I got a hip pointer on that play [Author’s note: Spann was hit helmet-first onto his right side by the blitzing corner] but I stayed in after that. It really hurt, but I played the whole game. I sat out a little bit of this series because of it.

Waldman: That explains the broadcast crew showing you on the bike…As a spectator, you know something is wrong with a player when the team is blowing out the opposition and I still see him riding a bike to stay loose at the end of the game.

Spann:(Laughing) Oh yeah, the whole game…

Waldman:  Now back to this play, tell me more about that stiff arm. When you execute a stiff arm where are you trying to place it?

Spann: The facemask. Right in the face! It sounds cocky, but that’s where I aim for it. I’m not the biggest guy and I don’t have the longest arms, but like I mentioned in our Q&A about running between the tackles, is that you have to keep your pad level low and the most important thing is that you have to keep your head up because wherever your head is your body will follow. If I’m trying to run over somebody and my head’s down I might run through him but I’m going to go down, too.

Waldman: That explains a lot about balance and why it is a difference between big backs that don’t break tackles and smaller backs that do.

Spann: It’s the same thing in a situation with a stiff arm. If I can push your head back that means I’m going to push your arms up, too. And if I can push your arms up it means you’re not going to be able to get a grip on me.

So you’ll see when I get a guy right in his face then his hands will go straight up in the air and then I’ll try throw him to the ground because when the head comes back I try to throw him because they are going to go down regardless and I’m trying to get as far away from him as possible. So usually I’ll stiff-arm him all the way to the ground to make sure that they can never get a grip on me.

Spann: If you watch the defensive end you’ll see him jerk a little bit when I throw him down. That’s the whole point – I’m trying to snap his head back.

Waldman: So is there a difference between how a smaller back uses a stiff arm compared to a bigger back?

Spann: Bigger guys use stiff arms to keep a defender away from them. Their arms are long enough to hit them with a stiff arm and they can’t get a hold of him because they can’t make up the distance of the arm length.

[As a smaller back] I don’t have that luxury. So I have to invite them in so I can punch them in the face. It’s violent I know, but I have to do it almost as hard as I can so he’ll lose his body control for a second while I’m still running in the same direction. I have to throw them down because if I don’t they’ll be able to recover and still grab onto me as they are going down.

[Author’s note: Here are some classic examples of stiff arms]

2nd and 9 5:49 2nd and QTR

Waldman: This is a touchdown pass where you are pass blocking from the backfield. Toledo runs a stunt where the LDE loops behind the NT towards the gap that you’re in and both LBs blitz.

The MLB takes off immediately up the middle but the LB on your side of the formation delays his just enough that you’re already looking at the stunting DE and miss the LB coming through the gap behind you. Nevertheless, the QB gets the throw off for a score.

Who was your first choice to block on this play and why?

Spann: I remember reading your question yesterday and then breaking this play down to one of my roommates. This is a “50” front. We have a noseguard and we have a guard uncovered and we have a stand up defensive end on our left side.

Four-receiver (3×1) set vs. 50 front (DE on viewer's right side is standing up).

Waldman: So what is the pass protection scheme for this front?

Spann: What we do [to block this play] is that we have a man side and a zone side. Wherever the A-Gap player is the quarterback is going to get to the line and he’s going to say something to point out that player’s direction.

If the A-gap player is to the right, the quarterback is going to say, “Rip, rip, rip, 88.” That’s our cadence. The “88” doesn’t mean much, but the “rip” means that the A-gap player is to the right and that is going to be our man side. If he were to the left, the quarterback would say, “Liz 88, liz 88.”

With this slide protection if it’s a “Rip Call,” the left side is going to be center, guard, and tackle while the right side is going to be guard, me (RB), and then tackle.

In this particular formation against this defensive front, which we call a “50,”  the quarterback is going to keep [the protection call in a way] so I don’t have to travel very far. It just makes sense to keep me here rather than go all the way to the backside to go get this standup defensive end.

Because he calls a rip, the left tackle is going to kick to the stand up defensive end. The left guard should kick to the five-technique. The center is going to take the nose, but he still us going to have to slide left. If that nose comes right, then it’s the guard.

LT, LG, C, and RG slide to left in this blocking scheme. Spann takes first LB blitzing through. RT takes DE (five-technique).

But because the nose is inside of the guard, the guard is going to step down with the center so at the snap of the ball you’re going to see four guys move to the left – the left tackle all the way to the right guard are all going to slide to the left.

If that nose guard stays to the left side of the center, the center is going to stay with him and the guard is going to come back and look for anything to the right. The right tackle is going to kick to the five-technique on the other side. My responsibility is whichever one of those linebackers blitz on my side. That’s me.

Waldman: So the front dictates the blocking scheme. How would a different front change your assignment?

Spann: If it were more of an even front, and say the middle linebacker was on my side and the WILL was still on that side, too, then it is whoever comes first is my guy. Or say they zone blitz off the edge, then whoever comes first is my guy and will have somebody else pick them up.

On this particular play they are running Cover-0 and they are blitzing the middle linebacker and they are stunting the defensive end.

This [stunt] isn’t picked up correctly, which is why your question was kind of confusing with what you saw.

[Author’s note: I saw a delayed blitz with one of the linebackers, but Spann corrects me in the explanation below]

That delayed linebacker blitz that you see, we wouldn’t look at it as a delayed blitz, but to the naked eye or someone not really paying attention…I mean someone who wouldn’t really know…

Waldman: That’s okay, don’t worry about it…(laughter)

Spann: (laughter) Sorry about that.

Waldman: it’s okay, I’m here to learn.

Spann: Okay. So No.32 (the OLB in the diagram) who “delay blitzed,” is actually in man coverage on me. He’s following me. So wherever I go, that’s where he’s going. And when he sees me step up to block. He does what we call “green dogging.”

Five-Technique next to standup DE stunts toward RG (on viewer's left); MLB blitzes to RG and Spann expects to pick this up. OLB in man coverage with Spann opts to Green Dog since Spann's blocking alleviates OLB of an assignment.

He sees that I’m blocking and since he has no other responsibility besides me, he comes and triggers for a blitz. That’s normally what delayed blitzes are. It’s where a defender sees an opportunity because his only responsibility isn’t a factor, so he just comes and puts pressure on the quarterback.

Waldman: So how does this Green Dog play out paired with the stunt?

Spann: [This is how] this stunt should be blocked from left to right:

  • The tackle should still kick out to that stand up guy.
  • The guard should kick out to the five-technique.
  • The center and guard block down like I said [before].
  • Whoever blitzes I got in that gap.
  • The tackle’s got that other five-technique.

When the left guard sees his guy cross his face on that stunt, he should turn his eyes and look back.

Waldman: But that doesn’t happen…

Spann: He was the youngest guy on our offensive line – a sophomore in his first year starting – so we had a little bit of inexperience. In fact, the only person who was a full-time starter [last year] was the left tackle. Everybody else was new – everybody else was a red-shirt junior on the line except for him; he’s a sophomore and he was a little bit inexperienced.

So when he saw his guy cross his face like that on the stunt he should immediately stop, turn, and help the center because the noseguard is coming back that way. Then the center should be able to pass that noesguard off to the guard as he picks up the looper [the stunting DE].

How pass protection should have been executed: LT kicks to stand up DE; LG sees DT stunting so he double teams NG withe the C; the C comes off double-team to block the stunting DT; the RG picks up blitzing LB; RB helps with blitzing RB or first LB through the hole; and RT picks up DE across from him.

Now the center never got off the nose to pick up the looper [stunting DE]. So the guard who was supposed to pick up the looper couldn’t because the blitz was in his face and he doesn’t know who is coming into his gap and he has to protect his gap…

Waldman: …It’s a domino effect in this sense with what happens with the left guard.

Spann: Yep. So the left guard doesn’t pick up and then the center can’t get off [the noseguard/A-Gap] to get the looper. Now the tackle sees the looper coming because he’s looking at the noseguard, but he’s looking through the noseguard to see the looper coming and he’s not seeing the linebacker blitzing, who should be his responsibility.

He ends up picking up the linebacker, but he looks at the looper for too long. And I’m looking at the looper because I should be helping out there because he’s unblocked. And when I reach in to help out there, my linebacker green dogs. So when he green dogs, and I finally see it, I turn and give him a shoulder and the ball is out [of the QB’s hands].

Waldman:There really are a lot of contingencies that an offensive player has to know in order to pass protect. It’s a nice play (a deep seam route from the slot for a 33-yard touchdown) considering what happened and you give your quarterback just enough time to get rid of the ball and make an accurate throw. Thanks for the explanation because I see the stunt, but I couldn’t tell whether that was a delayed blitz. Now that makes total sense. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

Spann: No problem.

7 responses to “Grinding Tape: Chad Spann – Stiff arms and Green Dogs”

  1. […] Grinding Tape: Chad Spann – Stiff arms and Green Dogs: How often do you get to read an interview where the interviewer and the subject are studying football together? This excerpt from a 2-hour study session (Just search “Chad Spann” for more) includes play diagrams and explanations of what the NCAA’s 2010 touchdown leader was thinking about with each play. […]

  2. […] That’s how important pass protection is in today’s NFL. Especially in a league where the Colts and Eagles led the offensive trend of single back sets (11 and 10 personnel), which requires the running back to have more responsibility with blocking adjustments based on presnap looks. In these styles of offenses, the running back has to understand which defender his teammates are leaving unblocked as well as diagnosing stunts and green dog blitzes. […]

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